MOUNT NYIRAGONGO VOLCANO ERUPTION 2021

DR Congo Mount Nyiragongo Volcano Eruption 2021, abruptly started on 22nd May at around 7.00 pm Central African Time. The 2021 eruption of Mount Nyiragongo followed the fractures that opened up in the volcano’s rocky sides, spilling lava down its slopes that moved at speed of about 1 kilometer per hour (0.6 miles per hour). Some of the lava flowed towards Goma town, a metropolis just 6 miles (10 kilometers) away that’s home to about 2 million people. As a result of the eruption, 32 people died and 3,629 homes were destroyed.

Mt Nyiragongo is among of the world’s most dangerous active volcanoes and one of the few places on Earth to feature a persistent lava lake bubbling within its summit crater.

The deadliest Nyiragongo volcano eruption of historical times occurred in 1977 producing streams of molten lava that moved at a speed of up to 60 kilometers per hour, killing an estimated 600 people. Also in 2002, molten rock destroyed up to a fifth of Goma, leaving 120,000 people homeless and killing around 250 people through burns, carbon dioxide asphyxiation, and the lava-triggered explosion of a petrol station.

However, aside from being a dangerous volcano, Nyiragongo is the world’s marvel and many travelers on African safaris to Congo especially those on Congo gorilla safaris or congo gorilla trekking tours to Virunga National Park undertake an adventurous Mount Nyiragongo hike/Mount Nyiragongo trekking trips to spend an overnight at the summit, watching the stunning boiling lava lake in the massive crater below as they take plenty of photographs.

HOW DO VOLCANOES ERUPT?

Volcanic eruptions occur when magma or extremely hot liquid and semi-liquid rock, usually at temperatures from 800 to 1,200 °C is expelled from the interior of the Earth through a volcanic vent or fractures in the crust. Magma is generated by the internal heat of the Earth that causes the Earth’s mantle to melt.

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How Volcanoes Errupt

Melting usually happens where tectonic plates are pulling apart or where one plate is pushed down under another. Since magma is lighter than rock, it rises towards the Earth’s surface and as it rises, bubbles of gas from inside it. If magma is thick, gas bubbles cannot easily escape, causing the pressure to build up as the magma rises. When magma erupts or flows onto Earth’s surface, it is called lava.

Mount Nyiragongo eruptions have also been generally transpired when the pressure of accumulating magma or an earthquake forces open fissures in the sides of the mountain, leading to the disastrous eruption of magma stored deeper down.

WHERE IS MOUNT NYIRAGONGO VOLCANO LOCATED IN CONGO?

Mt Nyiragongo is located in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This active volcano is situated north of Goma town and Lake Kivu and just west of the border with Rwanda. It is part of the beautiful Virunga Mountains, a chain of eight free-standing volcanoes along the northern border of Rwanda, the DRC, and Uganda. Other volcanoes include Mount Nyamuragira which is also active, Mount Mikeno, Mount Sabinyo, Mount Muhabura, Mount Gahinga, Mount Karisimbi, and Mount Bisoke.

These mountainous volcanoes are famous homes of the endangered Mountain Gorillas which are shared amongst the Virunga National Park in Congo in which Nyiragongo is situated, Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda, and Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

These parks together with Bwindi Impenetrable National Park of Uganda offer visitors on African safaris wonderful adventures of gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo.

WHAT TYPE OF VOLCANO IS MOUNT NYIRAGONGO?

Mount Nyiragongo is an active stratovolcano – a conical volcano built up by many layers (strata) of hardened lava and tephra. The mountain rises to 11,400 feet above sea level. As noted above, it part of Virunga massifs, a chain of 8  isolated freestanding volcanic cones that strung along a fault line associated with the same geological process that formed the Great Rift Valley. Amongst all of these volcanoes, Nyiragongo is the most dangerous, active.

MOUNT NYIRAGONGO ERUPTION HISTORY

Little is known about how long the Nyiragongo volcano has been erupting, but it has erupted at least 34 times since 1882, including several times where the activity was continuous for years at a time, often in the form of a churning lava lake in the crater.

