Trash is annoying. It builds up mountainous landfills, fills the ocean with junk, litters space, and pollutes the atmosphere. So, why not just chuck it into a volcano? An expedition tried that in Erta Ale Volcano, tossing 30 kilograms of organic waste into the lava lake. ...which then erupted. Whoops.

Volcano as Garbage Disposal

Erta Ale Volcano in the Danakil Desert of Ethiopia. Photography credit: filippo_jean

Erta Ale Volcano is a shield volcano in Ethiopia. That means it is basaltic lava with a low silica content, producing effusive, continuous eruptions much like those in Hawaii. This particular volcano is unusual for containing a long-term lava lake.

It is located along the East African Rift, where tectonic plates are pulling apart. As the plates continue to pull apart at a pace of centimeters a year, eventually the rift will open large enough to tear a piece off Africa. Water will pour into the valley from the ocean, transforming the rift into a proto-ocean. Eventually, the rift will become a mid-ocean ridge like the one splitting the Atlantic Ocean.

In the video, a pack of organic trash of approximately 30 kilograms is tossed into the lava lake. The falling garbage has sufficient kinetic energy to pierce the skin on the lake, disrupting equilibrium and triggering a small eruption.

This is also a bit of an experiment into what would happen if you jumped into a lava lake: you'd pierce the skin, float on the lava, die horribly, and possibly trigger an eruption. Yuck.

We covered this when the video was first released in 2012. Read more about the volcano on Wired's Eruptions Blog. Learn more about the 2002 expedition to visit the lake here. Thank you to Mat Fournier for the tip!