active volcanoes in Africa

Nyiragongo, Nyamuragira, Africa’s most active volcanoes

Last week, Mount Nyiragongo in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) erupted killing 32 people and displacing thousands for the second time in just 2 decades. Nyiragongo had last erupted in 2002 when it killed 250 people while its most dangerous eruption in history occurred in 1977 which claimed over 600 lives.

Mount Nyiragongo

Nyiragongo is part of the Virunga Mountains of DR Congo with an elevation of 3,470m (11,385 ft) located within Virunga National Park. The Volcano is located just 12km north of the town of Goma, north of Lake Kivu. The Nyiragongo crater which has a lava lake is about 2km wide and it has at times been the largest lava lake known in recent history. Its lava has a low silica composition which results in eruptions with unusually fluid flows. Unlike most lava flows which move slowly and rarely pose danger to human life, Nyiragongo’s lava flows usually race downhill at a high speed of up 100km/h (60 mph).

Eruption history of Mount Nyiragongo

Since 1882, Mount Nyiragongo has erupted at least 34 times and sometimes activity could continue for years. The existence of a lava lake at Nyiragongo was confirmed in 1948 at a time when it was measured at nearly 120,000 square meters.

Currently, Mount Nyiragongo is sctively erupting and as of May 27 2021, 32 people were confirmed to have been killed by the lava flow from the volcano which engulfed a large portion of the city of Goma.

2002 eruptions

Mount Nyiragongo experienced another major eruption in 2002 which began on 17 January following several months of increased seismic and fumarolic activity. Before the eruption, a fissure of about 13km opened in the south flank of the volcano and in a few hours it had spread from an elevation of 2,800 to 1550 meters descending towards the outskirts of the city of Goma. During the eruption lava was emitted from 3 spatter cones at the end of the fissure and flowed in a stream through Goma. Authorities managed to evacuate 400,000 people following the warnings issued before the eruption and these were taken to Gisenyi across the border in Rwanda. About 245 people were confirmed to have died from asphyxiation and carbondioxide while others were killed by buildings collapsing due to lava and earthquakes. About 13 percent of Goma was covered by lava while over 120,000 people were left homeless.

1977 eruption

Nyiragongo’s deadliest eruption occurred in Jan 1977 when lava from the crater lake flowed down the flanks of the volcano at a speed of up to 60 kilometres per hour. This is the fastest lava flow recorded to date and it killed at least 600 people after overwhelming the surrounding villages. During the eruption lava was flowing in all directions of the volcano and within 30 minutes the lava lake had dried up.

Mount Nyamuragira

Mount Nyamuragira is another active volcano within the Virunga Mountains of DR Congo and is located just 13km away from Nyiragongo. Nyamuragira has erupted over 40 times since 1885 and has been described as Africa’s most active volcano.

Eruption history of Mount Nyamuragira

Nyamuragira has experienced a series of eruptions in recent years most notably starting from 2010. The Volcano began to spew out lava flows which went as far as 25km southwest of Lake Kivu. This eruption did not affect human life though there were fears that it could threaten wildlife in the area especially chimpanzees in Virunga National Park. The volcano erupted again in Nov 2011 producing 400-meter high column of lava and this was regarded as its largest eruption in 100 years. There was another eruption in 2014 which did not affect communities in the area but left a lot of air pollution and ash. This eruption led to the reemergence of a lava lake at the volcano for the first time in 75 years. It was formed between June and August 2014 and reached a depth of 500 meters. This lava lake had hardened by 2018 and the activity appeared to have stopped though there was some eruptive activity observed in 2020 at the summit caldera.

Satellite view of Mount Nyiragongo (right) and Mount Nyamuragira (left)
Posted in blog.