Nyiragongo Volcano eruption 1977:

The most volatile eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in recorded history occurred in 1977. A lava lake that had developed in the volcano’s main crater in 1894 was emptied in less than an hour during this eruption. It produced molten lava streams at speeds of up to 60 kilometers per hour (37.2 miles per hour), killing an estimated 600 people and ending within 500 meters from Goma Airport.

Mount Nyiragongo eruption 2002:

A new lake of lava began to accumulate beneath Mt Nyiragongo’s main crater in 2000, resulting in another very catastrophic eruption on 17 January 2002. During Mount Nyiragongo’s 2002 eruption, lava moved down the volcano’s southern and eastern flanks into Goma, killing around 250 people due to carbon dioxide asphyxiation, burns, and a lava-triggered explosion of a fuel station.

Goma was evacuated, and an estimated 450,000 people sought temporary refuge in the neighboring Rwandan cities of Rubavu and Musanze. When the first evacuees returned three days later, it was discovered that a quarter of the town – including huge areas of the commercial and residential center– had been buried by the lava, leaving 12,000 families homeless.

Nyiragongo Eruption 2021:

At around 7:00 p.m. (CAT) on 22 May 2021, things suddenly escalated as fractures opened up in the Mount Nyiragongo volcano’s rocky sides, spilling lava down its slopes which were estimated to have moved at a speed of one kilometer per hour. Ultimately, the lava stopped at the Buheme district on the northern outskirts of Goma city, destroying hundreds of homes and buildings in the area.

The Rwanda authorities officially confirmed that about 3,000 had crossed into Rwanda from Goma. Aside from those who escaped to Rwanda, another 25,000 people were also said to have fled to Sake in the northwest of Congo. On the night of May 23, Patrick Muyaya, the Government spokesman said 15 people had died: 2 who had burned to death; 9 were killed in a road accident while fleeing, and 4 prisoners killed in an attempt to break out of Camp Munzenze prison in Goma town.

On 24 May, 5 additional bodies of asphyxiated victims were found, bringing the toll to 20.  The death toll later rose to 32, as some of the victims died on May 24 after inhaling smoke and toxic gas while walking on a section of cooled lava. The Norwegian Refugee Council reported that six hundred homes and five schools had been destroyed. Seventeen villages around the volcano reported damage, though the flow stopped just outside of Goma. As of 25 May, 32 people died as a result of the eruption and 3,629 homes were destroyed.

On May 23, afterword that the flow towards Goma had ceased, Rwanda’s Emergency Management Ministry reported that refugees who had fled to Rubavu had mostly returned home. On 24 May, strong aftershocks shook the city of Goma. On 25 May, at 11:03 a.m., a 5.3 magnitude earthquake struck in the vicinity, destroying several buildings and raising fears that new fissures in the lava lake or an eruption were forthcoming.

On 27 May, authorities ordered the evacuation of portions of Goma, leading to the departure of tens of thousands of people, due to the risk of further eruption. While residents of Goma fled across the Rwandan border to Gisenyi, some residents of Gisenyi fled east after being shaken by repeated tremors, the largest of which was 4.9. Tremors were felt as far away as Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, 90 kilometers (56 mi) away.

On 7 June, after seismic activity subsided, the Congolese government announced they will start a phased return of residents who evacuated from the city.

WHY IS MOUNT NYIRAGONGO VOLCANO SO DANGEROUS?

Nyiragongo volcano has a deadly reputation because of several factors. It is one of the few places on the planet to feature a persistent lake of lava, bubbling within its summit crater. Due to the geologic complexities of the region in which the mountain is situated, its lava is so fluid and able to move at up to 40 miles an hour.

The volcano’s magma is also rich in carbon dioxide, an invisible, odorless gas. This gas often quietly exudes to the surface via aquifers above deep-seated bodies of degassing magma. Being denser than air, the gas gathers unnoticed in low-lying areas. Locals refer to it as mazuku, or “evil wind.”

Nyiragongo eruptions send large amounts of these lethal carbon dioxide gas to the surface. That is extremely worrying because over a million people reside in the shadow of the volcano. Add in the political instability of the region and bouts of conflict, and Mt. Nyiragongo is a profoundly difficult volcano to monitor.

