Nyiragongo and its ultra alkaline magma – Part IV

One of the prettiest of all photos of the 2003 – 2021 lava lake of Nyiragongo. Taken by Oliver Grunewald as he visited in early 2010’s. Pahoehoe overflows on the crater floor, overflows from the perched lava lake. In this last article of my series, I will try to examine the behaviour of Nyiragongo’s nephelinite lava.

This is the last part of my article series, and it will be about the most complicated stuff: a look at the behaviour of Nyiragongo’s lava and how fluid it really is. In part three we had a look at how unusual its low silica magma chemistry is, and how this led to the famous media phenomena of Nyiragongo having “the fastest and most fluid lava on the planet”. In the last part of my Nyiragongo series we will have a look to see if that really is true.

The behaviour of Nyiragongo’s lava depends on many factors. The behaviour of viscosity is called rheology and that is a very complicated field of mathematical science, and especially for beginners. So in part 4 I will have a quick peek at the rheology of Nyiragongo’s lava. Rheology is a field that I am not an expert in either, so I will explain very simply below what determine viscosity in magmas. The behaviour of “ultrabasic” alkaline magmas is not well known, since they are so rare, that is why it is worth having a whole article on this

Nyiragongo viscosity discussion: how fluid is it really?

Nephelinitic pahoehoe from 2016 – 2021 intra caldera wall vent that was active together with the lava lake. While being compositionally alien compared to a basalt, its viscosity here does not seem different from hot near vent flows in Hawaii and Iceland. The high gas content makes a swollen look. Photographed by Torleiv Nordgarden during his 2018 visit to Nyiragongo

Before I discusses Nyiragongo’s viscosity it is worth to take a look at what determines magmatic viscosity. Knowing the factors that determines magmatic viscosity, makes it more clear to understand how complicated the question is that I am discussing in this article.

The main factors that affect magmatic viscosity

Silicate contents: Low silicate magmas like basalts are in principle always much much more fluid than the highest silicate magmas. Silica forms long silica chain polymers in the magmatic melt and that thickens up things. Low silicate magmas with little polymerization erupt fluidly and especially so if the temperature is very high. High silica magma can be nearly solid if the temperature is low when it erupts. Low silica content stops these polymers from making the magma sticky. Nyiragongo is the record holder for the lowest silica magmas among active silicate volcanoes.

Higher temperatures significantly helps to break down these silicate polymers in the magma. An andesite melt at 1100 C will be very much more mobile than an andesite at 880 C. A basalt at 1240 C will be very much less polymerized and liquid than a basalt at 1090 C. In basaltic activity, temperature determines viscosity and determines if you get hawaiian or strombolian activity.

Crystal Content also affects the magmatic viscosity. Most magmas are a mix of glass melt and crystals. A hot crystal-poor melt is smooth and flows easier without stress. A crystal-rich magma can become almost like liquid concrete or wet sand. Crystals thickens things up, and causes rough lava flow surfaces. A crystal-rich magma can be compared to liquid ice cream with a lot of hard chocolate pieces in it, while a crystal-poor magma is a warm chocolate ice cream where everything is liquid. Nyiragongo is generally poor in crystals, so rises freshly from depth.

Alkalinity (sodium, potassium content in minerals) in the melt helps too to lower the viscosity since alkaline minerals have lower/ less SiO2 polymerization chain bonds than subakaline minerals.

Water: Magmatic water lowers both viscosity and melting points. It loosens up the silicate polymer bonds as well as lowering the temperature at which magmas remain liquid.

As we learnt in part three, Nyiragongo’s odd composition gives it many good scores in having low viscosity when it comes to the factors above here. Nephelinites are generally very low viscosity magmas. But exactly how low Nyiragongo’s viscosity is, is rather complicated. I will now dive into that complicated question, after having a look at what determines viscosity in magmas.

