skip to main content

Title: Precursor-free eruption triggered by edifice rupture at Nyiragongo volcano

Classical mechanisms of volcanic eruptions mostly involve pressure buildup and magma ascent towards the surface1. Such processes produce geophysical and geochemical signals that may be detected and interpreted as eruption precursors1–3. On 22 May 2021, Mount Nyiragongo (Democratic Republic of the Congo), an open-vent volcano with a persistent lava lake perched within its summit crater, shook up this interpretation by producing an approximately six-hour-long flank eruption without apparent precursors, followed—rather than preceded—by lateral magma motion into the crust. Here we show that this reversed sequence was most likely initiated by a rupture of the edifice, producing deadly lava flows and triggering a voluminous 25-km-long dyke intrusion. The dyke propagated southwards at very shallow depth (less than 500 m) underneath the cities of Goma (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Gisenyi (Rwanda), as well as Lake Kivu. This volcanic crisis raises new questions about the mechanisms controlling such eruptions and the possibility of facing substantially more hazardous events, such as effusions within densely urbanized areas, phreato-magmatism or a limnic eruption from the gas-rich Lake Kivu. It also more generally highlights the challenges faced with open-vent volcanoes for monitoring, early detection and risk management when a significant volume of magma is stored close to the surface.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
1923943 2151005
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; more » ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; « less
Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Page Range / eLocation ID:
83 to 88
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. The science of volcanology advances disproportionately during exceptionally large or well-observed eruptions. The 2018 eruption of Kīlauea Volcano (Hawai‘i) was its most impactful in centuries, involving an outpouring of more than one cubic kilometer of basalt, a magnitude 7 flank earthquake, and the volcano's largest summit collapse since at least the nineteenth century. Eruptive activity was documented in detail, yielding new insights into large caldera-rift eruptions; the geometry of a shallow magma storage-transport system and its interaction with rift zone tectonics; mechanisms of basaltic tephra-producing explosions; caldera collapse mechanics; and the dynamics of fissure eruptions and high-volume lava flows. Insights are broadly applicable to a range of volcanic systems and should reduce risk from future eruptions. Multidisciplinary collaboration will be required to fully leverage the diversity of monitoring data to address many of the most important outstanding questions. ▪ Unprecedented observations of a caldera collapse and coupled rift zone eruption yield new opportunities for advancing volcano science. ▪ Magma flow to a low-elevation rift zone vent triggered quasi-periodic step-like collapse of a summit caldera, which pressurized the magma system and sustained the eruption. ▪ Kīlauea's magmatic-tectonic system is tightly interconnected over tens of kilometers, with complex feedback mechanisms and interrelated hazards over widely varying time scales. ▪ The eruption revealed magma stored in diverse locations, volumes, and compositions, not only beneath the summit but also within the volcano's most active rift zone.

    Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Volume 52 is May 2024. Please see for revised estimates.

