Volcano documentaries explore the tragic and captivating sides of eruptive landscapes and the scientists who study them.

Two Documentary on Volcanoes With Tragic Sides

The year 2022 saw the release of two films about natural wonders that have a tragic side. Rory Kennedy’s The Volcano and Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love both take viewers up close with eruptive landscapes while exploring humanity’s relationship to nature.

Maurice and Katia Krafft were cut from different cloths, but they shared a love for flirting with danger. This doc offers a fascinating insight into their worlds and their mutual commitment to science.

Exploring Volcanoes

Since 1997, when Dante’s Peak and Volcano captivated audiences, we haven’t seen two major volcano films in one year. In 2019, Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love and Rory Kennedy’s The Volcano: Rescue from Whakaari both put eruptive natural wonders under a cinematic microscope.

Fire of Love features gorgeous streams of lava and plumes of ash, but it’s also an epic love story about Maurice and Katia Krafft, married scientists who bonded over their passion for volcanoes and spent their lives chasing eruptions around the world. The film is a celebration of their cutting-edge work and an everlasting tribute to their romance. It’s a must-see.

Volcanoes: The Earth’s Heartbeat

Volcanoes are some of the most powerful natural hazards on Earth. They alter landscapes on a local, regional and global scale by releasing vast amounts of energy and material.

Scientists study these phenomena to gain a better understanding of the Earth’s history. One discovery is that enigmatic hot spots around the globe appear to be pulsing together like a great planetary heartbeat.

A volcano is a bubbling cauldron of molten rock, called magma. When it reaches the surface, volcanic eruptions release ash and gases. They also create lava that covers and destroys everything in its path. Some volcanoes emit steam that cools the planet, by scattering sunlight like a giant layer of sunscreen.

Volcanoes: At the Burning Heart

Volcanoes spew hot, molten material from fissures on Earth’s crust. The eruptions often release gases, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen chloride. The concentrations of different gases vary considerably from one volcano to the next.

Shield volcanoes, which erupt lava with low viscosity and relatively high gas content, are common in oceanic settings. They can form wide, flat shield-like structures, and may erupt gently with fire fountains or explosively with lava bombs.

Some submarine volcanoes create peculiar ecosystems that rely on chemotrophs, bacteria that feed on dissolved minerals. Other volcanic formations, such as the mud volcanoes of Iceland and Ecuador, may not be associated with magmatic activity at all.

Volcanoes: Exploring Kilauea

When most people think of volcanoes, they picture cone-shaped mountains spewing lava and toxic gases from their summit craters. However, the volcanic landscapes found on Earth and other planets are far more diverse than this common perception suggests.

This documentary focuses on Kilauea, a giant shield volcano in Hawaii that constantly molds its surroundings. In addition to erupting hot liquid rock known as magma, it creates new land, shapes ancient forests and cuts deep tunnels beneath the surface. These features, combined with twists and turns in lava streams, leave behind original ecosystems that support the survival of rare plants and animals, including the endangered Hawaiian state bird.

Volcanoes: Exploring Unzen

Director and actor Miranda July narrates this fascinating documentary about Maurice and Katia Krafft, French volcanologists who spent their lives tracking the Earth’s most fiery natural phenomena. Drawing on hours of breathtaking expedition footage, this National Geographic film presents a bonanza of eye-popping images that showcase the ferocity of volcanoes — from rivers of lava to geysers of smoke.

The couple’s passion for volcanology was undying, even in the face of danger. Sara Dosa’s anthropomorphic film portrays their love for each other and their reverence for the volcanic world they explored. Their personalities contrasted, with Maurice being gregarious and devil-may-care and Katia more quiet and observant, but their love for the fiery Earth was clear.

Volcanoes: Exploring Pinatubo

This documentary from NOVA explores Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines after its 1991 eruption, which displaced thousands of people and caused massive floods from the accumulated volcanic ash. Scientists like Kayla Iacovino use gas-sampling equipment and thermal cameras to learn how the volcano behaves before and after an eruption.

Unlike other volcanologists, Maurice and Katia Krafft were not commissioned by government agencies or extractive industries. They traveled the world to catalog as many of the planet’s erupting wonders as they could, and Fire of Love puts their daring work under a cinematic microscope. Stunning images of the Earth stretching, rupturing and reforming make this film hypnotizing and inspiring.

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