Logo link to homepage

Report on Piton de la Fournaise (France) — July 1991

Piton de la Fournaise

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 16, no. 7 (July 1991)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Piton de la Fournaise (France) Brief lava production follows seismicity, deformation, and magnetic changes

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1991. Report on Piton de la Fournaise (France) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 16:7. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199107-233020

Piton de la Fournaise


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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

A short eruption occurred on 19-20 July, following a slight increase in seismicity that began 24 June (figure 28), and immediately preceded by a shallow microearthquake swarm. Almost 80 earthquakes (M less than 1.5), located beneath the S flank of the summit cone at depths of less than 1 km, were recorded from 0256 to 0350 on 19 June. At 0350, the appearance of tremor signaled the start of lava outflow.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 28. Daily number of earthquakes (top), measured tilt at Dolomieu station 100 m S of the crater (middle), and difference of magnetic field from the reference station 3.5 km W of the fissure (bottom) at Piton de la Fournaise, 30 May-19 July 1991. Courtesy of J-P. Toutain.

EDM (sampled every 5 minutes) and radial tilt measurements (every minute) at a station (DOLO) ~200 m from the eruptive fissure (figure 29) showed relatively slow inflation beginning at 0310 (figure 30), believed associated with the beginning of intrusion from the magma reservoir. At 0340, radial tilt began to increase rapidly (up to 54 µrad/min), while EDM indicated a rapid decrease in the distance between the rims of the two summit craters. Inflation led to southward tilting (mean azimuth, 175°) of the DOLO station area. Rapid deflation began at 0350, corresponding with the start of tremor, and lasted until 0434. Deflation occurred at maximum rates of 48 µrad/min, causing DOLO to tilt roughly N (azimuth ~10°).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 29. Sketch map showing the summit area of Piton de la Fournaise and the 19 July 1991 lava flows. Courtesy of J-P. Toutain.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 30. Deformation at Piton de la Fournaise, 0140-0500 on 19 July 1991. Top: EDM, sampled every 5 minutes at Dolomieu. Middle: tilt measurements, sampled every minute at Dolomieu and Soufriere; bold lines=radial component, normal lines=tangential component. Bottom: measured strain, sampled every minute at Dolomieu; Z=vertical, X and Y= horizontal components. Arrow indicates start of eruption. Stations are shown in Figure 33. Courtesy of J-P. Toutain.

The magnetic field near the eruptive vents (station 6) showed a clear decreasing trend beginning on 16 June (figure 28). On 19 July, a rapid magnetic field increase was measured, corresponding with the onset of the eruption. Lava was emitted from two vents along an eruptive fissure, one inside and one outside of the summit (Dolomieu) crater (figure 29). Lava fountains, 30 m high, were observed during the morning of the 19th and flow velocity was estimated at 3-4 m/s that afternoon. Lava flowed E through the Grandes Pentes area, covering ~1 x 106 m2, with a total volume estimated at 5 x 106 m3. The eruption lasted until about 2000 on 20 July.

Geological Summary. The massive Piton de la Fournaise basaltic shield volcano on the French island of Réunion in the western Indian Ocean is one of the world's most active volcanoes. 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 calderas formed at about 250,000, 65,000, and less than 5000 years ago by progressive eastward slumping of the volcano. Numerous pyroclastic cones dot the floor of the calderas and their outer flanks. Most historical eruptions have originated from the summit and flanks of Dolomieu, a 400-m-high lava shield that has grown within the youngest caldera, which is 8 km wide and breached to below sea level on the eastern 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 on the outer flanks of the caldera. The Piton de la Fournaise Volcano Observatory, one of several operated by the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, monitors this very active volcano.

Information Contacts: J-P. Toutain and P. Taochy, OVPDLF; P. Bachelery, Univ de la Réunion; J-L. Cheminée, P. Blum, A. Hirn, J. LePine, and J. Zlotnicki, IPGP; F. Garner and I. Appora, Univ Paris VI.