Post Ambrym Eruption Expedition

Ambrym Island, Vanuatu / April 2019

As documented previously, unprecedented geological events unfolded on Ambrym Island in December 2018 which ultimately brought about the destruction of the famed lava lakes.

In April, we led the first expedition by foot to witness the dramatic changes. It’s hard to express what has unfolded up there. The intra-caldera area is hardly recognisable.

Benbow’s crater has collapsed with the inner tephra ring falling into the ash cone and burying it completely. Vigorous (loud) fumaroles line the crater floor and walls. We also witnessed a number of rockfalls. Certainly a place you wouldn’t want to hang around for too long!


The Mbogon Niri Mbwelesu (Taten) collapse pit has doubled in size. The entire northern crater wall has collapsed. Large fracture lines exist between Mbogon and Niri Mbwelesu. One more big earthquake and Mbogon and Niri Mbwelesu could become one giant crater. It would also make the trek to Marum impossible from the West (unless an alternative track was forged to the south).


Niri Mbwelesu hasn’t fared well either. After being the first people to the witness the new strombolian activity and lava lake, this crater has also collapsed.


And then of course mighty Marum. Marum’s crater and lava lake were the crown jewel of Ambrym. The crater floor is now 100m higher as a result of the crater walls collapsing and burying the lake. The track from West Camp has been completely destroyed. We were hiking around on dangerously slippery mud. One slip on Marum’s flanks and it would likely be fatal. Certainly not recommended!


Things got even more confusing when we thought this mysterious, steaming crater below was all an illusion. Had we stumbled across something new on Ambrym? Ten expeditions here and no one had seen anything like it on the island. We ventured closer to find this was part of the now massively enlarged Mbogon Niri Mbwelesu Crater. The recent eruptive events caused significant collapses and subsidence to this previously small pit.


Lastly, we boarded a boat and sailed to the small village of Paamal. Earthquakes triggered by volcanic activity ruptured the ground, lifting one side of the village over 2 meters higher. Incredible!

The big question is if and when the lava lakes will return. Ambrym has a long history of persistent lava lakes and so their return is likely. When and if they reemerge, we’ll be there.


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