Through their Explorer documentary series, National Geographic seeks to bring the beauty of our world to the masses, letting everyday people peek behind the curtain to see the secrets the Earth holds in every corner.
The upcoming installment, Lake of Fire, follows scientists as they attempt to learn more about a remote, unexplored volcano about a thousand miles north of Antarctica on the South Sandwich Islands.
In 2001, a mysterious thermal anomaly was identified on Mt. Michael, but it wasn’t until 2018 that satellite imagery confirmed that temperatures within the volcano were consistent with molten lava and there was a chance it held a lava lake.
Lava lakes are one of the planet’s most unusual features, especially because they are very rare; Mt. Michael is only the eighth to be discovered. For a lava lake to form, the temperature of the heat coming from the vent system of the volcano must balance with the rate of cooling to keep the lava molten.
Last November, a group of National Geographic explorers made the first ascent of Mt. Michael to confirm the presence of molten lava within. Lake of Fire follows their trip, detailing how dangerous – yet critical – this mission was.
In the documentary, Dr. Emma Nicholson, a volcanologist on the expedition, explains how important lava lakes are in helping scientists learn more about volcanic processes and how to read their patterns: What indicators could they provide to signal an eruption? Could they also be applied to other volcanoes?
She and the other explorers were able to take samples and run field experiments to help further research on volcanic behavior; however, their quest did not come without challenges.
From seasickness on the boat that carried them to the island, to extreme weather, to physical fatigue while climbing, the group had to push themselves to their very limits to complete their mission and retrieve such crucial data. And that’s not even to mention the plumes of toxic gases emitted from the volcano, nor the unstable ice cliffs around its mouth!
Executing a successful climb was made all the more sweet for Dr. Nicholson, who first attempted to ascend Mt. Michael in 2020, but fell short due to a number of factors including weather. She felt like she had unfinished business, so she jumped at the chance to try again.
The weather wasn’t much different this time around, so the group had to make a decision at the last minute for half the group to climb during a short window of good weather, while the other half packed base camp to take back to their boat to be transported off the island.
Viewers will be swept into the stresses and triumphs of the expedition, cheer for the explorers’ successes, and marvel at the magnificence that only National Geographic can capture when Lake of Fire premieres on NatGeo on October 26, and Disney+ and Hulu on October 27.