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Photographer Carsten Peter tests the thermal suit used to get close to a volcano's lava lake. (National Geographic)

The Hot Seat: A Photographer's Descent Into A Volcano

by Maggie Starbard
Apr 5, 2011

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According to his own website, Photographer Carsten Peter "specializes in going to extremes," and his recent National Geographic adventures are no exception: For the magazine's April issue, he descended into the depths of one of the world's most dangerous — and least studied — volcanoes, Nyiragongo.

This active volcano rises up above the war-torn city of Goma in Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is home to an estimated one million people. Volcanologist Dario Tedesco says in the article, "there is no question the volcano will erupt again, potentially transforming Goma into a modern Pompeii." How to predict when this might happen is the crucial question the scientists hope to figure out.

The team of scientists set up camp only a few hundred feet above the giant lake of lava. I spoke with Peter on the phone and he says that the inside of a volcano is a "magic place to be" but it does not come without risk, e.g., falling rocks, splattering lava and poisonous gases seeping out of every crack. "It's like a big cat-and-mouse game where you don't want to be caught."

You can see their entire journey into Nyiragongo on the National Geographic Channel special Man Vs. Volcano. And check out more of Peter's volcano (and tornado!) photos on his site.

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