World's Largest and least Lava Lakes

Member of expedition walks

A member of the expedition walks on the caldera's cooled lava floor, turned red by the reflected glow of the lake. 'Down here you feel the volcano,' says photographer Carsten Peter. 'It's a low-frequency rumbling that pulses through your body—like being inside a giant subwoofer.

Lava at Nyiragongo is made

The lava at Nyiragongo is made of an alkali-rich volcanic rock; its unusual composition may be a factor in the lava's fluidity.

Had to be hauled

All of the expedition's food, water, and gear had to be hauled to the summit rim, then lowered by pulley into the caldera. The biggest threat was falling rocks, says volcanologist Ken Sims, who led the team with fellow scientist Dario Tedesco. 'The caldera is continually collapsing on itself.

With temperatures, lava lake is

With temperatures around 1800°F, the lava lake is wildly erratic. As molten rock meets the air, it cools and forms plates on the lake's surface

Photographer Carsten Peter tests thermal suit

Photographer Carsten Peter tests the thermal suit that volcanologist Ken Sims used to get close to the lava lake. 'It can protect you from the radiant heat, but if you get hit with a lava splatter, the force will likely kill you,' he says. For 30 years Peter has explored volcanoes around the world. 'Seeing at close range the primal forces that shaped the planet can be hypnotic. You cannot allow yourself to fall under a volcano's spell, especially one as unpredictable as Nyiragongo. That can be a fatal mistake.

One of world's studied lava lakes

Cradling one of the world's largest and least studied lava lakes—more than 700 feet across and possibly miles deep—Nyiragongo has twice sent molten rock racing toward residents of Goma.