Lavas that are as alkaline as Nyiragongo are a rarity, and you will not find a currently active example of this composition anywhere else on Earth. It is mostly composed of nepheline and augite as minerals. This was one of the ephemeral pahoehoe lava flow vents associated with the 2016 – 2021 caldera wall spatter cone vent that was in eruption during the 2003 – 2021 summit lava lake. Photo: Patrick Marcel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmUqQe976E4

The 1977 example lava flood The 1977 eruption is a famous example. In 1977 Nyiragongo burst open, and very fluid, extremely fast moving lava poured down the flanks. Within minutes it got to settlements kilometers away. Eyewitness suggest it flowing at between 70 km/h and 100 km/h at the upper slopes. The flow passed the forests at such a speed that it did not set fire to the trees and even left some thicker leaves with a thin glassy layer. Some pahoehoes (smooth lava flows) close to the vents were only thin paper-like sheets of dark grey glass, at places less than a centimeter thick. Numerous persons, mostly the elderly or children, could not escape from the flows. Exact numbers of victims cannot not be confirmed. Although the official count was 74, it is assumed that maybe 400 people have died. The nephelinite flood covered persons and animals with a thin glassy carapace. A whole herd of forest elephants were all killed by the lava flood and encased in dark grey glass. Their hollow casts were later broken into to reveal their lava moulds. These elephant casts where photographed by Maurice and Katia Krafft. The trunk and feet were all visible in the lava moulds as well as their calcified bones.

Around 20 million cubic meters of very degassed magma from the upper lava lake conduit erupted inside of an hour, after which the eruption stopped instantly. A similar spectacle happened in 2002 and recently in 2021 when the magma lake column drained once again because of pressure in the magma column. The 1977 eruption is infamous and still reverberates through history as the first eruption to really show Nyiragongo’s hazards. The famous volcanologists Maurice and Katia Krafft arrived just 2 days after this eruption happened. They took almost all the existing color and black and white photos from the fresh flows at the eruption sites.

Photograph by courtesy of © JC Komorowski of the Goma Volcano Observatory. This is one of the fissures from the 2002 eruption, showing the extreme fluidity of this lava composition close to the vents. But very high eruption rates are mainly responsible for the appearance. These are real lava flash floods. Further from the vents it turns to Aa lava. The 1977 eruption and 2021 produced very similar flows close to the fissures. Similar fluidal features can be found in Mauna Ulu vent at Kilauea. The 1977 lavas where also degassed and appears less swollen and frothy than gas rich lava flows. Photo https://mhalb.pagesperso-orange.fr/kivu/eg/eg_4h_eruption_photo.htm. https://mhalb.pagesperso-orange.fr/kivu/images4-diapo/photo12.htm

The 1977 eruption can be thought of as a hole in a dam, resulting in a catastrophic drain-out. The lavas where extremely fast near the events and very fluid, but the magmatic liquid cooled and crystallized as it flowed down. The very high eruption rates strongly favours Aa lava flows (crinkly and rubble-like) and Aa lava forms indeed the majority of the flow fields of 1977, 2002 and the 2021 eruption. There may have been turbulent lava flow close to the vents, meaning there where lots of vortices in the flow, rather than everything flowing smoothly in the same direction. Turbulent flow regime is reserved for only the most fluid lavas, and was probably last seen in the huge surges in lava flow rate in Fissure 8 during the 2018 Leilani eruption

The 1977 eruption has been described as a typical Nyiragongo flank eruption, but the volcano can do other stuff as well. These historical lava floods 1977, 2002 and 2021 are events with extreme eruption rates because of the pressure of the high-standing lava lake magma column. The pressure from that pillar of lava and the volcano’s steep slopes is why these eruptions flows so fast. This mechanism makes Nyiragongo flank eruptions probably the most dangerous effusive eruptions on Earth. Nyiragongo’s steep slopes makes it a very different phenomena than gentle sloped Kilaūea.

