Logo link to homepage

Report on Ol Doinyo Lengai (Tanzania) — June 1988

Ol Doinyo Lengai

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 13, no. 6 (June 1988)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Ol Doinyo Lengai (Tanzania) Small carbonatite lava lakes and flows

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1988. Report on Ol Doinyo Lengai (Tanzania) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 13:6. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198806-222120

Ol Doinyo Lengai


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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

A recurring pattern of recharge of small lava lakes followed by either overflow or drainage through nearby vents was observed by Maurice and Katia Krafft, C. Nyamweru, Jörg Keller (Albert Ludwigs Univ, Freiburg), and the Peterson brothers (Arusha) 24 June-1 July. The visit was timed to coincide with the full moon (29 June) so that tidal effects, if any, would be maximized. The following was compiled by M. Krafft.

24 June: When geologists reached the summit at 1700, small lava lakes were active in vents T4 and T7. Black, bubbling lava filled T7 to within 0.5 m of its rim. A steep spatter cone, 3 m high, partially covered the T4 lava lake and ejected spatter 1-2 m high. Hot lava fields, N of T7, were probably erupted hours [earlier]. At 1800, the T7 lava lake overflowed E through two spillways, each 1 m wide. Overflows were 1-1.5 m wide and 20-40 cm deep with speeds of 1-5 m/s. The lava flowed in surges. Estimated viscosity was very low, similar to a fluid mudflow and less viscous than the most fluid basaltic lava flow. Temperatures repeatedly measured with thermocouples and galvanometers ranged from a maximum of 544°C for the hottest orange-colored lake lava, to a minimum of 495°C at flow fronts. Pahoehoe and aa lava flowed E and SE around T5. Four hours of overflow formed a new lava field 100 m long and 10-40 m wide. At night, the red lava lake became orange when hotter pulses of magma surged to the surface. Lava continuously overflowed from T4 to T7 until the T4 lake level decreased 3 m and the current reversed to flow from T7 to T4. The T4 spatter cone collapsed, split, and was destroyed.

25 June: At 1200, a new single-spillway overflow from T7, half the volume of the previous day's overflow, traveled NE and E until it stopped at 1400. The level of the T7 lava decreased 2 m. Small overflows developed but stopped during the night. Small spatter cones (20-50 cm) formed on T7's NE flank and emitted a small lava tongue.

26 June: At 1100, the toe of the N lobe was still squeezing out droplets of fluid lava. A bubbling lava lake in T5 was at the same level as the T7 and T4 lakes, suggesting that a tube system joined these lakes. During the day, the T7 lake level decreased 2.5 m. No more overflows occurred.

27 June: At 0830, the T7 lake was full. At 0930, lava was emitted from two 50-cm-high spatter cones that formed on T7's SSW slope and traveled 20 m SW at 2-4 m/s. The flow was 0.5 m wide at the outlet vent and some small lava tubes formed.

At 1800 the level of the T7 lake dropped below that of the outlet vent and the 100 m-long flows stopped. The remains of the T4 spatter cone collapsed into the T4 lake. The T4 and T7 lakes coalesced under a chilled lava bridge.

28 June: Lava was 1 m below the rim of T4 and T7. At about 0400, two new T7 overflows developed on the E rim of the lake and traveled NE and S. A row of small spatter cones (tens of centimeters high) formed on T7's SE slope and emitted small lava tongues. Spatter cone construction progressed towards the T7 lava lake; lake level decreased until it reached vent level.

29 June: At 1600, the flow of lava stopped. The SW lava field was 110 m long, 30 m wide, and 30 cm thick. T7 ejected lava 2-3 m high every 2-3 seconds. T5 became quiet.

30 June: The T7 and T4 lake levels decreased. At 1949 violent gas emission and spattering (4-5 m) occurred 30 m ESE on T7's slope. Big, fluid, red lava flows were emitted from the spatter cone and traveled E towards T5. The spatter cone grew 3 m in 1 hour. At 2330, the lava covered 10% of the crater bottom.

1 July: The 7-m-high spatter cone was continuing to emit lava lumps when the team left . . . . The T4/T7 lava lake level had dropped 4 m.

The lava flows, black when active, had whitish edges 24 hours after they stopped advancing, and their surface was entirely whitish after 48 hours of cooling. Gas temperatures ranged from 78 to 504°C. In hand sample, 1-3-mm nyerereite [Na2Ca(CO3)2] phenocrysts were visible. Fresh lava, gas, and sublimate samples were collected and will be analyzed by J. Keller. Mapping will be done by C. Nyamweru. All phases of the eruption were documented on 16 mm film.

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: M. Krafft, Cernay, France.