In the dynamic landscape of Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression, the Erta Ale volcano stands as a testament to the Earth’s relentless geological forces. Nestled within the rift zone formed by the separation of three tectonic plates, Erta Ale is renowned as the “smoking mountain” and the “gateway to hell” in the local Afar language. The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured a striking image on November 27, 2023, revealing the volcano’s summit crater with a tumultuous lava lake, emitting an infrared signal indicative of the intense heat from molten rock.
Recent satellite observations have detected thermal anomalies in the summit crater since mid-September 2023, signaling heightened volcanic activity. These anomalies align with reports from the Global Volcanism Program, suggesting eruptions from spatter cones and small lava flows within the crater. The remote and largely inaccessible nature of the area makes satellite observations crucial for understanding Erta Ale’s volcanism.
While summit activity is a regular occurrence, the volcano also experiences lava flows on various parts of its slopes. Notably, from January 2017 to March 2020, fissure eruptions in the southeast caldera resulted in substantial basaltic lava flows covering approximately 30 square kilometers (12 square miles). Some of these flows are visible in the captured image, extending to the northeast and southwest. This ongoing satellite monitoring contributes significantly to scientists’ comprehension of Erta Ale’s volcanic behavior and the broader dynamics of this geologically active region. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.