Expedition Volcano

Expedition Volcano

Expedition Volcano – In the very heart of Africa, nestled deep within the lush green rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, lies one of the most awe-inspiring yet dangerous volcanoes on planet Earth – the magnificent Mount Nyiragongo. This extraordinary volcano towers over the landscape at over 11,000 feet and contains a massive, seething cauldron of molten lava – the largest continuously active lava lake anywhere in the world. Fiery red-hot lava bubbles and churns within its vast crater, a spellbinding yet ominous sight.



But Nyiragongo’s beauty belies its potential for catastrophe. This volatile volcano has erupted twice in recent decades, most destructively in 2002 when it catastrophically erupted, sending lava streaming down its flanks and into the nearby bustling city of Goma. Entire neighborhoods were consumed, buildings ignited and thousands fled the all-consuming lava. The scenes were apocalyptic. Even today, over 10 years later, Goma still bears the scars from this disaster. Nyiragongo remains one of the most hazardous and least studied volcanoes due to its remote location deep in the war-torn eastern Congo, where simmering conflict has raged for decades.



Now, an intrepid team of scientists and explorers from around the world have launched an ambitious expedition to uncover the secrets of Mount Nyiragongo and understand what triggers its rare but devastating eruptions. Their goal is to detect early warning signs of impending eruption and enable the emergency evacuation of Goma’s vulnerable population.

The expedition team faces an immense challenge. They must haul tons of scientific equipment and mountaineering gear high up Nyiragongo’s steep, rocky slopes through dense jungle teeming with hazards. Reaching the volcano’s crater rim requires days of grueling hiking and climbing. Once at the summit, a small elite team will rappel 350 treacherous meters down into the very crater itself – the boiling belly of the beast – where they will camp mere meters from the continuous lava churning within the lake. Armed with gas sampling instruments, thermal cameras and seismic sensors, they will spend several days collecting data and samples right at the source of Nyiragongo’s pyroclastic fury.

The expedition is led by renowned Belgian volcanic expert Dr. Benoit Smets and esteemed British geologist Professor Chris Jackson, who together hope to finally unravel the mysteries of Nyiragongo’s inner workings. But there are further dangers beyond lava and ash. The surrounding environs have also been warped by the volcano’s legacy. British doctor Xand van Tulleken is investigating the impacts on human health, from toxic gases to contaminated water supplies, while former Royal Marine Aldo Kane handles the team’s complex logistics and security. It will take all of their combined expertise to complete the mission safely.

This brave international team of scientists and explorers are willing to risk it all in the name of science and safety. Their groundbreaking expedition could help predict and prevent future disasters for the people of the Congo who live in the looming shadow of mighty Mount Nyiragongo.


Expedition Volcano: Exploring Africa’s Most Dangerous Volcanoes


Deep in the heart of Africa, nestled in the lush green forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, lie some of the most spectacular yet dangerous volcanoes on Earth. These rumbling giants hold the power to both create and destroy, shaping the land and lives of all who dwell in their shadow. Their molten fury attracts daring explorers seeking adventure and meaning in this enigmatic landscape. This is the story of one such ambitious expedition that ventured directly into the mouth of the beast – braving scorching lava and swirling gases to uncover the secrets of Nyamulagira and Nyiragongo, two of the world’s least understood but most active volcanoes.

Nyiragongo – Lair of the Lava Lake

Towering over the bustling city of Goma, the imposing Nyiragongo volcano contains the world’s largest continuous lava lake – a massive cauldron of boiling molten rock deep within its crater. But below its spellbinding beauty lies an undercurrent of danger. Nyiragongo has erupted twice in recent decades, most destructively in 2002 when lava flows obliterated over 15% of Goma. Fast-moving fluid rock incinerated homes and buildings, leaving over 100,000 people homeless.

Since then, Nyiragongo has remained relatively quiet, but local scientists fear the beast is once again stirring beneath the surface. An international team of researchers aims to monitor the volcano’s vital signs and provide advance warning to vulnerable communities below. But first they must overcome a series of challenges to reach Nyiragongo’s smoldering crater.

The Trek to the Top

Four tonnes of scientific equipment and camping supplies need to be hauled up the volcano’s steep, jungle-clad slopes. Porters and rangers help lug the gear as the group slowly ascends through dense foliage and muddy trails. Swarms of stinging flies pester the weary climbers as they pause to rest and refuel.

After hours of grueling ascent, the vegetation gives way to bare rock littered with volcanic rubble. The exhausted team finally reaches the crater rim, welcomed by stunning panoramic views over Goma and Lake Kivu. But there is little time to rest – the real challenge lies ahead.

Under the watchful eye of expedition safety manager Aldo Kane, a small elite team will rappel 350 meters down the crater’s sheer inner walls. They will camp on a narrow ridge alongside the hypnotic lava lake, collecting samples and deploying monitoring equipment right next to the boiling magma. The mission – to learn the warning signs of impending eruption from the heart of the volcano itself.

Rappelling Down to Red Hot Danger

The descent team of Benoit Smets, Chris Jackson and several Congolese colleagues begin their nerve-wracking rappel down towards the lava lake. Dangling from thin ropes against the dizzying abyss, they carefully position seismometers, gas analyzers and thermal cameras along the route. These devices will provide 24-7 monitoring of volcanic activity from this unprecedented vantage point.

