Tanzania is home to many natural wonders, but one of the most fascinating is the Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano, which creates unique sculptures with its carbonatite rich lava eruptions. Unlike most of the earth’s lava, carbonatite lava is dominated by calcium carbonate rather than silica. The result is delicate and striking structures that look like giant sandcastles.
The Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano in Tanzania is the only known currently erupting carbonatite volcano on earth. This unique type of volcano is almost exclusively associated with continental rift-related tectonic settings. Carbonatite lava is less viscous than the thick, ropey, silica-rich pahoehoe lava of Hawaiian volcanoes, which is evident in a 2-minute video of carbonatite lava erupting in the Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano.
One of the most fascinating aspects of carbonatite lava is its temperature. Erupting at 500-600 degrees Celsius (930 – 1,100 degrees F), it is quite literally the coolest lava on earth. This is in stark contrast to lava from silica-rich volcanos, which can erupt at temperatures as high as 1,160 degrees C (2,120 degrees F).
While the structures created by carbonatite lava are breathtaking, they are also extremely delicate, much like sandcastles. As such, they are rarely found in the rock record. This makes experiencing them in person even more special.
If you’re looking for a unique and unforgettable field trip, Tanzania’s Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano should definitely be on your list. The stunning sculptures created by its carbonatite rich lava eruptions are unlike anything else on earth. So why not take a trip and see for yourself just how cool the coolest lava on earth can be?