CAN A VOLCANIC ERUPTION BE PREDICTED?

Scientists can monitor and predict the eruption of any volcano close to a large population center since volcanoes usually give some warning of a pending eruption.

Warning indicators include small earthquakes, swelling or bulging of the volcano’s sides, and increased emission of gasses from its vents. None of those signs necessarily mean an eruption is imminent, but they can help the geologists assess the status of the volcano when magma is accumulating.

It is, however, impossible to say exactly when, or even if, any given volcano will erupt. Volcanoes don’t run on a timetable like a train. This means one can’t be “overdue” for eruption—no matter what news headlines say.

WAS THE 2021 NYIRAGONGO VOLCANO ERUPTION MONITORED BEFORE?

In 2020, volcanologists flown in by UN peacekeepers, who shielded the scientists from armed rebels in the area, noticed that Nyiragongo Lava Lake was filling up faster than ever which was a worrying sight.

In August 2020, a report in Geophysical Research Letters based on a comparison of historical and current activity at Nyiragongo noted the possibility of a flank eruption between March 2024 and November 2027.

In September 2020, Katcho Karume, director of the Goma Volcano Observatory, said that the lava lake had been rapidly filling, increasing the risk of an eruption in the next few years, though Karume also noted that an earthquake could trigger an eruption earlier.

On May 10, 2021, the Goma Volcano Observatory detected an uptick in seismic activity at the summit. This was perhaps suggestive of magma moving about at shallow depths, but it was not a surefire harbinger of an upcoming eruption.

GOMA VOLCANO OBSERVATORY CRITICISM

Residents blamed the Goma Volcano Observatory for not providing a warning of the eruption. The observatory’s efforts to keep an eye on Nyiragongo have been somewhat stymied as of late. Some of its seismic stations had been subjected to theft and vandalism, with the risk of violence leaving many of them unrepaired.

The observatory also lost financial support from the World Bank last year amid allegations of embezzlement. Consequently, for several months, remote sensors lacked an internet connection, and regular on-site measurements of the volcano were not possible.

Despite these ongoing issues, the observatory, with a small budget from the DRC government, and in cooperation with other international partners, kept up its efforts to monitor Nyiragongo. But in the end, the volcano erupted unexpectedly, providing no clear geologic hints that it was about to blow.

According to the scientific director of the Volcanic Observatory of Goma, Celestin Kasereka Mahinda, shortage of funding was the reason that made it difficult for the scientists at the Observatory to caution the public on the eruption. Mahinda also advised the people of Goma to avoid going to places that have been hit by the lava from the Volcano, thereby refraining from traveling unnecessarily, because the lavas are harmful and toxic.

THE THREAT OF FUTURE NYIRAGONGO VOLCANO ERUPTION

On 27th May 2021, authorities in DR Congo ordered the evacuation of portions of Goma, leading to the departure of tens of thousands of people, due to the risk of further eruption.

Ndima Kongba, the military governor of North Kivu province, ordered the evacuation of nearly a third of the city’s residents, in 10 districts.

Kongba stated that magma detected underneath the city and nearby Lake Kivu could erupt, raising the possibility of a limnic eruption in the lake.

While residents of Goma fled across the Rwandan border to Gisenyi, some residents of Gisenyi fled east after being shaken by repeated tremors, the largest of which was 4.9. Tremors were felt as far away as Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, 90 kilometers (56 mi) away.

Other risks including gas emissions, acidic rain, and volcanic dust also continue to pose health risks to the population in the affected area.

CONCLUSION

Mount Nyiragongo is a highly active volcano. This unstable volcano has been the cause of many deaths and may cause many more in the future unless a way to mitigate another disaster is found. One possibility is through constant monitoring of the volcano’s lava lake level. Hopefully, with the help of volcanologists from around the world, another disaster may be prevented in this underdeveloped region

Besides being dangerous, Nyiragongo volcano together with the endangered mountain gorillas are the most exciting attractions for many travelers on Congo safaris.

Let us know when you wish to undertake a Congo tour or hike/trek to the newly erupted Nyiragongo volcano or a Congo gorilla tour to trek the endangered mountain gorillas and more.

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