Report on Nyiragongo (DR Congo) — July 1982

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 7, no. 7 (July 1982)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland

Nyiragongo (DR Congo) New details on eruption; lava lake rise slows

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1982. Report on Nyiragongo (DR Congo). In: McClelland, L (ed.), Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 7:7. 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)

The eruption began between 0400 and 0430 on 21 June when an explosion was heard. A vent on the NW wall of the crater ~10 m above the floor in a mass of fallen rock (A in figure 4) was fountaining lava to 50 m. Lava was flowing from the vent and forming a small lake in the crater bottom, which had been ~800 m below the rim before the eruption. By 1400 a high, wide, pine-tree-shaped column of white vapor was visible over the crater. The initial period of eruption was apparently phreatic, and was accompanied by continuous explosions.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 4. Sketch maps of Nyiragongo's crater: top left, May 1982, before the eruption; top right, 26 June, showing the initial vent (A) now submerged, two new vents (B and C) N of it, and the crust on the S part of the lava lake; bottom left, 3 July, with the first of the new vents also submerged by the lava lake (diagonal pattern)- sites of lava fountaining and fumarolic activity are indicated; bottom right, 23 July with all 3 vents submerged- most of the lava lake is crusted over, but there are two upwellings. Map at bottom left is from N. Zana; others are from M. Krafft.

When observers visited the crater on 26 June (figure 4, top right), the lava lake was ~250 m wide; its surface was 730 m below the crater rim. The initial vent had been submerged, and the lava lake surface was domed 20 m high over it with a 10-m-high fountain in the dome's center. Two new vents were active (B and C, top right), one about 60 m above the lake level and N of the now-submerged vent, the other, bright red inside, 220 m above the lake level and NE of its companion. Both had formed hornitos, and were steaming vigorously and ejecting lumps of fluid lava. A 15-m-wide lava flow descended from the first new vent, a 60-m-wide flow from the second. The flow surfaces were chilled but lava was moving through the tubes into the lava lake. Narrow streams of fluid red lava were running over the surface of the second flow into the lake. The S half of the lake, already chilled, was covered by a fissured black crust. The N half had a moving, striped gray skin, the movements starting where the flow from the first new vent entered the lake.

The lake level continued to rise by several meters per day, and by 30 June was 680 m below the crater rim and ~300 m wide. The bubbling dome of the submerged vent was not visible. All of the central and S parts of the lake were covered by a fissured black crust. The first new vent, now only a few meters above the lake level, was fountaining lava to 50 m and emitting a lava flow that entered the lake from the NE. The second new vent was 170 m above the lake level, still red inside and steaming strongly, but had no lava flow. The edge of the lava lake was molten, and bright orange at night.

The activity of the original vent had ceased by 3 July (figure 4, bottom left). The first new vent had built a cone about 50 m high since it became active. Observers on 4 July found the first new vent submerged and forming a large domical lava upwelling about 100 m in diameter and 10-20 m high in the N-central part of the lake. The rest of the lake surface was covered with a fissured black crust. The second new vent was steaming and sometimes emitting yellow flames; it had no lava flow.

The lava lake surface lay 550 m below the crater rim and was 500 m wide on 7 July. The domical lava upwelling over the submerged first new vent was 160 m in diameter and 30-50 m high. Concentric fluid lava waves traveled from the dome's center to its edge; lava tongues overflowed to the E and S onto the 2/3 of the lake that was covered by crust. The upwelling, the tongues, and a thin line around the edge of the lake were bright orange at night. The second new vent stood 15 m high and was 40 m above the lake level. It was still steaming strongly and was bright orange at night.

During the next 10 days the lake continued to rise. The lava upwelling over the submerged, first new vent flattened and narrowed to about 120 m in diameter. By 15 July the second new vent was only 10 m above the lake level and had breached to the S. A small lava flow from it entered the lake; lumps of fluid lava projected around its cone. By 17 July the lake level was 510 m below the crater rim. The second new vent was submerged and making a second lava upwelling in the lake, about 100 m in diameter with a central fountain 40 m in diameter and about 20 m high. This upwelling had connected with the one over the first new vent.

By 23 July the lake level appeared to have slowed its rise. It was 500 m below the crater rim and 600 m wide. The NW part was occupied by the two active lava upwellings (figure 4, bottom right), the SW one 140 m in diameter with a 40 m-wide, 10-20 m-high bubbling in the center, the NE one 100 m in diameter with a 40-m-wide, 10-30-m-high bubbling in the center. The remaining 2/3 of the lake surface was covered by a fissured black crust. A line of moving red lava was visible along the W edge of the lake. Before the eruption, the crater bottom was about 300 m wide and covered with eroded lava blocks 30-40 m high. Lava had submerged all the blocks by 3 July, by 15 July the crater bottom was completely filled, and by 23 July the lake was 300 m deep. Maurice Krafft estimated the volume of lava emitted 21 June-23 July at 36 x 106 m3. When the volcano's lava lake drained in 1977, 22 x 106 m3 were emitted.

The eruption apparently was not preceded or accompanied by noticeable seismic activity. A seismic observation on 3 July showed continuous harmonic tremor, interpreted as lava rising in the conduit. Precursor events that were observed included fumarole activity in the crater and along showing the initial and the southern fissure, which had increased significantly since January, and an apparent 100-150 m uplift of the crater bottom.

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: M. Krafft, Cernay; N. Zana, IRS.