An active volcano in northeastern Tanzania known to the Maasai as the “Mountain of God” has been quietly rumbling—and it is showing signs that an eruption is imminent.
The East African peak looms over a modern city as well as three major sites featuring signs of early humans.
Known as Ol Doinyo Lengai, the 7,650-foot-tall peak is the only known active volcano that belches out lava rich with a type of rock called carbonatite. This thin, silvery lava can flow faster than a person can run.
The volcano is some 70 miles from the city of Arusha and is known for its proximity to some of the world’s most important paleoanthropological sites. Ol Doinyo Lengai is less than 70 miles from the famed Olduvai Gorge, a collection of 3.6-million-year-old hominin footprints at a site called Laetoli, and a “dance hall” of ancient Homo sapiens footprints at a site called Engare Sero.
Imminent volcanic eruption
Typically, the volcano’s activity is confined to its summit. But occasionally, the Mountain of God can roar to life in more dramatic fashion: On September 4, 2007, the volcano belched out a plume of ash that extended at least 11 miles downwind. Lava running down the north and west flanks ignited burn scars that were visible from space.
D. Sarah Stamps, a geophysicist at Virginia Tech, has been partnering with local academics to try and predict the next major eruption. In June 2016, she and her colleagues installed five positioning sensors around Ol Doinyo Lengai in the hopes of tracking how magma’s underground churn is deforming the volcano’s surface.
In concert with Tanzania’s Ardhi University and South Korea’s KIGAM, Stamps has set up a monitoring system that collects data on the volcano’s activity in real time. On January 17, 2017, Stamps saw a shudder in the data streaming from one monitoring station—a sign that, far from merely rumbling, parts of the volcano were lifting upward.
Based on the data they are seeing, Stamps and her colleagues warn that an eruption seems to be on the horizon: There are increased ash emissions, earthquakes, uplift at small volcanic cones, and an ever widening crack at the top of the volcano on the west side. These are all signs of volcanic deformation that will likely lead to an eruption sooner rather than later.
However, if a large eruption and a heavy rainy season were to coincide, the resulting debris flows could potentially harm Engare Sero and nearby sites. Historically, Lengai is capable of large debris flows and debris avalanches that reach the shore of Lake Natron, and these could potentially pose a significant threat to the site and to all of the camps that are here along the lake edge.
As it happens, the Engare Sero footprints exist only because a similar scenario occurred between 5,000 and 19,000 years ago.
A massive eruption at Mountain of god volcano is IMMINENT and could wipe out a modern city as well as three major sites featuring signs of early humans.