Geoff Mackley is equal parts volcanologist and daredevil. The New Zealand native has spent 15 years attempting to get as close as possible to some of nature's most amazing, and most terrifying wonders: active volcanoes.
Last month, Mackley achieved one of his lifetime goals when he stood just 30 yards above a mesmerizing, superheated crater of lava in the South Pacific.
“In this day and age, there are very few places you can go and things you can do where you can truly say ‘Wow,’’’ Mackley said. “There’s very few places on earth that you can actually truly go and stand and say, ‘I am the only human to have ever stood here,’ and such was the case with this place."
"There," in this case, was an active volcano on the island of Ambrym, located east of northern Australia in the Vanuatu archipelago. Mount Marum is one of about 1,500 active volcanoes around the world, according to PBS.
Ambrymis nicknamed the "Black Island" because of the amount of dark volcanic ash created by its two active volcanoes, according to KABC.
But this is not the first time Mackley has descended into the fiery pit. The daredevil led an expedition two years ago that captured stunning video of the team, outfitted in heat reflecting silver suits and oxygen breathers, 1,700 feet inside Mount Marum.
With temperatures reaching almost 2,000 degrees, Mackley noted on his website that it was practically impossible to stand the heat for more than a few seconds at a time, even with special protective wear.
In an interview with Matt Lauer following that 2010 trip, Mackley admitted that "a lot of people might think I'm crazy." But the concerns of the general public have done little to slake his thirst for extreme adventure.
Regarding his most recent trip, Mackley told "Today" show host Willie Geist that the air was so hot, “If you took one gulp of the superheated air coming off that lava, it would kill you instantly.’’
“I was able to stand there breathing cool, fresh air from the breathing tanks, and in that heat suit, you still felt like you were in an oven. It was kind of a surreal experience. You could feel the waves of heat blasting at you, and you just felt totally protected," he added.
Protected or not, throughout the past two centuries, 200,000 have died from volcanic eruptions, including 200 people who died in the 2010 eruption of Mount Merapi in Indonesia, according to PBS.
And though Mackley has made a career out of volcano exploration, it should be noted that inexperienced individuals should stay clear.
In 2010, a Swedish tourist plummeted to his death into the crater of an active volcano in Bali while on a hike with some friends. But scientists can be caught unawares as well. In 1993 Stanley Williams, a geology professor at Arizona State University, was the lone survivor when a surprise blast from the Galeras volcano in Colombia killed six other people in his exploration party.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated the location of Mount Marum. It is in fact east of northern Australia.