Report on Nyiragongo (DR Congo) — 19 May-25 May 2021
Smithsonian / US Geological Survey Weekly Volcanic Activity Report,
19 May-25 May 2021
Managing Editor: Sally Kuhn Sennert
Please cite this report as:
Global Volcanism Program, 2021. Report on Nyiragongo (DR Congo). In: Sennert, S K (ed.), Weekly Volcanic Activity Report, 19 May-25 May 2021. Smithsonian Institution and US Geological Survey.
1.52°S, 29.25°E; summit elev. 3470 m
All times are local (unless otherwise noted)
At around 1815 on 22 May seismicity at Nyiragongo spiked, around the same time observers reported at least two fissures opening on the lower S flanks, NW of Kibati (8 km SSE) and Rukoko (10 km S). Lava from the first fissure, originating near the Shaheru crater, flowed E over a major road (N2) and then S. The second fissure produced lava flows that traveled S, overtaking and setting fire to many houses and structures in communities north of Goma, just W of Monigi (12 km S). Video posted on social media showed lava fountaining from the fissures, a glowing red sky, and residents running through the streets. About 1,000 homes and buildings were destroyed and about 25,000 people were displaced. The lava cut off electricity and water supplies to some areas. The flow may have been as wide as 1 km and stopped 1.25 km from the Goma International Airport, in the SE part of the city, during 22-23 May. According to the Toulouse VAAC ash plumes may have initially rose to 13.7 km (45,000 ft) a.s.l., though subsequent estimates put the ash plumes mostly at 6.1-9.1 km (20,000-30,000 ft) a.s.l. during 22-23 May. Satellite images and local scientists indicated that the summit lava lake had drained before the flank fissures had opened, but began refilling afterward; collapses in the summit crater were the likely cause of the ash plumes.
Initial reports indicated that about 32 people had died: about 12 from lava and gas asphyxiation while crossing lava flows, and most of the rest from accidents while fleeing. Several people, including many children, remained missing, though families were continuing to be reunited.
Seismic data during 22-24 May showed events seemingly propagating from the summit area to the S into Lake Kivu. Several strong earthquakes shook buildings in Goma, causing some to collapse and injure people; a news article noted that tremor was felt about every 30 minutes beginning around noon on 23 May. Both airports in Goma closed for security reasons. A M 5.1 earthquake with a hypocenter beneath Lake Kivu was recorded at 1037 on 24 May. The VAAC noted that ashfall around the volcano and in surrounding towns was visible in satellite data. Cracks a few 10s of centimeters wide opened in different parts of the city on 25 May. The cracks stretched for several hundred meters from the northern city limit down to the lake, and were nearly 100 m long near the airport. Some cracks were hot and emitting gasses, and some were flaming. Ash plumes rose to 6.1 km (20,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted S; ground-based reports indicated ash in the atmosphere above Goma. Seismicity remained intense on 25 May with more than 130 earthquakes between M 2 and 5 recorded in a 24-hour period. News reports indicated hundreds of damaged buildings in neighboring Rwanda.
Geological Summary. One of Africa's most notable volcanoes, Nyiragongo contained a lava lake in its deep summit crater that was active for half a century before draining catastrophically through its outer flanks in 1977. The steep slopes of a stratovolcano contrast to the low profile of its neighboring shield volcano, Nyamuragira. Benches in the steep-walled, 1.2-km-wide summit crater mark levels of former lava lakes, which have been observed since the late-19th century. Two older stratovolcanoes, Baruta and Shaheru, are partially overlapped by Nyiragongo on the north and south. About 100 parasitic cones are located primarily along radial fissures south of Shaheru, east of the summit, and along a NE-SW zone extending as far as Lake Kivu. Many cones are buried by voluminous lava flows that extend long distances down the flanks, which is characterized by the eruption of foiditic rocks. The extremely fluid 1977 lava flows caused many fatalities, as did lava flows that inundated portions of the major city of Goma in January 2002.