The Erta Ale volcano’s lava lake


© Bruno Barbey / Magnum Photos


It is hard to imagine that the Earth is actually moving under our feet, propelled by the hot magma that forces its tectonic plates apart. As youngsters at school, we are taught that, millions of years ago, the Earth was not as we know it today, but consisted of a single land mass, Pangea, which the action of magma has broken up into separate continents over time. It is far from easy to picture this happening. Luckily, nature provides us with “visual” clues that make these theories far easier to believe.
Erta Ale gives us such a hint. It is one of Ethiopia’s and Africa’s most active volcanoes and commonly referred to as “the Gateway to Hell”. Located in the homonymous volcano chain in the Afar region, the shield-shaped Erta Ale is the geological product of an area in which three tectonic plates are moving apart. Thinning of the Earth’s crust at this point causes a consistent upflow of basaltic lava into the summital crater, forming a spectacular lava lake.
Unfortunately, man is not content with admiring nature, but insists on competing with it. Calculations made in 2016 showed that, every year, human activities such as coal burning, deforestation and cement manufacturing emit a quantity of carbon dioxide 60 times greater than that emitted by volcanic eruptions. This is bringing about global warming by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and rapidly bringing our planet to the point of collapse.

Martina Giagio