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Credit: Bernhard Edmaier | Buy from | Image Permalink

Credit: Bernhard Edmaier | Buy from | Image Permalink

Credit: Bernhard Edmaier | Buy from | Image Permalink

Credit: Bernhard Edmaier | Buy from | Image Permalink

Credit: Bernhard Edmaier | Buy from | Image Permalink

Credit: Bernhard Edmaier | Buy from | Image Permalink

Mount Etna Summit
Sicily, Italy

With a name meaning, “I burn,” Mount Etna remains the most active volcano in Europe, most recently erupting on November 7, 2009. Although tropical flora thrive at the base of this southern Italian stratovolcano—a tall, conical volcano composed of layers of hardened lava, debris, and pyroclastic ash—snow blankets the steep slopes, mixing with black ash at the summit 3,350 meters high. Seen here are the summit’s four craters—Northeast Crater (bottom left), Chasm (center), which is separated from the Bocca Nova (right) by only a ridge, and the recently blackened Southeast Crater (top)—emitting sulfurous steam.


As Jung-Huttl writes, the only place where the boundary between the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate is visible above water is in Iceland, where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge pushes Europe away from North America between 5 and 10 centimeters each year. The fourth largest glacier in Iceland, Mýrdalsjökull, weathered down a once-active cinder cone volcano, leaving behind a small hill colonized by bright green moss, red patches of iron oxide, and a black desert of lava and volcanic ash collectively known as Maelifellsandur.

Crater fields
Marsabit volcano, Kenya

Located on the fringe of the East African Rift is Marsabit, a 5-million-year-old shield volcano— a broad volcano with gentle slopes formed by flowing lava—that “rises about 1,000 meters above the Chalbi Desert in Northern Kenya like a green island,” Jung-Huttl writes. Although northern Kenya is typically dry, with an average annual rainfall between 250 and 500 millimeters, agriculture is made possible by absorptive properties of the volcano’s rock, which stores water from the short rainy season. New earth forms along the East African Rift and, according to scientists, a new ocean will split Africa into two in a few million years.

Ghoubbet al Kharab
Gulf of Tadjoura, Djibouti

“Black lava fields, crisscrossed with fissures and strewn with cinder cones, meet crystal-clear sea water in which corals thrive,” Jung-Huttl writes. Translated as “the devil’s gorge,” Ghoubbet al Kharab is a long, narrow bay situated above the Assal Rift, where the Earth’s crust and upper mantle expand up to 2 centimeters per year, allowing lava flows and volcanic ash to build crater cones up to 100 meters high.

Exhalation structures
Dallol, Ethiopia

Located in the Danakil Depression of northern Ethiopia—the hottest place on Earth, with an average temperature of 34°C—Dallol is the lowest land volcano in the world, at 48 meters below sea level. Zoom in on the bright yellow landscape dotted with white salt beds to find this scene of corrosive gases forcing sulfur and iron out of the soil. The minerals then crystallize into delicate bubbles up to 8 centimeters tall—the size of a large brown chicken egg—before shattering in a mild breeze.

Painted Hills
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon, USA

In this aerial view of the Painted Hills, a gully carved by runoff in heavy storms twists across the landscape. The hills themselves are layers of volcanic ash carried on the wind from nearby volcanoes more than 30 million years ago. “This volcanic ash built up, layer after layer, continually burying the marshes and forests that flourished in the moist and warm tropical climate of the period,” Jung-Huttl writes. Eroded volcanic materials stripe the fossil beds red, while the dark striations and flecks are the remains of dead vegetation.

Show Captions

Fire, Water, Acid, and Stone

By Nikki Saint Bautista / November 12, 2009

Bernhard Edmaier, a geologist and photographer, has gone places that would make your blood run hot—like directly above an erupting volcano. In his spectacular new book from Phaidon Press, Edmaier skims along the world’s fault lines, camera in hand, and captures the eruption of a 90-year-old lava lake in the Rift Valley, the snow-covered ripples of Mount St. Helen’s lava flow, and a coursing river of fire through a skylight in the Kilauea volcano. But, as geologist Angelika Jung-Huttl reveals in the opening essay, the iconic explosion of fiery lava is only a brief moment in a volcano’s life. Volcanic processes feed agriculture in Africa’s Rift Valley, create lakes of aquamarine acid in Costa Rica, nourish colorful colonies of moss in Iceland, and form stern grey mountains the world over. Even in the absence of eruptions, the markers of Earth’s physical history are everywhere, reminders that this geological era is fleeting and the world is constantly remaking itself.

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