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Report on Piton de la Fournaise (France) — May 2004

Piton de la Fournaise

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 29, no. 5 (May 2004)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Piton de la Fournaise (France) Elevated April seismicity followed by eruptive fissures and lava flows

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2004. Report on Piton de la Fournaise (France) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 29:5. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200405-233020

Piton de la Fournaise


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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

After the eruption of December 2003 (BGVN 29:03), Piton de la Fournaise underwent a month of high seismic activity in April 2004. The activity consisted of 10-30 earthquakes per day with two minor seismic crises, and was accompanied by continuous inflation of the summit. On 2 May a new seismic crisis started at 1903. At 1936 eruption tremor appeared. The high intensity of tremor near the Bory crater (2,632 m) indicated that eruption had most likely started within or very close to the crater.

No activity was visible in the crater on 3 May. An overflight planned by the Observatoire Volcanologique du Piton de la Fournaise (OVPF) with the help of local police militia was unable to take place due to bad weather and rain on the volcano. The initial assessments of the observatory indicated the opening of eruptive cracks in the higher of the two craters. A long crack on the SW side extended from 2,500 m to at least 2,300 m elevation. During an observational visit by OVPF volcanologists on 4 May, a fissure was observed to have opened between 2,800 m and 2,200 m elevation. The fissure was inactive at the time of observation but much lava ejecta covered the surrounding area. A second fissure, opened during the night between Sunday and Monday, was active. As of 4 May, activity continued from three eruptive vents located between Chateau-Fort crater and Piton Bert. Tremor remained stable. During the night of 11-12 May, the single remaining active fissure projected lava ejecta onto the slopes of the cone in the SW area of the crater. The eruption continued on 15 May but moved from the summit of the volcano toward its lower slopes. Flows accumulated within the crater, and a large flow with an estimated length of 300 m was seen coming from a ~ 2.5 km-long tunnel, originating at the floor of the Enclos Fouqué caldera and issuing at the surface near the Nez du Tremblet and in the Grandes Pentes area. Further downslope, burning vegetation was observed, indicating the presence of lava flows far from the point of emission. The larger flow reached an elevation of 1,150 m, putting it 4 km from National Route (NR) 2. At 1200, the lava flow was 2.5 km from NR 2. Scientists at the observatory expected the flow's advance to slow due to the shallowing of the slope starting at 900 m elevation, and because the eruptive tremor, though it had increased slightly the day before, remained at a moderate level.

On 16 May, the lava flow stopped 1.8 km from NR 2 at 460 m elevation. A second fissure produced a second lava flow parallel to the first. Tremor increased in the crater, indicating a renewal of activity, and lava ejecta were erupted from the two cones. The OVPF reported on 17 May that the eruption was still continuing. Lava fountains from the main eruptive cone rose several tens of meters above the vent. That evening, lava flows were visible on the upper part of the Grandes Pentes. Pélé's hair had fallen in the town of St. Rose. Seismicity remained on a moderate level. At about 1500 on 18 May, the OVPF's network recorded a progressive increase in the tremor over a twenty-minute period; then at 1552, the tremor decreased dramatically. By 1615, any trace of tremor had disappeared from the recordings. On 21 May at 1500, a lava front was observed flowing at 1150 m elevation, within ~4 km of National Route 2. Volcanic tremor increased slightly, but remained at a moderate level.

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, Observatoire Volcanologique du Piton de la Fournaise Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, 97418 La Plaine des Cafres, La Réunion, France (URL: http://www.ipgp.fr/fr/ovpf/observatoire-volcanologique-piton-de-fournaise).