The paper sheet thin lava flows near the 1977, 2002, and 2021 flank vents were also a result of the lava being very degassed and not frothy and erupting very rapidly. Lava which is low in gas forms much less thick deposits then gas-rich lavas. The 1977 lava was a degassed lava from the lava lake column, and resulted in deposits that probably appeared more fluid than they really where. But such fluid features near vents could not be produced if the lavas where very viscous. No volcanologists were on site when these fissures erupted. We will never know the viscosity of these near vent conditions of Nyiragongo eruptions. We can only do the stuff in laboratory.

The viscosity and rheology of Nyiragongo have been not extensively researched. The measurements that have been done in the lava lakes have showed a very low viscosity, that is in line with the lowest measurements from Hawaii. Temperature measurements are poorly recorded but seem to be a bit above 1100 C range from the summit. Viscosity of lava has a lot to do with temperatures as well as silicate contents. Many other alkaline magmas with low MgO contents and very low silicate undersaturated magmatic melts emerge at low temperatures and erupt as cold strombolian eruptions. An example of that is Oahu’s sugarloaf nephelinitic flow that emerged as a cold viscous crystal mush. Nyiragongo and Nyiramuragira may own their low viscosity to a combination of their exceedingly low silicate contents and relatively high temperatures.

As described in the introduction, temperatures can affect magma a lot even if their silicate contents are relatively high. For example, most normal non-alkaline andesites, dacites and rhyolites emerge at relatively low temperatures at around 860 C and some as low as 700 C. That is one reason they are so viscous. The low temperatures makes active silica chain polymerisation which clogs up the melts. The world’s hottest andesite is erupted by West Mata Volcano that erupts ultramafic high-silica boninite andesites at 1320 degrees C. When submarines filmed that eruption it flowed like fluid basaltic pillow lavas and channels. The same high magnesium andesite eruption on land with the same temperatures would be as fluid as Fagradalshraun near the vent despite its 60% silica. In ancient komatiite lavas, that are very hot, all silica polymerisation was broken down because of high temperatures. This created a melt viscosity as low as water, showing how efficient high temperatures are in breaking the SiO2 chains.

High temperatures also affect evolved magmas. Some rare rhyolite magmas that emerge at 1000 C can form highly mobile obsidian block flows that can move many kilometers. Fissure 17 in Hawaii 2018 erupted a very hot 1100 C andesite pocket that flowed just as easily as an Etna basalt, while Soufriere Hills erupted similar andesites at 820 C forming very blocky lava domes. Crystals also increase viscosity in cooler magmas when high melting point minerals freeze out forming a melt that is a lot like melted ice cream but with lots of hard chocolate pieces in it. Now we learnt that very high (rare) temperatures can affect even some higher silicious magmas.

So what about ultra-low silica magmas and Nyiragongo? Low silica magmas are generally the most fluid, as they erupt at lower silicate contents and higher temperatures than their more silicious relatives. Nyiragongo with the lowest silicate contents of all silicate magmas and relatively high eruption temperatures should have the lowest silicate polymerisation and therefore the lowest viscosity among silicate based melts. Measurements suggest it is one of the lowest, quite a bit more fluid than really warm honey in some lab experiments. That agrees with the flow structures during the 1977 eruption. But there are other hot basaltic contesters with low viscosity.

Photograph by Justin Kabumba / Associated Press) https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-05-23/congo-volcano-eruption-ensuing-chaos-kill-at-least-15 The 2021 lava flows in Goma shows how temperature affects a lava’s viscosity. While Nyiragongo is extraordinary low in silica, far from the vents the lava flows became viscous Aa lava because of increased crystallization as the lava lost temperature. Nyiragongo’s Aa lava can still move at terrible speeds due to their low silicate content and the very high eruption rates with Nyiragongo’s lava lake drain-outs.

Nyiragongo’s magmatic origin with very small amounts of partial melting may give it a much lower eruption temperature than really hot basaltic eruptions. Kilaūea above the powerful Hawaiian hotspot challenges Nyiragongo with some the lowest measured viscosity silicate magmas on Earth. Kilaūea produces hot thoelite basaltic magmas from large amounts of partial melting. Kilaūea’s silicate content are much higher than Nyiragongo’s but the temperatures are also really high, sometimes in range of 1250 degrees at Halema’uma’u. As mentioned, high temperatures helps to break down the silica polymerisation resulting in measured Kilaūea summit viscosities that are in range of many of Nyiragongo’s measurements. But many of Kilaūea’s lavas especially at the flanks at the Puu Oo vent have been a bit more viscous than the Nyiragongo measurements.

