Descending Night, Nyiragongo Volcano, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2010

When will Nyiragongo erupt? — ‘It’s the question that may determine the fate of close to one million people. Nyiragongo is a two-mile-high volcano towering over the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—one of the most active volcanoes on the planet and also one of the least studied. The chief reason for the lack of research is that for the past 20 years the eastern DRC has seen nearly constant warfare, including a spillover of the massacres in neighboring Rwanda.

Our team set up camp on a wide ledge 800 feet below the rim, a few hundred feet above the thundering lake. The environment was noxious, the air full of acid and metallic aerosol particles. Raindrops sizzled as they landed in fumaroles. Gas masks were worn. Within days, zipper pulls corroded; camera lenses began disintegrating.

With temperatures around 0°F, the lava lake is wildly erratic. As molten rock meets the air, it cools and forms plates on the lake’s surface. Rising gas bubbles often explode and can splatter lava some 60 feet in the air. Every day the lava lake emits around 7,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, the chief element in acid rain. This is more than the total from every car and factory in the United States. ‘Basically, it's one big chimney,’

Location: Nyiragongo Volcano, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Photograph Date: 2010
Medium: Chromogenic Print
Edition: 200

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About the Photographer

Carsten Peter

Carsten Peter, a World Press Photo award winner and regular contributor to National Geographic magazine, specializes in going to extremes: scuba diving in a glacier on Mont Blanc, crossing the Sahara on a camel, caving in Borneo. He is always living on the edge with his camera, searching for where nature is still pure and where his survival will depend on his wits and his skills as a technical climber, paraglider, caver, diver, and canyoneer.

He is enthusiastically obsessed with devising innovative photographic techniques to capture never-before-seen images from some of the scariest environments on the planet. His many adventures include braving toxic caverns and acid waterfalls to shoot within the deepest ice shafts on earth, rappelling into active volcanoes with turbulent lava lakes and superheated thermal caves, and breaking altitude records while flying his motorized paraglider.

In addition to his World Press award – for his coverage of tornadoes while stormchasing in the American West – he has received an Emmy Award for his videography from inside an active volcano in the South Pacific.

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