web analytics

World’s Newest Lava Lake Appears atop Volcano in Africa


Image credit: Benoit Smets. The new lava lake in DR Congo.

Located at a deep crater on the top of the volcano regarded as one of the most active in Africa, and thickly covered by clouds of toxic gas, a bubbling lava lake made its sudden appearance for the first time during the period of seventy-five years.

The latest lava lake is on top of Nyamuragira volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This new volcano belongs to a chain of eight mountains in the Albertine Rift, the Virunga Volcanoes, which are standing in a line close to the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

However, just Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo, the volcano as young as Nyamuragira within this range, are still active. Therefore, these two make up 40% of all volcanic eruptions in Africa. Looking back 12 years ago, an eruption from Nyiragongo was so strong that it had destroyed one third of a nearby city.

For the time being, the latest-born lava lake is quite small but it is also powerful. It has been accumulated from fountains of fiery lava spurting from the crater, which could be aerially observed. It is very interesting that the lake keeps coming and going at present, sometimes it could disappear for several hours. It is said by experts that if this volcano continues to maintain its present level of activity; it would turn into a more long-term addition, just like Nyiragongo’s, which is the biggest lava lake all over the world.

Compared with other volcanoes in the rest of the world, it is quite unique for Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira to be able to host lava lakes for many years. But as for Nyamuragira’s pool, it had been vacant for the best part of the past century, when its lava was heavily released from the summit in 1938 and went down 18 miles across the landscape.

When scientists found the new lava lake, they were not surprised at all, because several years ago, a strong eruption caused collapsing of one crater of the volcano. Such remarkable event, resulting in 200 million cubic meters of lava to dribble down Nyamuragira’s sides, would possibly offer new pathways for magma to creep up from the underground chamber down below.

At what time this new lake was created is not confirmed right now and scientists are still arguing about the date of its formation. Robin Campion, who has recently published his paper about this event in Geophysical Research Letters, based on the evidence he had collected, suggested that it formed very shortly after the crater collapsed back in 2012. As described in his paper, toxic sulfur dioxide gas emissions fail to wane even after the eruption. These high values could be much related a lava lake.

However, Benoit Smets, another volcanologist holds different opinion; he thinks that it just formed not long ago, because when his group went to the volcano in July of 2014 for photographing the crater, there was no evidence for a lake left there. However, after studying those photos, Campion makes sure that he is able to see fountains spurting out from a small lake. In addition, researchers from the Goma Volcano Observatory did see red glows at nights during the period of April and June respectively this year.

Source: Live ScienceGeophysical Research Letters and Softpedia

Journal reference: Campion, Robin. “New lava lake at Nyamuragira volcano revealed by combined ASTER and OMI SO2 measurements.” Geophysical Research Letters 41.21 (2014): 7485-7492.