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Report on Piton de la Fournaise (France) — February 2009

Piton de la Fournaise

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 34, no. 2 (February 2009)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Piton de la Fournaise (France) Quiet after April 2007 eruption; new eruption in September 2008

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2009. Report on Piton de la Fournaise (France) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 34:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200902-233020

Piton de la Fournaise


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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

This report summarizes the caldera collapse and extensive lava effusion at Piton de la Fournaise (PdF) during May-June 2007 and events beginning in August 2008, which led to a new eruption on 12 September 2008. Additional eruptive activity and unrest continued into January 2009.

Observations from 2007. A caldera collapse during early April 2007 (BGVN 32:12) deepened and enlarged to a depth of 350-360 m to engulf most of the Dolomieu crater floor. Peltier and others (2007; and in press) noted that the area of collapse encompassed 82 x 104 m2, an area 11% larger than the crater prior to April 2007. Post-collapse calculations by the Observatoire Volcanologique du Piton de la Fournaise / Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (OVPDLF/IPGP) indicated that the caldera's downward movement involved a volume of 120 million cubic meters. On the SE flank lava flows up to 30-40 m thick and covered an estimated 4 km2, making this event one of PdF's largest historical eruptions. The collapse changed the stability of the summit massif; as a result, during most of 2007, access to Dolomieu was prohibited due to the high risk of collapse of the crater walls.

OVPDLF reported that the eruption ceased on 1 May 2007 but that seismicity continued during 2-7 May at and below the summit, and also indicated a large number of landslides from the Dolomieu crater walls. Two earthquakes occurred on 4 May; one was M 3.8. Light tremor and several significant earthquakes persisted throughout May and were considered to be the result of a collapse at depth. GPS information showed a contracting of Dolomieu. The larger summit earthquakes, observed since the end of April, were considered to be precursors of such a movement. On 13 May a helicopter pilot reported that part of the edge of the crater had fallen.

There were no major events until 20 June 2007 when a large number of earthquakes were recorded, including several below sea level. Throughout the rest of 2007 and the first half of 2008, PdF remained relatively quiet.

Observations from 2008. Renewed seismicity was observed by OVPDLF/IPGP in early August 2008. General seismicity was high, with up to 100 seismic events per day and some magnitudes as high as M 3. Significant seismic events were recorded on 4 and 15 August. No deformation was observed on 4 August by the inclinometer or permanent GPS network; however a small seismic event on 15 August lasted a little more than 2.5 hours and deformation was detected at the top of Dolomieu. By 18 August seismicity had decreased and deformation was no longer detected.

Seismic activity beneath the summit was again detected on 31 August and deformation was detected at the top of Dolomieu. By 2 September seismicity had decreased. Seismicity during 8-9 September was characterized by hundreds of earthquakes. Permanent GPS measurements indicated inflation since August and a N-S widening of the Dolomieu crater by 6.5 cm.

On 12 September OVPDLF reported an eruption accompanied by small episodes of tremor. Although initial field observations confirmed increased degassing on the S-W Dolomieu crater and H2S in the air, no lava was found within the crater. Small amounts of SO2 were detected by the OVPDLF/IPGP NOVAC network on the Enclos Fouqué caldera rim. Aerial observation noted lava flows escaping from a crack in the W slope in the crater; a small lava lake formed at the bottom of the crater. On 13 September, 95 earthquakes occurred, including three of M 1.5-1.8 and nine of M 1-1.5 (others were smaller). The next day 94 earthquakes occurred at the summit.

More seismic events were detected during 15-16 September 2008 and numerous landslides occurred shortly thereafter, but these may have been facilitated by heavy rains. On those days, a total of 296 earthquakes were recorded. Seismicity and SO2 degassing continued.

An eruption took place during 21 September-2 October 2008. On 21 September, lava flows issued from the fissure about halfway up the W wall of Dolomieu crater. The lava flow ponded at the bottom. A strong concentration of SO2 was detected near the edge of the crater. On 22 September Pele's hair was found around the summit area and the lava flow rate decreased. No further earthquakes were observed after the beginning of the eruption and the volcanic activity was confined within the Dolomieu crater. The eruption of lava flows declined on 23 September.

During 24-30 September lava flows issued from the W crater wall continued to pond at the bottom of Dolomieu crater. Based on air photos acquired on 25 September, the lava flow was an estimated 180 m long by 100 m wide and about 30 m thick. The erupted volume was about 300,000 m3. On 26 September, lava fountaining from the fissure was no longer visible, but bubbling lava in the cone was observed. During that week tremor was relatively light and lava flows remained confined to the Dolomieu crater.

The eruption came to an end on 2 October and tremor decreased significantly. A total volume of lava emitted during this 10-day eruption was estimated at about 850,000 m3 based on analysis of aerial photographs. During the eruption only one small deflation episode was recorded.

On 20 October a seismic crisis began beneath the summit accompanied by weak deformation. Subsequent quiescence followed until 31 October when another seismic crisis was characterized by hundreds of earthquakes.

A new eruption began on 28 November 2008 from the vent halfway up the W wall of Dolomieu crater. The lava flows ponded at the bottom of the crater and covered about 50 percent of the 21 September lava flow. A small quantity of Pele's hair was deposited inside Bory crater.

On 14 December, the OVPDLF/IPGP recorded a strong seismic crisis under the volcano with several hundreds of earthquakes. However, substantial deformation was absent. An eruption commenced on 15 December from two fissures inside Dolomieu, halfway up the N and NE wall beneath "La Soufrière" and about 200 m below the crater rim. The eruption was sporadic and weak.

OVPDLF reported that during 22-28 December 2008 lava continued to issue at a high rate from an active vent on the N side of Dolomieu crater, beneath "La Soufrière" and about 200 m below the crater rim. Gas plumes often reduced visibility. On 24 December, a small cone formed at the vent and occasionally produced lava fountains that fed a small lava lake. GPS monitoring equipment indicated stable conditions. Throughout the eruption volcanic tremor was quite variable. Around this time, ten lava flows were visible on the inner flanks of the crater and a plume was visible. No fresh lava was visible at the cone on 29 December. The degassing was quite strong and sometimes Dolomieu was filled with bluish gas; a plume was visible on the webcam.

Observations from 2009. Tremor initially decreased in January, though by the 2nd it was increasing again. Tremor stabilized below levels seen on 15 December 2008, and remained at that level through at least 22 January, suggesting that eruptions continued.

References. Peltier, A., Staudacher, T., Bachélery, P., Cayol, V., in press, The April 2007 eruption and the Dolomieu crater collapse, two major events at Piton de la Fournaise (La Réunion Island, Indian Ocean): Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research (proof copy available online).

Peltier, A., Staudacher, T., and Bachélery, P., 2007, Constraints on magma transfers and structures involved in the 2003 actity at Piton de La Fournaise from displacement data: Journal Geophys. Res., v. 112, p. B03207, doi: 10.1029/2006JB004379.

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: Laurent Michon and Patrick Bachélery, Laboratoire GéoSciences Réunion, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, Université de La Réunion, CNRS, UMR 7154-Géologie des Systèmes Volcaniques, La Réunion, France; Thomas Staudacher and Valérie Ferrazzini, Observatoire Volcanologique du Piton de la Fournaise (OVPDLF), Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, 14 route nationale 3, 27 ème km, 97418 La Plaine des Cafres, La Réunion, France (URL: http://www.ipgp.fr/fr/ovpf/actualites-ovpf/); Joan Marti, Institute of Earth Sciences "Jaume Almera," Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Barcelona, Spain.