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Report on Ol Doinyo Lengai (Tanzania) — August 1992

Ol Doinyo Lengai

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 17, no. 8 (August 1992)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Ol Doinyo Lengai (Tanzania) Carbonatite lava extrusion onto crater floor

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1992. Report on Ol Doinyo Lengai (Tanzania) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 17:8. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199208-222120

Ol Doinyo Lengai


2.764°S, 35.914°E; summit elev. 2962 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Aerial photographs taken by Benoit Wangermez on 8 April indicated that a considerable amount of lava had accumulated . . . since February, concentrated on the W side and in the S depression. The darkest (most recently extruded) flow from T20 skirted the W side of T16, and a narrow lobe separated vents T14 and T16. Lava from T20 had also flowed around the N slope of T14, reaching the base of the N and W crater walls. David and Trude Peterson reported that the outlines of flows around T14 and T16 were still clear on 15 April; flow surfaces were pale-gray with some darker patches. Bubbling lava noises from below T20 were heard on 15 April, but there was no molten lava visible. Steam was rising from several other vents. Crater observations by C. Nyamweru, Chris Arnold, Wolfram Vent-Schmidt, and David Peterson on 14 July describe the central cone of T20 rising from a pediment of radiating lava flows. Its height was estimated at ~15 m, and it had a small open summit vent with a narrow light-gray turret of spatter that probably formed a few days earlier. Lava was seen in the bottom of T20 . . . later in July (17:07).

Most of the other vents have generally remained unchanged since February. Vent T11, not observed since 8 April, has probably been covered by a number of flows from T20. Vent T5/T9, ~25 m tall on 14 July, is medium-brown with light-brown lower slopes and some dark fume stains on the upper slopes. Vent T15 remains dark and jagged, ~7.5 m tall, with black fume-staining on the upper slopes and light-brown lower slopes. A flow that extended 20 m from the summit of T15 on 15 April was not evident on 8 April. Vent T19, a pale-gray, low, circular vent with an open crater and no sign of activity, is surrounded by younger flows from other vents. T19 appeared dark-gray on 8 April photographs, and may have been the source for some of the flows S of the former saddle. Most of that area was dark-brown on 8 April, with the outlines and source of the flows not clearly visible. "New lava" was reported on the crater floor on 9 July by Michael Peterson and a party of British school children under the leadership of Bob Gill.

The overall appearance of the crater floor during fieldwork by Nyamweru and others on 14 July was medium-brown to white with no dark fresh flows. However, many clearly defined fresh aa and pahoehoe structures were seen on white and pale-brown lava that was probably only a few days old. One perfectly preserved small hornito (~30 cm high) observed 14 July (near T19) at the base of the SE wall was cool and white, possibly forming 2-3 days earlier. Many thick flows had crossed the former saddle and raised the surface of the S depression. Steam from several vents had been observed on 15 April, with large quantities emerging on 14 July from vents T5/T9, T8, T15, T14, T20, and rim cone C1, as well as from cracks on the crater rim and walls. The smell of sulfur was strong on 14 July, and bright-yellow sulfur patches were visible on the E rim and E wall. Pacing by C. Nyamweru and D. Peterson yielded an average E-W crater diameter of 336 m.

Geological Summary. The symmetrical Ol Doinyo Lengai is the only volcano known to have erupted carbonatite tephras and lavas in historical time. The prominent stratovolcano, known to the Maasai as "The Mountain of God," rises abruptly above the broad plain south of Lake Natron in the Gregory Rift Valley. The cone-building stage ended about 15,000 years ago and was followed by periodic ejection of natrocarbonatitic and nephelinite tephra during the Holocene. Historical eruptions have consisted of smaller tephra ejections and emission of numerous natrocarbonatitic lava flows on the floor of the summit crater and occasionally down the upper flanks. The depth and morphology of the northern crater have changed dramatically during the course of historical eruptions, ranging from steep crater walls about 200 m deep in the mid-20th century to shallow platforms mostly filling the crater. Long-term lava effusion in the summit crater beginning in 1983 had by the turn of the century mostly filled the northern crater; by late 1998 lava had begun overflowing the crater rim.

Information Contacts: C. Nyamweru, St. Lawrence Univ; D. Peterson, Tr. Peterson, and M. Peterson, Arusha; H. Brown, Nairobi, Kenya; B. Wangermez, Nairobi, Kenya; C. Arnold, Denver, CO; W. Vent-Schmidt, Germany; B. Gill, Hampton School, UK.