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Report on Piton de la Fournaise (France) — September 1999

Piton de la Fournaise

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 24, no. 9 (September 1999)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Piton de la Fournaise (France) September-October eruption generates lava fountains and flows

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1999. Report on Piton de la Fournaise (France) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 24:9. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199909-233020

Piton de la Fournaise


21.244°S, 55.708°E; summit elev. 2632 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Less than 2 months after the end of the eruption of July (BGVN 24:09), a new seismic crisis started at 1037 on 28 September. Most of the observed 189 seismic events had magnitudes of less than 1. All were situated above sea level. Only two of them had significantly larger magnitudes of 1.8 and 2.2, at 1042 and 1053, respectively.

An eruption started at 1158 in the W part of Dolomieu crater with a strong whistling noise. Seconds later, a 10-m-diameter, ~50-m-high lava fountain rose from the SW corner of Dolomieu crater. Immediately after that, a fissure formed going NW, followed by the development of small lava fountains and a lava flow. Less than 5 minutes later the fissure measured ~200 m long and was terminated by another lava fountain 20-30 m high. At 1210, the fissure opened on the S flank "en echelon," ~100 m below the crater rim. The two upper fissures measured ~50 m long, followed by a third one ~250 m. The lava flow down the steep S flank extended ~1 km in less than 15 minutes. It continued to the SE on a more gentle slope and reached "Château Fort" crater, 2 km away, within two hours.

Less than 8 hours after the eruption started, activity was limited to some individual points on the upper S flank, while the main lava flow had stagnated. No further activity was observed in the Dolomieu crater. In the night, small fissures on the S flank at 2,150 m elevation produced some small pahoehoe lava flows.

On 8 October, after a significant increase of tremor, steam release was observed in the south "enclos," at 1,900 m altitude, ~4 km away from Dolomieu crater and on the morning of 11 October a new 600-m-long lava flow was observed 500 m to the SE, on the base of crater "Villèlle," close to southern border of the caldera. On 18 October this lava flow measured ~1.5 km. No further activity was observed at this site on 21 October. As of 22 October tremor was still visible, mainly in form of small "gas piston events," centered on the upper fissures on the S flank of Fournaise, where a small cone was formed. The eruption ended following small "gas piston events" on at about 1800 on 23 October. Residual fumarolic plumes, consisting primarily of water vapor, were visible the following week.

Mapping of the lava flow was performed in the first days by use of small hand-held GPS. Early lava flows, in Dolomieu crater and on the S flank are mainly aa lava flows. In the Dolomieu crater, it represents a surface of ~40,000 m2 (?) and a volume of <100,000 m3. It partly covered the July lava flow. On the border of the lava flow we could observe fissuring of the ground, up to 3 m deep, due to the weight of the new up to 3-m-high lava flow.

The main lava flow on the S flank represents about 300,000 m2 and <1 x 106 m3. Taking into account an emplacement within less than 5 hours, the eruption rate was estimated to be >50 m3/s. The small pahoehoe flow from the fissures at 2,150 m altitude covered less than 5,000 m2.

The southern-most lava flow starting at crater Villèlle also was mainly pahoehoe. There were no projections at its point of emission, indicating a highly degassed magma. On 11 October a ~1 m lava flow emerged from a small "well" on the SW base of "Villèlle." The volume of this lava flow is estimated to be under 50,000 m3. All recovered samples were aphyric basalt.

Geological Summary. Piton de la Fournaise is a massive basaltic shield volcano on the French island of RĂ©union in the western Indian Ocean. Much of its more than 530,000-year history overlapped with eruptions of the deeply dissected Piton des Neiges shield volcano to the NW. Three scarps formed at about 250,000, 65,000, and less than 5,000 years ago by progressive eastward slumping, leaving caldera-sized embayments open to the E and SE. Numerous pyroclastic cones are present on the floor of the scarps and their outer flanks. Most recorded eruptions have originated from the summit and flanks of Dolomieu, a 400-m-high lava shield that has grown within the youngest scarp, which is about 9 km wide and about 13 km from the western wall to the ocean on the E side. More than 150 eruptions, most of which have produced fluid basaltic lava flows, have occurred since the 17th century. Only six eruptions, in 1708, 1774, 1776, 1800, 1977, and 1986, have originated from fissures outside the scarps.

Information Contacts: Thomas Staudacher, Nicolas Villeneuve, and Jean Louis Cheminée, Observatoire Volcanologique du Piton de la Fournaise, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, Institut National des Sciences de l'Univers, 14 RN3 - Km 27, 97418 La Plaine des Cafres, Réunion, France (URL: http://www.ipgp.fr/fr/ovpf/observatoire-volcanologique-piton-de-fournaise).