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Report on Piton de la Fournaise (France) — December 2001

Piton de la Fournaise

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 26, no. 12 (December 2001)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Piton de la Fournaise (France) Erupting fissures on 5-16 January 2002 in l'Enclos Fouqué caldera

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2001. Report on Piton de la Fournaise (France) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 26:12. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200112-233020

Piton de la Fournaise


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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

An eruption began on 5 January 2002 and continued until 16 January. The eruption, which sent lava to the sea, followed several months of increased seismicity. The most recent previous eruption occurred during 11 June-7 July 2001 (BGVN 26:07).

Seismicity during October 2001-January 2002. During 3-9 October the Observatoire Volcanologique du Piton de la Fournaise (OVPDLF) reported that, beginning in early September, seismicity increased to ~10 events per day. Seismic activity further increased during early October, with up to 40 daily earthquakes. In the first half of October an average of 16 earthquakes per day occurred; in the second half the daily average increased to 26 events. On 5 November seismometers registered 129 earthquakes, an anomalously large number. Their hypocenters plotted at 0.62 km under the N edge of Bory Crater. In November, ~30-50 earthquakes occurred per day.

During late September through mid-October, the volcano was at Alert Level 1, and significant tilt variations were detected S of Dolomieu Crater. These events occurred simultaneously with the widening of fissures at two extensometer stations on the N and S flanks, suggesting slight summit inflation. The extensometer variations were ~3-4 times smaller than those during previous eruptions. Seismicity disappeared until the end of December, but increased again during 26-30 December when the daily earthquake counts were 17, 49, 62, and 70.

On 26 January 2002 a total of 17 earthquakes occurred, including two M 1.8 events. The earthquakes were mostly located 0.5-1.5 km below sea level, and their epicenters were beneath the N edge of Bory to Dolomieu craters. Extensometers at Magne and Chateau Fort continued to reveal slow opening of cracks, reaching 0.27 mm on 27 January.

On that same day 49 earthquakes were recorded, including events of M 2.2, 2.0, and 1.8. On 28 December during 0400-1000 a total of 48 earthquakes registered. The extensometers at Magnes and Château Fort continued to show a slow opening of the cracks. The tiltmeters, which had remained stable since the beginning of December, showed a resumption of inflation. On 29 January seismometers recorded 62 earthquakes, including an M 2.3 event. On 30 January a total of 70 earthquakes included M 2.2 and 2.0 events. Opening of the cracks at Magnes and Chateau Fort continued to progress and reached 0.28 mm.

New eruption during 5-16 January 2002. An eruption began at 2300 on 5 January and ended at 1615 on 16 January. On 5 January fire fountaining occurred and lava flowed from four cracks that opened in the NE part of l'Enclos Fouqué caldera and continued towards the foot of the Nez Coupé de Sainte Rose, a feature located on the E side of the active field of lava flows (see map showing the location of previous fissures there in BGVN 23:09). By 6 January only two cracks remained active and lava flows reached ~1,100 m elevation on the projecting ledge of the Plaine des Osmondes.

On 6 January at 2100 the eruption was visible from Piton Sainte Rose and from the National Road RN2. During 7-9 January, the eruption continued but tremor progressively decreased. On 9 January the tremor was half that of the previous day and almost no fire-fountaining was visible. Other seismicity persisted, although on 7 January only four low-magnitude earthquakes were detected. By 8 January the reading on the Château Fort extensometer had decreased only slightly since the eruption began. Readings at the Magnes extensometer continued to increase slightly.

A field excursion around this time found no further incandescent lava visibly flowing at distance from the vent areas. Observers noted that the initial flow did not extend beyond the Plaine des Osmondes. On the other hand, the interior of the eruption cone was still hot, strong degassing was audible, and small, nearly continuous projections of molten material took place, although the emitted volume was negligible.

Tremor decreased during 7-11 January. As few as 8 small shallow earthquakes were recorded per day. On 12 January tremor started to increase almost continually in comparison to the previous day, and numerous earthquakes were recorded ~4 km beneath the Plaine des Osmondes, near the N caldera wall.

During the evening of 12 January, a new fissure opened at the base of the rampart in the lower part of the Plaine des Osmondes. Lava flowed from a lava tunnel down into the Grand Brûlé close to the northern rampart. On 14 January lava flowed across the highway on its way to the ocean, entering it at 1540. By 15 January tremor was stable and 160 earthquakes were recorded over a 24-hour period on the N side of the volcano. At 0600 a swarm of low-frequency earthquakes was recorded in the NE rift zone.

After 12 days of lava emission and associated tremor, the eruption ended on 16 January, marked by a sudden, large decrease in lava emission at 1610 and the termination of tremor at 1910. After the eruption ended a large number of long-period earthquakes were recorded below the summit and the Plaine des Osmondes, indicating the continued presence of magma beneath the NE rift zone. The total lava volume emitted was estimated to be 10-15 x 106 m3.

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: Observatoire Volcanologique du Piton de la Fournaise (OVPDLF), 14 RN3, le 27Km, 97418 La Plaine des Cafres, La Réunion, France.