Ambrym Volcano | John Seach


Ambrym Island, Malampa Province, Vanuatu

16.25 S, 168.12 E
summit elevation 1334 m
Pyroclastic Shield Volcano

Ambrym volcano is the Jewel of the Pacific. Ambrym Island is located in central Vanuatu and contains one of the world's most active volcanoes. Lava lakes regularly appear in the summit craters. Several times per century, Ambrym volcano erupts violently. Lava lakes disappeared at Ambrym volcano in December 2018 after an intra-caldera flank eruption. Contrary to the widely mis-quoted reports there have never been lava lakes in Marum crater. Marum crater has not been active since the 1950's.

Ambrym volcano has a history of explosive eruptions with the most recent one occurred in 2018. The eruption was characterized by ash emissions, lava fountains, and the formation of a new crater. Ash plumes reached heights of up to 4 km above sea level and caused ash fall in the surrounding areas, as well as the formation of lava flows and pyroclastic flows. 

The eruption also caused damage to crops and infrastructure, and forced the evacuation of a small number of people from the island. The volcano's activity is closely monitored by the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geohazards Department using techniques such as seismology, gas measurements, and thermal imaging. This monitoring helps to understand the volcano's behavior and to predict potential hazards, such as ashfall, pyroclastic flows, and lava flows. 

Ambrym volcano photos by John Seach

ambrym volcano, vanuatu
Benbow crater glow, Ambrym Island, Vanuatu 2007

ambrym volcano lava lake
Ambrym volcano lava lake 2002

ambrym volcano lava lake vanuatu
Mbwelesu lava lake, Ambrym volcano

Ambrym volcano lava lake 1999 - John Seach

benbow crater ambarm volcano
John Seach preparing to abseil into Benbow crater in 1999

ambrym volcano
John Seach inside Benbow lava lake crater in 1999

ambrym volcano, vanuatu
John Seach inside Benbow lava lake crater in 1999

benbow crater ambrym island
John Seach free-climbing out of Benbow lava lake crater 2002

Mbwelesu crater, Ambrym Island, Vanuatu

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Ash and steam emission from Benbow crater, Ambrym Island 2007

Ambrym Filming expedition 2010

More Ambrym volcano photos...

In 1913-14 Ambrym volcano produced the largest eruption in 400 years in Melanesia. The island is located in central Vanuatu along the main shipping lane between Port Vila and Espiritu Santo. The island is also noted for magic, sand drawing, rom dance, and tamtam carvings.

There is only one volcano on Ambrym, not two, as incorrectly stated by some people. Marum crater has not erupted in 60 years. Lava lakes regularly appear in Benbow and Mbwelesu craters. In the 1990's French explorers were the first to descend into Marum crater to view Mbwelesu lava lake.

The summit of Ambrym Island contains a desert-like caldera covering 100 sq km.
This provides an impressive contrast with the thick jungle covering most of the island. The caldera appears barren but closer inspection shows specialised caldera plants and animals. Even right on the crater rims, there are many insects which thrive in the acid environment. Elsewhere on the caldera there are orchids which prefer the cooler acid environment, and usually fail to survive at sea level.

Ambrym volcano was first climbed in the late 1800's and produced destructive eruptions in 1894, 1913, 1929, and 1951. During the 1980's and 1990's activity included lava lakes in the summit craters. Ambrym volcano is unusual because it produces basaltic lava in a subduction zone.

Lava lake video at Ambrym 2009 - John Seach

Ambrym Volcano Expeditions
John Seach has been leading expeditions to Ambrym volcano since 1998 and has been to the craters more than 180 times.

Ambrym lava lake video by John Seach
Ambrym Eruption Reports

Further reading
Shreve, T., Grandin, R. and Boichu, M., 2022. Reservoir depressurization driven by passive gas emissions at Ambrym volcano. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 584, p.117512..

Moussallam, Y., et al. 2021. How to turn off a lava lake? A petrological investigation of the 2018 intra-caldera and submarine eruptions of Ambrym volcano. Bulletin of Volcanology, 83(5), pp.1-19.

Németh, K. and Cronin, S.J., 2011. Drivers of explosivity and elevated hazard in basaltic fissure eruptions: the 1913 eruption of Ambrym Volcano, Vanuatu (SW-Pacific). Journal of volcanology and geothermal research, 201(1-4), pp.194-209.

Robin, C., Eissen, J.P. and Monzier, M., 1993. Giant tuff cone and 12-km-wide associated caldera at Ambrym Volcano (Vanuatu, New Hebrides Arc). Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 55(3-4), pp.225-238.

McCall, G.J.H., LeMaitre, R.W., Malahoff, A., Robinson, G.P. and Stephenson, P.J., 1970. The geology and geophysics of the Ambrym Caldera, New Hebrides. Bulletin Volcanologique34(3), pp.681-696.

Ambrym Volcano Eruptions

2024, 2022, 1996-2018, 1994, 1991, 1990, 1989, 1988, 1986, 1984-86, 1983, 1981, 1980, 1979, 1977, 1973-76, 1972, 1971, 1967-70, 1964-66, 1963, 1961-63, 1960, 1959, 1958, 1957, 1955, 1954, 1953, 1952, 1950-51, 1942, 1938, 1937, 1935-36, 1929, 1915, 1913-14, 1912, 1910, ?1909, 1908, 1898, 1894-95, 1888, 1886, 1884, 1883, 1871, ?1870, 1863-64, 1820?, 1774, 50 AD.