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Benbow Crater with lava lake

Lava lake in Benbow Crater, January 2007
Lava lake in Benbow Crater, January 2007. / Bosons74, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

WorldBlue  In short

The giant caldera of Ambrym Volcano has several craters. Up to recent time here were located two of the few lava lakes of the world – one in Benbow Crater and another in the nearby Mbwelesu Crater.

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GPS coordinates
16.2603 S 168.1042 E
Location, address
Oceania, Melanesia, Vanuatu, central part of Ambrym Island, in Benbow Crater
Around 1,120 m

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WorldYellow In detail

Giant volcano

The island of Ambrym is a volcano – the whole island has been shaped by the basaltic Ambrym volcano. Sometimes around 190 AD (or somewhat later… or before this… exact date is not known) a giant volcanic eruption created the present-day Ambrym caldera which is some 12 by 8 km large.

Later in this caldera rose several craters – two larger ones (Benbow and Marum) and three smaller ones.

Benbow (left) and Marum (right) craters from space, september 2009
Benbow (left) and Marum (right) craters from space, september 2009./ European Space Agency, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Ambrym is one of the world’s most active volcanoes to this day. Its eruptions often are disastrous and local people from time to time (e.g. in December 1913) are forced to flee from the island.

Around the crater grows a lush tropical forest with gorgeous orchids. Orchids grow in the caldera as well. Closer to the craters, though, the land is empty due to frequent eruptions and acid emissions.

One should visit the volcano at certain times of the year with experienced local guides. There are cultural restrictions – many places are subject to seasonal taboos.

Acid rain

Acid rain from the craters of Ambrym is fairly common. Thus, in March 1979 from Benbow Crater rose a very destructive cloud of acid rain with sulfuric acid. Within 24 hours much of the vegetation in the southwest part of the island was lifeless, and water supplies were contaminated. Some people got acid burns.

In November 2002 acid rain eliminated mango fields on the west coast. Frequent acid rains have caused a lack of suitable groundwater and locals are in a dire need of fresh water.

Lava lake in Benbow Crater

Over the last century, lava lakes in the craters of the Ambrym volcano have been observed several times. For several decades from the 1990ies until December 2018, there existed two lava lakes – one in Benbow Crater and one in a smaller side crater of Marum – Mbwelesu Crater.

In August 2018 there were even three lava lakes – a third one appeared in the Niri Mbwelesu crater around January 2018.

The lava lake in the Benbow crater could not be seen from the rim of the crater and visitors had to descend in the crater and some dared to approach up to 100 m distance from the lake. But this trip hard was rewarding – the lava lake offered a view that is very, very rare on Earth.

The lava lake was rather small, some 40 by 30 m large. But it was in constant movement with lava fountains and waves. Visitors stood at the crater and it was hard to leave…

After a powerful eruption and several earthquakes, all the lava lakes of the Ambrym volcano disappeared on December 16, 2018. We do not know if they will return…


  1. Ambrym volcano. Accessed on June 10, 2019
  2. Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History. Global Volcanism Program. Ambrym. Accessed on June 10, 2019

Benbow Crater is included in the following article:

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This category includes the most unusual and interesting volcanoes of the world.

Over the last 10,000 years in some 1,500 places around the Earth mantle of Earth has emitted lava, ash, and gases through the crust of the planet. Each of these places is an active volcano. Some 50 – 70 volcanoes erupt every year and at any moment there are some 20 – 30 eruptions ongoing.

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