The Earth’s Only Active Volcano Known to Emit Natrocarbonatites

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Most lava contain a rich amount of silicate minerals. Only one active volcano in the world is known to emit natrocarbonatite. Natrocarbonatite lava contains sodium and potassium carbonate minerals, nyerereite and gregoryite and very low amounts of silica.

Located in Tanzania, Ol Doinyo Lengai is a stratovolcano that is the only known active volcano that emits natrocarbonatite lava.

Known by the local Massai people as the “Mountain of God,” Ol Doinyo Lengai formed because of the East African Rift System which created significant volcanic activity. The volcano has been intermittently active for 15,000 years.

Astronaut photograph ISS063-E-104178 of Ol Doinyo Lengai was acquired on October 6, 2020
Astronaut photograph ISS063-E-104178 of Ol Doinyo Lengai was acquired on October 6, 2020

Only Volcano To Emit Carbon Dioxide That Doesn’t Vanish

Ol Doinyo Lengai is also the only volcano known to emit carbon dioxide that doesn’t vanish into the atmosphere as gas. The carbon-laden lava from Ol Doinyo Lengai emits at a much lower temperature than other lava. Carbonites erupt at 540 degrees Celsius (1,004 F) compared to 900 degrees Celsius (1,652 F) for other lavas to become liquid.

One of the Fastest Lava Flows in the World

Carbonite lava also flows much faster than other lava. The lower levels of silica in the natrocarbonatite lava of Ol Doinyo Lengai means that it has less viscosity. The lava flow of Ol Doinyo Lengai is one of the fastest in the world.

Natrocarbonatite Lava Quickly Weathers

The sodium and potassium carbonate minerals that are emitted from the volcano are also unstable at the Earth’s surface. The dark lava that erupts quickly weathers to a light-colored ash due to chemical reactions to rainwater and moisture in the air.

Video: Carbonatite lava at 540 degrees Celsius (1,004 F) erupts from Oldoinyo Lengai volcano in Tanzania.

Credit: Tobias Fischer, University of New Mexico

Ol Doinyo Lengai Ashfall

The village of Naiyobi, about 5 miles from the summit of Ol Doinyo Lengai, was impacted by ashfall from eruptions in 2007 and 2008.  Photo: Gari Mayberry, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.  Taken January 22, 2009.
The village of Naiyobi, about 5 miles from the summit of Ol Doinyo Lengai, was impacted by ashfall from eruptions in 2007 and 2008. Photo: Gari Mayberry, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain. Taken January 22, 2009.

In September of 2007, Ol Doinyo Lengai began to spew ashes thousands of meters into the air due to eruptions. Local residents fled with their livestock. The ash continued to spew into 2008. These eruptions created a new cone and crater.

References

Dybas, C., Carr, S., & Reisewitz, A. (2009, May 6). Alchemy in Tanzania? Gas becomes solid at surface of Oldoinyo Lengai volcano. NSF – National Science Foundation. https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=114703

Schmidt, S. (2021, March 15). Ol Doinyo Lengai. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/148042/ol-doinyo-lengai

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