The World’s Eighth Lava Lake Was Just Discovered on a Remote Sub-Antarctic Island

Mount Michael from above.
Mount Michael from above. / Pete Bucktrout, British Antarctic Survey

Lakes of flowing, angry lava hidden within volcanoes are not as common as movies like The Lord of the Rings and Shrek would have us think. Before today, there were only seven known persistent lava lakes on Earth.

British satellite images just confirmed the eighth, inside the crater of Mount Michael, an active volcano located on Saunders Island, a British Overseas Territory (BOT) in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica, Gizmodo reports.

This false color image captured by Landsat 8 shows the red lava lake within Mount Michael's crater.
This false color image captured by Landsat 8 shows the red lava lake within Mount Michael's crater. / Landsat 8, British Antarctic Survey

The existence of the lava lake wasn’t exactly a surprise; researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and University College London have suspected as much for as long as 30 years. In the 1990s, images showed thermal anomalies around the crater, but the resolution of the images wasn’t good enough to prove anything. With the help of satellites Landsat, Sentinel-2, and ASTER, they now know for sure, and they’ve published their findings in the latest issue of the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research.

Mount Michael’s lava lake is impressively terrifying. Though it’s not the largest in the world (that record is held by the Democratic Republic of Congo's Mount Nyiragongo, whose lava lake reaches 820 feet across), this lake's diameter ranges from 295 to 705 feet, which is almost as long as two football fields. And it can heat up to 2334°F—at that temperature, your cast iron skillet would melt into cast iron soup.

It's also the first discovered in a British territory. The others are located in Ethiopia, Antarctica, Nicaragua, Hawaii, Vanuatu (which has two), and the aforementioned Democratic Republic of Congo.

"We are delighted to have discovered such a remarkable geological feature in the British Overseas Territory,” author and geologist Dr. Alex Burton-Johnson from the British Antarctic Survey said in a statement. "Identifying the lava lake has improved our understanding of the volcanic activity and hazard on this remote island, and tells us more about these rare features, and finally, it has helped us develop techniques to monitor volcanoes from space."

For more on monitoring volcanoes from space, check out this incredible photo of a volcano eruption taken from space just last week.

[h/t Gizmodo]