Kilaūea’s summit is another example of a very fluid lava with exceptionally low viscosity. It has higher SiO2 than Nyiragongo, but has higher temperatures. If the lava is very hot then the SiO2 content becomes less important. Photography by USGS 2017

Nyiragongos ultrabasic alkaline magmas are perhaps the least polymerized on modern Earth. Nyiragongo’s lava would flow more easily than Kilaūea at the same temperatures. Most viscosity measurements of Nyiragongo lavas are a bit lower than typical fluid basaltic lavas and very much lower than higher silicate magmas. Many experiments been performed in laboratory furnaces, including some for Nyiragongo. Samples from Nyiragongo, Nyiramuragira were crushed and melted and stirred in furnaces. Similar experiments been done with rocks from other volcanoes. The Nyiragongo nephelinites where the most fluid when the magmatic furnace melts were at the same temperatures. Nyiragongo was easier to stir at lower temperatures than basalts at the same temperatures.

But it is also clear to me that very high temperature basaltic lavas in Hawaii and Iceland can have the same low viscosities. The lowest viscosities of all modern modern magmas could be a hot picrite basalt, since alkaline nephelinites are erupted typically at low temperatures. At high temperatures in many lab experiment basalts have been among the most fluid of all melts. Nyiragongo has generally been the most liquid at laboratory experiments. Nyiragongo’s rare mineral composition kept it much less polymerized than other samples.

The viscosity that have been measured in nature at Nyiragongo have been among the very lowest of all silicate magmas on the planet, with some of Kilaūea’s summit lavas being just as low. Sometimes temperatures is just as important as silicate content in determining a magma’s viscosity, especially for melts of basic and intermediate composition. Its worth noticing that the theoretical calculations for Nyiragongo’s melt viscosities have suggested viscosity of around 1 Pascal-second for Nyiragongo’s lava, but real world measurements in the lava lakes resulted in higher values at around 20 to 50 Pa-s. That is in line with the very lowest measurements from Halemaumau in Kilauea (20 Pa-s). The lowest theoretical eruption viscosity for Kilauea has been around 10 Pa-s with some hotter flows from Kilauea’s depths even much lower. Values below 10 Pa-s have also been suggested for some Nyiragongo flows. These figures for these two volcanoes are very low compared to almost any other silicate magma. Kilaūea’s summit can probably display viscosity below 10 Pa-s as well. Most other active basalt lava flows have viscosities in range of a few 100’s of Pa-s to over 10 000. And many more silicic lavas have viscosity that are much higher than that. 10 Pa-s is about same as lukewarm honey. The very high density of lavas makes them look more fluid than they really are. But the paper-thin sheets of lava spatter that can be found in photos with both Kilaūea and Nyiragongo’s lava lake walls may suggest viscosities below 10 Pa-s, making these two volcanoes perhaps capable of having lava a bit more fluid than honey.

The few laboratory furnace experiments that have been done on Nyiragongo-type rocks shows very low polymerization. The 2003 Jacques Durieux summit lava lake samples shows no crystal formations at all and only gas bubbles. Such pure liquidus Nyiragongo magmatic melts have been simulated under laboratory furnaces and shown to have very low viscosities. The pure melt viscosity for Nyiragongo is around 1220 C, the temperature needed to melt all mineral components. Most of the other Nyiragongo samples I have been reading about have been a bit below this full liquidus temperature, with tiny white crystals of nepheline present – as mentioned, like melted ice cream with some small hard chocolate bits in. A magma below its liquids temperature will be more viscous than its full melt temperature, although being very silica undersaturated clearly helps to keep its viscosity low even below the full liquidus temperatures.

