Few volcanic areas in the world are as easily accessible and in such a friendly environment as the Eifel Volcanic Field. Volcanophiles generally know of the existence of this volcanic field and that it lies somewhere in western Germany. Most ordinary people however have no idea that an active volcanic field with some 200+ volcanoes is located in western Germany, some 25 km from Belgium, 50 km from Luxemburg and 80 km from The Netherlands.
The field is generally located around the towns and cities of Hillesheim, Gerolstein, Daun, Mayen and Koblenz. The world-famous racing circuit of the Nürburgring (Nordschleife) actually lies around and in between a few volcanic cones, of which the “Hohe Acht” is the most famous one because it’s also the highest point in the Eifel hills.
If you believe some of the more sensation oriented media, you will be led to believe that the Eifel is actually an inflated supervolcano, which has already shown its potential at Laacher See (one of 2 caldera features in the volcanic field) and is just waiting to end civilization as we know it anywhere between Scandinavia, the UK, Spain and the Balkan countries. We’ve all read those articles and wondered if 99% or 100% of it was made up on the spot.
In fact, volcanic activity in the Eifel Volcanic Field has been almost exclusively monogenetic, leaving scoria cones, tuff rings, lava flows and maars scattered over the hills since about 700.000 years ago. The Eifel is the type locality for “maars”, so activity like this all over the world is named after the volcanic lakes in these hills. On one occasion, a significantly larger (one of the most recent) eruption occurred, which left the Laacher See caldera. The good thing about all this activity is that there are a lot of volcanic features to visit and they are almost all very easy to reach. No mountaineering skills are needed and no supplies need to be carried because all this is in the middle of the civilized world.
The “Vulkanmuseum” in Daun is worth a visit if you have some spare time. A lot of things are explained and a lot of good information is provided. This too can be said about most volcanic features in the Eifel. At many cones and maars you will find information signs with tons of useful information about the volcanic feature you are visiting.
Of special interest are the cold-water Geysers that are found in the Eifel. They are not driven by heat, but by CO2. The CO2 escaping from the magma sources below the Eifel dissolves into the groundwater at some places. Whenever the amount of dissolved CO2 reaches a critical point, bubbles start forming, lowering the hydrostatic pressure of the underlying water, triggering the formation of more bubbles etc etc. This chain reaction, when combined with a ‘conduit’ leading to surface, is what drives the geyser, until enough CO2 has been released to restore the stable situation again. The one in Wallenborn (Geyser Brubbel) is quiet for about 35 minutes and ejects cold water for about 2 minutes. Almost perfect for a visit! The one in Andernach is actually the world’s highest cold-water geyser. If you cannot go and visit them there, just buy a bottle of Gerolsteiner water to play Volcano at home. This world-famous mineral water is extracted from a drilled well and is naturally carbonated by the volcanic field. Shake the bottle firmly, open the cap and you have your own Eifel Coldwater Geyser at home.
If you happen to be a big beer fan, you might want to visit the Vulkanbrauerei (Volcanobrewery) in Mendig, close to the Laacher See. They produce and sell various beer specialties and have a very cool underground cellar (felsenkeller) open for visitors, that is cut out of columnar basalt, which they claim is the deepest beercellar in the world. It certainly sounds awesome to have a huge cellar to keep your beer cold, cut out of columnar basalt underneath/inside an old lava flow.
If you ever happen to be near the Eifel and have a spare day or so, I think this area is definitely worth a visit. Don’t expect any huge and spectacular volcanoes, dangerous trips or much live activity, because most features are quite hidden and somewhat influenced by erosion. The area is kind of like the old Petting zoo of the volcanic realm with some very cool animals in it.
In part II, chryphia will give some more info on the Eifel Volcanic Field in a follow up post. Thanks to chryphia and Spica for helping out on this one!
Name that Volcano Riddle ……