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Volcano Alert

Renowned photographer Carsten Peter joins a team of dedicated volcanologists at Ethiopia’s Erta’Ale volcano to photograph and collect samples from the world’s oldest active lava lake, while half a world away in Washington state, National Geographic Ultimate Explorer host Lisa Ling explores the steps people are taking in the event Mount Rainier should erupt after years of inactivity. Airs Sunday, Feb. 1, 9 p.m. ET

National Geographic Ultimate Explorer journeys deep into eastern Africa’s “hellhole of creation,” a barren, volcanic wasteland at the junction of three continental plates. The plates constantly spread farther apart, triggering some of the world’s most remarkable volcanic activity. Over millennia, the eruptions and lava flows have scorched an area nearly 12 times the size of Manhattan. At the heart of the bleak, inhospitable landscape lies Erta’Ale - a massive volcano that is home to the world’s oldest active lava lake.

Renowned photographer Carsten Peter joins a team of dedicated volcanologists to photograph and collect samples from Erta’Ale’s lake of fire. It is a difficult and dangerous journey even for these experienced adventurers. The volcano is miles from the nearest major city, and the team must trek across some of the world’s harshest terrain. Once they reach Erta’Ale, they not only have to get close to the sweltering cauldron, they must go deep into it, descending into the mouth of the volcano itself. And once inside, they must endure blistering heat to collect samples from a pit of magma. If they are successful, they will unlock new secrets of the Erta’Ale volcano - not only about how this incredible inferno was formed and how old it is, but also about the formation of the world itself.

Half a world away in Washington state, the conditions couldn’t be more different. There, Mount Rainier towers over sprawling communities threatened by the possibility this sleeping giant could one day cause massive devastation. Though Mount Rainier has not erupted since the 19th century, more than 150,000 people now live in sprawling communities in the path of previous mudflows. Because of the large cover of ice and snow, one of the biggest dangers an eruption of Mt. Rainier poses comes in the form of these flows, known as lahars. These thick streams of water, sediment and debris can wreak havoc - destroying bridges, buildings and other man-made objects in their paths. It is likely no volcano in the lower 48 states would have such an immediate impact on more people faster than this one if it were to awaken.

In this day of emergency preparedness usually involving protection against man-made or terrorist activities, Ultimate Explorer host correspondent Lisa Ling will talk to those on the front line of a different kind of emergency preparedness: preparedness against a natural threat. From new building regulations to classroom drills, communities are taking action in the event a catastrophe occurs. Join Ultimate Explorer for this up-close look at volcanoes and their impact on our world.