Nyiragongo’s strong silica undersaturation allows it to move quickly even at sub-liquidus temperatures according to the lab experiments above. That is the reason why Nyiragongo lava flows were able to flow may many kilometers in the 1977, 2002 and 2021 flank eruptions without loosing a lot of speed, because such a strongly silica undersaturated lava, does not saturate a lot with silica as it cools and crystallizes. In other words a more crystalline nephelinitic flow does not have a notable higher SiO2 content in its glass melt than a fresher crystal poor one (although increased crystallization raises viscosity). It is this that explains why Nyiragongo’s fissure feed Aa flows can race forward at terrible speeds even if they are undercooled and crystal rich, because the remaining glass melt are SiO2 poor as well. Because of that the lava was able to flow great distances before significantly cooling and succumbing to the rheological barriers of crystallization and cooling.

Such behaviour is quite different from more normal basaltic lavas, that rapidly clog up as they cool and crystallize and their SiO2 saturate as the lava flows loose heat.

Both Nyiragongo and Nyiramuragira silicate rocks (nephelinite and basanite ) have been melted in furnace experiments and their viscosities compared. Nyiragongo is a bit more fluid even if it has undercooled conditions, thanks to its lower polymerization. The viscosity of both volcanoes are low but in line with hot hawaiian lavas. Nyiragongo’s viscosities been slightly lower in experiments with batches from both at the same temperatures, but the difference is very small.

Nyiragongo remained less crystallized at lower temperatures than Nyiramuragira in these experiments. Nyiramuragira’s lavas also had higher total liquidus temperatures than Nyiragongo’s composition in furnace experiments. Nyiramuragira is richer in silica and poorer in nephelinite and other sodium bearing minerals than Nyiragongo is. Most other research on past nephelinite volcanism in Lengai and post shield flows in Hawaii have found that the flows where viscous and crystal rich, so Nyiragongo is perhaps unusually hot for being a nephelinitic melt.

It is a question thats hard to answer

The very interesting question that I am looking at in the text is ”is Nyiragongo the most fluid silicate based magma”? Magmatic fluidity has a lot of different factors that have to be taken into account. Lava is an incredibly strange fluid, it is a mix of molten minerals. Viscosity goes down with increasing temperature and lower silica content. A combination of both would be best. Most alkaline magmas seen in historical times appear to have lower temperatures than subalkaline magmas, and erupt from shallow, cool storage as viscous strombolian eruptions. However, many older, preserved, highly alkaline eruption sites are purely monogenetic. These may have erupted without shallow storage, in which case they could have erupted at high temperatures as direct mantle eruptions, with low viscosity.

Two historical volcano eruptions that had very hot alkaline magmas more than 1140 C are Hualalai and La Palma. Both of Hualalai 1800’s eruptions, produced very hot silica-poor alkaline basalt with 42% SiO2 and 1140 C. The 2021 basanite from la Palma has very low silica content combined with a very high temperature close to 1200 C. The viscosities in the latest geological reports of the deep basanite magmas from la Palma are incredibly low, as low as the very lowest viscosities from Nyiragongo and Hawaii, and lower than almost any historical magma. But Nyiragongo also has that combination of high temperatures and very low SiO2 content. Nyiragongo does have the record among frequently erupting silicate volcanoes as having the lowest SiO2 content, and Nyiragongo’s temperature is high enough to push the viscosity down to one of the lowest among any silicate magma. Nephelinites and basanites have the specs of having the lowest viscosity if they are combined with a high eruption temperatures. (Basanite is slightly less alkaline and little more SiO2 rich than Nyiragongo’s foidites). They are both very rare magmas.

Images: La Palmas 2021 eruption erupted ultrabasic lavas as well, a hot basanite. It was close to 1170 C and had a phenomenally low viscosity, one of the lowest ever seen in historical times, because of high temperatures combined with low SiO2. Its viscosity was in range of Nyiragongo
Images by: Instituto Geológico y Minero de España cropped from film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxrCcmq4kGo

Conclusions and final thoughts about Nyiragongo’s viscosity

It is difficulty to know if Nyiragongo is the most fluid silicate based magma. While the silica content is very low, there are lots of other factors that determine viscosity, like temperature. Magmas are highly complex fluids that do not really have a single melting point.

