Logo link to homepage

Report on Ol Doinyo Lengai (Tanzania) — October 1995

Ol Doinyo Lengai

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 20, no. 10 (October 1995)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Ol Doinyo Lengai (Tanzania) New hornitos and lava flows observed in July

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1995. Report on Ol Doinyo Lengai (Tanzania) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 20:10. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199510-222120

Ol Doinyo Lengai


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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Intermittent explosive activity and extrusion of carbonititic lava on the crater floor began in January 1983 and continued for over ten years. Vigorous effusive and explosive activity in June 1993, perhaps the strongest of that eruptive episode, covered most of the crater floor and upper W flank with fresh lava flows and deposited ash on the flanks (BGVN 18:07-18:10). In September 1994 a deep central depression contained a hornito from which highly vesicular brown lava was erupting (BGVN 19:09).

Activity observed in mid-July 1995 was the first reported since September 1994, although the appearance of the recent flows indicated that they were a few months old. Members of the Societe de Volcanologie Geneve (SVG) visited the summit on 15 July 1995. A visit to the summit crater was also made by Celia Nyamweru on 19 July.

Activity on 15 July 1995. SVG observers reported a new active hornito (T36), ~4 m high, close to the S foot of T20 (figure 35). Fluid carbonatitic lava flows were emitted from its base through a channel in the direction of a rounded collapsed new opening ~15 m in diameter, close to T5/T9. The lava in the channel was pale brown and frothy, with a velocity estimated at 1.5 m/second; temperature was ~550 degrees C. At the end of the channel, the flow moved N through different tubes. Lava breakouts from some downstream openings were still very fluid and completely black. Both small pahoehoe and aa lava fronts were observed. Ejecta were rare from the summit vent of T36. The new lava field was mainly directed N, with one branch passing W of T20 and the other going through and filling the oval-shaped depression first noted in October 1993 (see BGVN 19:04).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 35. Sketch of the Ol Doinyo Lengai crater (~300 m wide) looking SW from the NE rim, 19 July 1995. Courtesy of Celia Nyamweru.

Activity on 19 July. At 1000 the crater was full of cloud, hiding features on the crater floor, but frequent sharp cracks, bangs, and thumps were heard, as well as bubbling noises. Conditions improved so that activity could be observed after 1115. White to brown steam was escaping continuously from the top of T20, and a little from T5T9. Sulfurous fumes were emitted from cracks on the E crater rim and wall. The lower slopes of T23 were made up of many small parallel pahoehoe flows, now soft and pale brown; T23 was not emitting steam. The new cones, T34 to T37, lay W of the depression that had been virtually filled by lava flows from these centers. T34 was a double cone, pale gray, with an open vent on its upper slope from which no steam or heat was being emitted. T35 was light brown to white, with no sign of fresh lava. T37 was a shallow circular crater W of and close to the base of T5/T9; it appeared fresh but showed no activity on 19 July.

T36 was a compound cone of which T36A was the largest component; it was composed of cascades of pahoehoe lava, some whitened and others black and very fresh. T36B was a rounded dome with a small vent at its base from which lava was emitted. T36C appeared to have a crack along its crest that emitted gas-rich lava. T36B and T36C were ~5 m apart and very close in elevation. Activity from hornito cluster T36 (figure 36) consisted of clots of lava thrown ~1 m above T36B, gas-rich lava escaping from the top of hornito T36C and flowing down its N slope, and very fluid, black shiny lava escaping from a small crack (T36E) on the lower slopes of this feature and flowing N across very recent pahoehoe. At 1137 a small spray of gas-rich lava escaped from hornito T36D, on the W side of T36. Warm pahoehoe flows on the W slope of T36,

Figure (see Caption) Figure 36. Details of hornito cluster at Ol Doinyo Lengai. 19 July 1995. Asterisks indicate areas of active lava emission. Courtesy of Celia Nyamweru.

Crater morphology. Features from June 1993 and earlier (see map in BGVN 19:04) were still visible, but major new cones had formed in the area between T5/T9, T20, and T23 (figure 35). T5/T9 remained a very prominent feature, and the tops of the T8, T14, and T15 cones remained visible, although all were surrounded by many younger lava flows. T24, T26, and T30 were not inspected closely, but there seemed to be no change in these large features in the S part of the crater; they were gray and white, with no sign of recent activity. West of T36 were two low lava domes with pale brown open craters, now inactive. To the W of them, on the edge of F34, was a low wide feature, possibly a collapsed cone, probably the features identified as T22, T31, and T32 in September 1993 (BGVN 18:09). There was also a rather new hornito in this area.

Recent pahoehoe flows ~10 cm thick had reached the base of the E, N, and NW walls. Crater walls appeared lowest to the NW. The rugged F34 and F35 lava flows of June 1993 were heavily weathered and beginning to soften and crumble. They were quite dark gray; a great contrast to the flows that had formed over the last several months (thin pahoehoe flows that whiten within a few weeks of eruption). No recent ash was observed on the outer slopes of the cone, the crater rim, or the inner walls; the vegetation was green and healthy. Brown vegetation was observed in a few areas near the base of the inner wall, probably due to contact with hot lava reaching the wall, and on part of the S wall below the summit.

This symmetrical stratovolcano in the African Rift Valley rises abruptly above the plain S of Lake Natron. It is the only volcano known to have erupted carbonatite tephra and lavas in historical time. The cone-building stage of Ol Doinyo Lengai ended about 15,000 years ago and was followed by periodic Holocene ejections. Historical eruptions have consisted of smaller tephra ejections and emission of numerous natrocarbonatite lava flows on the floor of the summit crater.

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: Celia Nyamweru, Department of Anthropology, St. Lawrence University, Canton NY 13617, USA; M. Vigny and P. Vetsch, Societe de Volcanologie Geneve, B.P. 298, CH-1225 Chenebourg, Switzerland.