    more » « less
  2. Volcanic eruptions of rhyolitic magma often show shifts from powerful (Vulcanian to Plinian) explosive episodes to a more gentle effusion of viscous lava forming obsidian flows. Another prevailing characteris-tic of these eruptions is the presence of pyroclastic obsidians intermingled with the explosive tephra. This dense, juvenile product is similar to the tephra and obsidian flow in composition, but is generally less degassed than its flow counterpart. The formation mechanism(s) of pyroclastic obsidians and the information they can provide concerning the extent to which magma degassing modulates the eruptive style of rhyolitic eruptions are currently subject to active research. Porous tephra and pyroclastic and flow obsidians from the 1060CE Glass Mountain rhyolitic eruption at Medicine Lake Volcano (California) were analyzed for their porosity, φ, water content, H2O, and hydrogen isotopic composition, δD. H2O in porous pyroclasts is correlated negatively with δD and positively with φ, indicating that the samples were affected by post-eruptive rehydration. Numerical modeling suggests that this rehydration occurred at an average rate of 10−23.5±0.5m2s−1during the ∼960 years since the eruption, causing some pyroclasts to gain up to 1 wt%of meteoric water. Pyroclastic and flow obsidians were not affected by rehydration due to their very low porosity. Comparison between modeled δD-H2O relationships in degassing magma and values measured in the Glass Mountain samples supports the idea that rhyolitic magma degasses in closed-system until its porosity reaches a value of about 65±5%, beyond which degassing occurs in open-system until quench. During the explosive phase, rapidly ascending magma fragments soon after it becomes permeable, creating porous lapilli and ash that continue to degas in open-system within an expanding gas phase. As suggested by recent studies, some ash may aggregate and sinter on the conduit sides at different depths above the fragmentation level, partly equilibrating with the continuously fluxing heavier magmatic vapor, explaining the wide range of H2O contents and high variability in δD measured in the pyroclastic obsidians. Using only H2O and δD, it is impossible to rule out the possibility that pyroclastic obsidians may also form by permeable foam collapse, either syn-explosively near the conduit sides below the fragmentation level or during more effusive periods interspersed in the explosive phase. During the final effusive phase of the eruption, slowly ascending magma degasses in open-system until it reaches the surface, creating flows with low H2O and δD. This study shows that H2O measured in highly porous pyroclasts of a few hundred years or more cannot be used to infer syn-eruptive magma degassing pathways, unless careful assessment of post-eruptive rehydration is first carried out. If their mechanism of formation can be better understood, detailed analysis of the variations in texture and volatile content of pyroclastic obsidians throughout the explosive phase may help decipher the reasons why rhyolitic eruptions commonly shift from explosive to effusive phases. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Continental flood basalts (CFBs) are dominated by two characteristic lava morphologies. The first type, referred to as ‘compound’ or ‘hummocky pāhoehoe,’ exhibits pillow-like lava flow lobes with cross-sections of ~ 0.5–2 m and thin chilled margins. The second type, referred to as ‘simple’ or ‘sheet lobes’ preserves more massive, inflated flow interiors that are laterally continuous on scales of 100s of meters to kilometers. Previous hypotheses suggest that two factors may contribute to stratigraphic changes in morphology from ‘compound’ to ‘simple’: 1) increased eruption duration or 2) increased extrusion rate. We test the hypothesis that a large increase in extrusion rate would result in flow morphology transitioning from multiple small lobes to inflated sheet lobes due to a shift in flow propagation from intraflow resurfacing-dominated to marginal breakout-dominated. Using polyethylene glycol (PEG) wax extruded into a circular water-filled tank 130 cm in diameter, we produced larger, more complex experiments than previous studies. Our efforts simulated more complex lava fields which change flow morphology with distance from the eruptive vent, characteristic of CFBs. Whereas previous PEG studies linked extrusion rate to near-source surface morphologies, our experiments evaluated how flow propagation mechanisms change with variable extrusion rate and distance from the source. Two flow propagation styles were identified: 1) resurfacing, in which molten material breaks through the surface of a flow and covers the older crust and 2) marginal breakouts, in which molten material extends beyond the crust at the active distal margin of the flow. Flows that propagated via marginal breakouts were found to have lower proportions of resurfaced area and vice versa. We show that significant resurfacing is needed to preserve internal chilled boundaries within a flow and a low-extrusion-rate surface morphology, whereas marginal breakout-dominated flows tend to inflate the pillow-like surface morphology preserving a massive interior at great distances from the vent. Higher and more steady extrusion rates tend to decrease the extent of resurfacing and increase the distance between the source and preserved low-extrusion-rate surface morphologies. We find that an extrusion rate increase equivalent to a jump in the extrusion rate scaling factor, Ψ value, from < 1 to > 5 would be necessary to ensure a switch from resurfacing-dominated lobate morphologies to marginal breakout-dominated propagation style. This amounts to a factor of 125 increase in effusion rate for fissure eruptions and a factor of 625 for point source eruptions, assuming no change in vent geometry. This would be equivalent to an effusion rate of 0.2 m3/s, as documented in 1987–1990 Kīlauea eruptions, increasing to 125 m3/s, which was commonly measured during the 2014 Holuhraun eruption in Iceland and the 2018 eruption at Leilani Estates in Hawai‘i. Thus, we propose that continental flood basalts do not require unusually large effusion rates, but instead were active for a longer and more consistent time period than smaller-volume eruptions.

