Italian scientists have successfully used data from an orbiting satellite six miles above the Earth to measure the temperature, thickness and volume of the lava in a fiery lake inside the 11,400-foot summit of the Nyiragongo volcano at in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They say the technique could be used to monitor volcanoes in remote spots across the planet. 

The researchers, from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Catania, Italy, compared data collected from space by Meteosat, a weather satellite operated by a European research consortium.

VIDEO: Volcano Lightning: How Does it Happen?

The information was collected by an instrument called the Spinning Enhanced Visible and InfraRed Imager (SEVIRI), and it matched the results from data collected by a ground-based thermal camera.Their methods are detailed in this article in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

The lava temperature inside Nyiragongo’s lake can reach 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit.

The researchers previously used the same method in 2011 to measure the temperature of a lava fountain inside Mount Etna in Italy, but this was the first time the Congolese volcano had been measured from space. The ability to monitor Nyiragongo and spot an eruption early is important because the city of Goma and its million inhabitants are just 7.5 miles away.

NEWS: Hidden Volcanoes Melt Antarctic Glaciers From Below

Amazingly, intrepid researchers actually have climbed the volcano and visited the lava lake.  Back in 1960, documentary filmmaker Haroun Tazieff made a a documentary, The Devil’s Blast, that revealed for the first time the glowing inferno. In 2010, the summit was visited by a team that included photographer Olivier Grunewald, who got to within a few feet of the lake to take these close-up images.


Photo: The lava lake bubbling inside Nyiragongo. Credit: Cai Tjeenk Willink, via Wikimedia Commons.