This volcano exists at the point at which the African continent is tearing itself apart, and the hellish mantle is rising up to fill the gap. There are actually a few places around the world that have carbonatite lava, although a third of all carbonatite volcanoes exist in the East African Rift.
It’s unclear why this particular combination of elements are so prevalent at Ol Doinyo Lengai, but the leading theory is that a conventional magma became so enriched in these elements that they separated off and could no longer mix properly – like oil and water – and a new magma type was born.
This particular volcano didn’t always erupt weird carbonatite lava either, but for modern humans, it’s actually a good thing that it does. As pointed out by Wired, this lava type contains plenty of rare earth elements, which are a vital component of modern electronics.
In fact, this volcano is fairly unthreatening, even when it erupts explosively and produces an ash plume. The most recent occurred in 2008, and it didn’t cause too much trouble. Actually, being around 370,000 years old, it’s actually proving to be quite useful for archaeologists.
Plenty of ancient humans and even some of our evolutionary ancestors have long wandered around this volcano. Whenever it erupts explosively, ash litters the landscape, hominids walk on it, and their footprints are often preserved for all eternity.
Ol Doinyo Lengai looming in the background. Yury Birukov/Shutterstock