    more » « less
  4. null (Ed.)
    The first eruption at Kīlauea’s summit in 25 years began on March 19, 2008, and persisted for 10 years. The onset of the eruption marked the first explosive activity at the summit since 1924, forming the new “Overlook crater” (as the 2008 summit eruption crater has been informally named) within the existing crater of Halemaʻumaʻu. The first year consisted of sporadic lava activity deep within the Overlook crater. Occasional small explosions deposited spatter and small wall-rock lithic pieces around the Halemaʻumaʻu rim. After a month-long pause at the end of 2008, deep sporadic lava lake activity returned in 2009. Continuous lava lake activity began in February 2010. The lake rose significantly in late 2010 and early 2011, before subsequently draining briefly in March 2011. This disruption of the summit eruption was triggered by eruptive activity on the East Rift Zone. Rising lake levels through 2012 established a more stable, larger lake in 2013, with continued enlargement over the subsequent 5 years. Lava reached the Overlook crater rim and overflowed on the Halemaʻumaʻu floor in brief episodes in 2015, 2016, and 2018, but the lake level was more commonly 20–60 meters below the rim during 2014–18. The lake was approximately 280×200 meters (~42,000 square meters) by early 2018 and formed one of the two largest lava lakes on Earth. A new eruption began in the lower East Rift Zone on May 3, 2018, causing magma to drain from the summit reservoir complex. The lava in Halemaʻumaʻu had drained below the crater floor by May 10, followed by collapse of the Overlook and Halemaʻumaʻu craters. The collapse region expanded as much of the broader summit caldera floor subsided incrementally during June and July. By early August 2018, the collapse sequence had ended, and the summit was quiet. The historic changes in May–August 2018 brought a dramatic end to the decade of sustained activity at Kīlauea’s summit. The unique accessibility of the 2008–18 lava lake provided new observations of lava lake behavior and open-vent basaltic outgassing. Data indicated that explosions were triggered by rockfalls from the crater walls, that the lake consisted of a low-density foamy lava, that cycles of gas pistoning were rooted at shallow depths in the lake, and that lake level fluctuations were closely tied to the pressure of the summit magma reservoir. Lava chemistry added further support for an efficient hydraulic connection between the summit and East Rift Zone. Notwithstanding the benefits to scientific understanding, the eruption presented a persistent hazard of volcanic air pollution (vog) that commonly extended far from Kīlauea’s summit. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    The processes and ranges of intensive variables that control magma transport and dyke propagation through the crust are poorly understood. Here we show that textural and compositional data of olivine crystals (Mg/Fe, Ni and P) from the tephra of the first months of Paricutin volcano monogenetic eruption (Mexico, 1943–1952) record fast growth and large temperature and oxygen fugacity gradients. We interpret that these gradients are due to convective magma transport in a propagating dyke to the Earth’s surface in less than a few days. The shortest time we have obtained is 0.1 day, and more than 50% of the calculated timescales are < 2 days for the earliest erupted tephra, which implies magma ascent rates of about 0.1 and 1 m s−1. The olivine zoning patterns change with the eruptive stratigraphy, and record a transition towards a more steady magma flow before the transition from explosive to effusive dynamics. Our results can inform numerical and experimental analogue models of dyke propagation, and thus facilitate a better understanding of the seismicity and other precursors of dyke-fed eruptions.

    more » « less