There will be a special “Deep Space Live” held on the 7th of Febraury in my workplace the Ars Electronica Center called “Feuerberge – Vulkane aus der Nähe” ( Translation Mountains of fire – Volcanoes closeup” ) Expect a foto report on this shortly after the event, because i was allowed to take pictures during the event.
Suggestion: Turn your speakers off.
I have talked to the photographer asking him which mountains he plans to cover. One of them is Erta Ale. But he was there some years ago, i think he said 2005 or 2006 and asked if i happen to know anything how the situation changed since his last visit. So i started searching the web because there had been reports of changes. So what i am trying to do now, is summing up some of the information i was able to find.
Erta Ale is one of a few mountains at the moment which host a long lasting lava lake. The others are Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kilauea in Haiwaii USA, Mount Erebus in Antarctica and Villarrica in Chile. The Marum Ambrym in Vanatu showed a lava lake to in 2012.
Erta Ale is basaltic shield volcano and a product of tectonic activities within the african plate. In the long term the Horn of Africa will break of and the African Rift Valley will be filled with an ocean, just like it happened before, creating the Red Sea. This process is going on but as with all geological processes it will most liekly take millions of years till it actually happens. Erta Ale´s summit only reaches to 613 meters above sea level, this may sound very little but is due to the volcano being situated in the Danakil depression which lies 100 m below sea level.
The volcano lies in northeastern Ethiopia in one of the dryest regions of the world. Till a few years ago it was very hard to reach. One problem for possible visitors is also the very unstable political situation in this area. But even though, more and more people have been willing to accept the dangers and went to Erta Ale to study it and take pictures and you can even book tours to it on the internet. The formerly rather dangerous people of the Afar tribe seem to have found the tourists are a source of income and so the tours seem to be less of a threath than they used to be. More tourism in Ethiopia also means that the costs for those travels have become more expensive.
But the volcano is far from being constantly monitored and of course no webcams are accessible.
There had even been 2 lava lakes. In November 2010 the lava poured over the rim and the crater filled up completly. Here is a recent study of Erta Ale´s elongated magma chamber. “Scientists” ? even performed a test with a human sized bag of waste and checked what happens if one should fall into a lava lake and the Daily Fail reported.
Prof. Brian Cox used the site for his BBC series “Wonders of the Solar System” comparing Erta Ales Lava lakes to how places on Jupiters Moon Io might look. There are some videos to be found on Youtube presenting the crews camping site. When you check them it becomes obvious that water is one of the big problems on the summit. Not only that you are close to an active volcano but also to you are sitting in a really dry desert and on a flat mountaintop. So no tree no bush no overhanging rock will provide any shade. And the volcanic gases emmited from the crater pit are not adding to your health as well.
Global Volcanism Programm Index of monthly reports on Erta Ale has reports since 1971. The latest entry dates back to June 2011.
Eri Klemmetti covered it in 2010 with a profile http://scienceblogs.com/eruptions/2010/03/16/volcano-profile-erta-ale/
I had problems finding papers on Erta Ale. Here is the short version of “Shallow axial magma chamber at the slow-spreading Erta Ale Ridge by Pagli et al, 2012” and the full PDF published by “nature geoscience”
Disclaimer: I am a layman, interested in volcanoes but without any education on them.