Oldonyo Lengai means “The Mountain of God”, in the Maasai language. It is approximately 150 miles north west of Arusha. It’s elevation is of 2886 meters. It is the most active volcano in Tanzania, with the last eruption being in 1983.

Oldonyo Lengai

Ol Doinyo Lengai is a unique and extremely fascinating volcano that is located about 120 km NW of Arusha, Tanzania. It is the only volcano in the world that erupts natrocarbonatite lava, highly fluid lava that contains almost no silicon. Natrocarbonatite lava is also much cooler than other types of lava; being only about 950 degrees F (510 degrees C) compared to temperatures over 2000 degrees F (~1100 degrees C) for basaltic lava. Natrocarbonatite is the most fluid lava in the world, with low gas content can flow like a whitewater stream, and actually has a viscosity near that of water.

Natrocarbonatite lava glows orange at night, but is not nearly as bright as silicon-based lava since it is not as hot. During the day it is not incandescent; most flows look like very fluid black oil, or brown foam, depending on the gas content. In the past, some visitors to the crater believed they were seeing mud flows. Most newly solidified lava is black and contains crystals that sparkle brightly in the sun. There are also small flows known as “squeeze-ups” that are light gray when they flow and solidify. Contact with moisture rapidly turns natrocarbonatite lava white because of chemical reactions that occur when the lava absorbs water.

Eventually the water absorption process turns lava flows into brown powder. In dry weather the whitening of flows happens over a period of a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the thickness of the flow. In rainy weather the lava surface turns white immediately. In parts of the crater that have been inactive for several months, the ground is light brown/white and so soft that one’s feet sink into it when walking.

 

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