Report on Nyiragongo (DR Congo) — September 2003

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 28, no. 9 (September 2003)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke

Nyiragongo (DR Congo) Continuing lava lake activity through mid-August

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2003. Report on Nyiragongo (DR Congo). In: Venzke, E (ed.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 28:9. Smithsonian Institution.

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DR Congo

1.52°S, 29.25°E; summit elev. 3470 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

New reports of activity at Nyiragongo include observations from visits on 12-13 July and 14-15 August 2003. Seismicity was low during the report period, but tremor related to the lava lake continued to characterize volcanic activity. Staff at the Goma observatory have kept the hazard status for Nyiragongo at Yellow (Vigilance).

During 6-12 July two long-period earthquakes were detected. Four tectonic earthquakes registered to the S and beneath Lake Kivu; none of these were felt by area residents. Fracture measurements at Monigi, Mugara, and the Nyiragongo hut did not show any significant change from previous measurements, but at Lemera fracture spacing increased from 7.537 to 7.550 m, and there was an extension of 8 mm at Shaheru. Also during the visit, Pele's hair as long as 10-15 cm was observed between Shaheru and the crater; gas plumes were noted in the S, SW, and W, along with large scoriae. Crater observations indicated the possible formation of a third platform at 650 m depth. Two small vents formed NE of the main lava lake and there was significant degassing along the S base of the internal wall.

Between 13 and 19 July, seismic activity remained low, with four long-period earthquakes beneath the NE flank. No earthquakes were felt and only seven tectonic earthquakes were recorded to the S and beneath Lake Kivu. Volcanic tremor persisted, indicating activity in the lava lake. Fracture spacing measurements were taken at Shaheru and the Nyiragongo hut, but without noticeable changes (14.778 m at Shaheru 1, 29.602 m at Shaheru 2, and 0.942 m at Nyiragongo hut). Observations of fumarole openings had been reported by residents in the Mutwanga district. Also on 18 July investigations at Kiziba revealed a recent tongue of lava infiltrating older lava layers, found in a hole dug as a septic tank.

Volcanic tremors continued between 20 July and 2 August; no earthquakes were reported. Fracture measurements at Busholoza and Kabutembo did not indicate significant changes; temperature and deformation measurements at the top of Nyiragongo, the Nyiragongo hut, Shaheru, Mugara, and Monigi also did not reveal any notable changes. However, local CH4 (methane) was present at concentrations of 35.5%.

Between 1 and 3 August the lava lake appeared very active, with lava fountains up to 10 m high, projecting large but light scoriae into the atmosphere. Pele's hair was observed at Shaheru (2,200 m elevation) and heat radiating from the lake could be felt at the observation camp on the edge of the crater. Because of the considerable projection of volcanic products, pilots were advised to avoid the area.

Following a magnitude 5.2 earthquake in the Virunga region on 5 August, scientists from the Goma observatory visited Nyiragongo on 14-15 August. Measurements included deformation and gas geochemistry in fractures, and the lava lake was monitored. No significant deformation was observed at cracks on the S side of Nyiragongo. Gas measurements at Shaheru showed that local CO2 concentrations had increased by 1.7%, while methane there had doubled. At the top of Nyiragongo, however, measurements on 15 August were half those on 14 August. Late on 14 August a "swirl" of air caused gas to fill the crater, and ~ 2 hours later scientists as well as residents west of Virunga felt an earthquake. Another earthquake was felt in Kibati and at the crater on 15 August.

The lava lake appeared calm on 14 August, and two small vents were visible; only one was visible the next day. The lava lake was measured to be 260 m in diameter, nearly the same as on 2 August. Also during the visit scientists installed a scorimeter: Two hours worth of scoria, weighing 236.2 g per square meter, were sampled.

Geologic Background. One of Africa's most notable volcanoes, Nyiragongo contained a lava lake in its deep summit crater that was active for half a century before draining catastrophically through its outer flanks in 1977. In contrast to the low profile of its neighboring shield volcano, Nyamuragira, 3470-m-high Nyiragongo displays the steep slopes of a stratovolcano. Benches in the steep-walled, 1.2-km-wide summit crater mark levels of former lava lakes, which have been observed since the late-19th century. Two older stratovolcanoes, Baruta and Shaheru, are partially overlapped by Nyiragongo on the north and south. About 100 parasitic cones are located primarily along radial fissures south of Shaheru, east of the summit, and along a NE-SW zone extending as far as Lake Kivu. Many cones are buried by voluminous lava flows that extend long distances down the flanks, which is characterized by the eruption of foiditic rocks. The extremely fluid 1977 lava flows caused many fatalities, as did lava flows that inundated portions of the major city of Goma in January 2002.

Information Contacts: Goma Volcano Observatory, Departement de Geophysique, Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles, Lwiro, D.S. Bukavu, DR Congo (Email: