What it's like to visit an active volcano

What it's like to visit an active volcano
What it's like to visit an active volcano
Jess Phoenix has worked on the Kawa Aegean volcano in Indonesia, the site of the world's largest acid lake. What is it like to actually be there?
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.


JESS PHOENIX: My name is Jess Phoenix. And I am a volcanologist, which means that I'm a scientist who researches volcanoes. And I will tell you that the first day that I stepped on a volcano, I fell completely in love.

It was like, this is what I was meant to do. So volcanoes are just captivating for me. And hopefully, when you find what you love, it's the same.

Some of the most exciting places that I've gotten to research volcanoes, one of my favorites is this island in Indonesia called Java. And on the eastern end of Java, there is a volcano called Kawah Ijen. And that name in Javanese means, the lonely one.

Now this volcano is called the lonely one because 9,000 feet up, near where the crater of the volcano is, there's actually the world's largest acid lake. Yeah, it's literally a lake with water in it that is so acidic, it's four times stronger than battery acid. So this stuff can eat through a solid steel barrel in a week or two. So this is at the summit of a volcano that can and will erupt again.

Now the lake is in beautiful turquoise blue. But obviously, it's very deadly. And then at night, there is sulfur that gets pushed up from underground. And sulfur, when it burns, it burns electric blue.

It burns when it touches oxygen. So as soon as this sulfur at the top of this volcano pushes out onto the surface, you actually see what looks like electric-blue lava. Now it's not really lava, but it looks like it.

So it is one of the most stunning places on the entire planet. And I feel really, really lucky that I got to go there and see it myself. Visiting an erupting volcano is, to me, the coolest, most exciting thing.

When you're there, it's really something that overwhelms all of your senses. So you get to see what's happening. You see lava getting ejected out. Or you see a cloud going up into the sky that's full of ash and gas and rock fragments. You get to actually hear the sounds of the eruption.

For example, if you stand at the edge of a lava lake, it actually sounds like metal banging into metal. So you can see why the ancient Greeks and Romans thought there was a god down there, banging out horseshoes and armor and things. It makes perfect sense.

The smell? Rotten eggs. There's a lot of sulfur smell around most volcanoes. And then also, you get to feel the heat. The heat is just radiating off of lava flows.

And sometimes, you get wind that's created by the eruption. So it's really your whole body experiences being in the presence of an erupting volcano. And there is nothing else like it.