Africa's most dangerous volcano can erupt without clear warning signals
On 22 May 2021, the Nyiragongo volcano (DR Congo) erupted. Lava flows destroyed part of the city of Goma and thousands of people fled. In a new study published in Nature, an international team of researchers shows that this eruption could not be predicted.
An eruption that caused panic
Goma on 22 May 2021: Shortly before 7pm, residents of this city of one million inhabitants, in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, sounded the alarm. They witnessed the appearance of a lava flow from a fracture on the southern side of Nyiragongo volcano.
The eruption took everyone by surprise. The confusion and lack of preparedness complicated the management of the first few hours of the crisis. As the lava flow devastated a densely populated area, intense seismic activity began, persisting for several days, causing damages to the border towns of Goma (DRC) and Gisenyi (Rwanda), adding to the panic, and causing the spontaneous evacuation of part of the population.
The eruption lasted only few hours; the lava flows caused damage, but on a much smaller scale than during the last eruption in 2002, when almost 10% of the city was destroyed.
In this new study, researchers show that it was not possible to forecast this eruption, and that open-vent volcanoes remain challenging volcanic systems to monitor.
This work is part of a collaboration of more than 15 years between the Goma Volcanological Observatory (DR Congo), the Royal Museum for Central Africa (Belgium), the European Center for Geodynamics and Seismology (Luxembourg), and the National Museum of Natural History (Luxembourg). This collaboration focused, among other things, on the development of tools and the training of the local staff to improve monitoring capabilities.
More information about this publication can be found on the following links:
- Science News of the Africamuseum
- Blog post of Nature
- News & Views attached to the article, in the Nature journal
Smittarello, D. et al. Precursor-free eruption triggered by edifice rupture at Nyiragongo volcano. Nature (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-05047-8
Under the volcano, Nature, Volume 609 Issue 7925, 1 September 2022