Reaching the bottom, they scramble over razor-sharp rocks under an alien red glow. The air shimmers with intense heat emanating from the frothing lava just meters away. Gas masks filter out toxic fumes as the team hastily sets up camp. Their data will help populate predictive mathematical models, determining when rising magma and gas levels signal imminent eruption. But first they must spend a week sleeping next to a roiling pit of molten fury before ascending back to safety.

Exploring Nyamulagira’s Hidden Dangers

Having gathered crucial data from Nyiragongo, the expedition next turns east towards Nyamulagira – an equally active yet seldom visited neighbor volcano covered in dense rainforest. Recently erupted lava flows smother its lower flanks, but the upper slopes hide a more sinister threat – roving bands of armed militias controlling access to the area.

The team boards a UN helicopter for the short flight, skimming low above the canopy to avoid potential ground fire. Landing in a small clearing, they have just a few hours to set up instruments near the active vent before the dangerous return flight out. Fighting through thick vegetation, they measure gas emissions and map lava channels to better understand this enigmatic volcano’s eruptive past and future.

Volcanic Legacy Fuels Violence in the Congo

While the volcanoes’ molten outpourings create a spectacle of immense beauty, their legacy in the Congo has also fueled immense tragedy. Valuable minerals like tin, tungsten and gold baked in the lava flows have stoked brutal conflict over control of mining concessions. Rebel groups and corrupt armies have exploited the area’s natural riches to fund decades of horrific violence against local communities.

As humanitarian physician Dr. Xand van Tulleken discovers, the human toll of this tragedy remains painfully evident today. He meets widows of murdered park rangers, gunned down defending the region’s wildlife from poachers. Yet deep resilience shines through the darkness. These courageous women have banded together as sisters, supporting each other and continuing the fight to protect their lands for future generations.

Guardians of the Gorillas

While rebel factions seek to wrest control over volcanically-enriched soil, selfless rangers risk their lives protecting an even greater natural treasure – the critically endangered mountain gorillas that inhabit the verdant slopes of Nyamulagira and Nyiragongo. Numbering less than 1000 individuals globally, these gentle giants find refuge on the lower mountain slopes, feeding on juicy thistles in the lush montane vegetation zone.

Anti-poaching patrols brave hazardous conditions to ensure the gorillas survival, removing snares and standing guard against would-be captors. Ecotourism also protects gorilla families by assigning revenue from visiting trekkers to preserve vital habitat. Just the chance of glimpsing these magnificent primates as they play and forage is enough to inspire many to support ongoing conservation efforts.

A Changed Landscape

Beyond lava and gorillas, the volcanoes reshaped the entire landscape, leaving behind a wonderland of geographical marvels. Towering steam plumes rise from scalding lava-heated water bubbling in Lake Kivu, trapping deadly volcanic gases and pressure building beneath the serene surface. Spectacular craters and gorges etched by ancient cataclysmic eruptions offer stunning vistas for intrepid hikers.

These lands hold both beauty and danger in equal measure. By seeking to understand them, the Expedition Volcano team hopes to illuminate potential tragedy before it strikes, providing lifesaving warnings to those living in the very shadow of Africa’s most breathtaking yet threatening giants. Knowledge and preparation can help local communities thrive alongside the powerful forces continuously shaping their world.


This ambitious expedition into the heart of Africa’s most notorious volcanoes uncovered revelations about what triggers these smoldering giants to unleash their fury, while also highlighting how their legacy continues to impact surrounding lands. By closely monitoring telltale signs from Nyiragongo’s lava lake and exploring little-known Nyamulagira, scientists gained insights into the warning signs of impending eruptions. This knowledge can now empower local communities in the danger zone to better prepare and respond.

Beyond pure science, the volcanoes’ natural riches play a complex role in regional history, fueling conflict but also inspiring conservation. By shedding light on these interconnected social and environmental impacts, the expedition deepened understanding of Africa’s great geological titans – both their beauty and their capacity for destruction. As climate change accelerates and populations grow, similar projects building scientific knowledge, social awareness and preparedness will remain crucial to facing the profound forces of nature.

Frequently Asked Questions – Expedition Volcano

What is Expedition Volcano?

Expedition Volcano is an ambitious scientific and exploratory project focused on better understanding two active yet understudied volcanoes in the Democratic Republic of Congo – Nyiragongo and Nyamulagira. An international team of scientists, explorers and doctors mounted an expedition to closely study these volcanoes to learn the warning signs of impending eruptions and examine the many ways they shape the surrounding lands.

How dangerous is Nyiragongo?

Nyiragongo is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to its proximity to populations centers and the speed and fluidity of its lava. It has erupted twice in recent decades, most destructively in 2002 when fast-moving lava flows obliterated over 15% of the nearby city of Goma. Understanding warning signs of eruption is crucial for protecting vulnerable communities.

When did Nyamulagira last erupt?

Nyamulagira erupts frequently, with recent eruptions in 2014 and 2011. However it is remote and less studied than its neighbor Nyiragongo. The Expedition Volcano team sought to learn more about this active yet enigmatic volcano to aid in predicting future activity.

What is Lake Kivu?

Lake Kivu is an enormous lake adjacent to the volcanoes. Underneath its calm surface, deadly volcanic gases and pressure accumulate, posing threats of limnic eruptions and gas bursts. Scientists are studying ways to tap the energy of this volatile lake safely.

Where can I see mountain gorillas?

The endangered mountain gorillas inhabit the lush forests on the lower slopes of the volcanoes. Trekking to observe these magnificent primates is possible in protected areas of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. Ecotourism helps fund protection for their vulnerable remaining populations.

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