Nyiragongo does have very low viscosity, one of the lowest measured viscosities of all silicate magmas on the planet. But there have not been enough studies on Nyiragongo on this question in my opinion. No volcanologists have been close to the erupting flank vents to measure viscosity.

The research that was done in the 2003-2021 summit lava lake is inconclusive. While very low in viscosity, it has not been lower than hot basaltic lakes in Hawaii. The extremely fluid-looking flows of near vents of 1977, 2002 and 2021 have a lot to do with very high eruption rates as well as with low viscosity. The volcano does have the lowest silicate content among terrestrial silicate lavas and it is the least polymerized lava at any given temperatures. But really hot basaltic lavas in Iceland and Hawaii can have the same low viscosity because of their very high temperatures. The fluid glassy watery look of the 2002 and 1977 near vent flows have a lot to do with that they where degassed and not frothy rather than being insanely runny, they where runny but perhaps not more so than other fluid lavas.

Nyiragongo does have the lowest amount of silica polymerization at any given temperature because of its very low silicate content, meaning that a normal basalt and nephelinite at same temperature, would have the nephelinitic melt as the most fluid. The magmas of this volcano also has remarkable mobility even at undercooled conditions (below full liquidus point) because of their low silica content.

Nyiragongo’s viscosity is low, but the myth that it is as fluid as water, is clearly just a myth. It is mainly created by the very fast eruptive rates of this volcano’s flank drain-outs that are one of the fastest effusive eruptions on Earth in terms of effusion rates. Its the steep slopes and fast eruption rates that creates the lava flow speeds together with a low viscosity, and many other fluid mafic lavas would also be just as dangerous if they erupted in the same conditions.

I have spent hours, hours on youtube videos and looking at photography comparing Nyiragongo with different fluid lavas mainly with Hawaii and mostly I cannot see any difference at all. Hawaii’s lavas appear a little hotter and brighter and much more shiny in cooled surfaces, but the viscosity looks just the same. The two lavas do look very different. Nyiragongo lacks the shiny aluminium looking skins of basaltic flows because its silica content is so low it does not form a nice glass up on air cooling. Nyiragongo lava lakes and lava rivers have a glossy look on its sun exposed surfaces, instead of Hawaii’s and Fagradalshraun’s shiny crusts. The lava lava lakes also look radically different, with Nyiragongo’s nephelinitic lake having numerous small degassing spattering points, and a strongly fissured glossy crust as normal convective regime, while Hawaiian basalt lakes haves a shiny aluminium looking crust with a few large plates and a few degassing points. This certainly has to do with Nyiragongo’s composition and different gas content. In some videos I seen of Kilauea’s summit lava lakes, it sometimes actually looked more fluid than Nyiragongo’s lava to my eyes. But this could also be because Hawaii’s lava is more “glassy”.

Nyiragongo’s lack of polymerization because its low silica makes it unable to form Pele’s hair. In other words, Nyiragongo’s composition is totally bizarre if you compare it to the basalt lava from Holuhraun or Hawaii. In theory Nyiragongo should be more fluid, with its much lower polymerization at any given temperatures, but Nyiragongo’s viscosity has a lot to do with temperature and how differentiated it is as well.

A very important thing when looking at Nyiragongo’s viscosity is that it is a well formed volcanic system and with a well built magma chamber storage, that allows Nyiragongo’s magmas to cool. The very slightly evolved nature of Nyiragongo’s nephelinites (not 100% fresh from mantle) maybe increases viscosity to the range of very fluid basaltic lavas. A monogenetic example of this magma composition could be even a bit more silica poor and primitive than Nyiragongo’s own nephelinites.

Temperatures are very good as well at removing that silicate polymerization, and thats why many normal basaltic lavas can be exceptionally fluid despite their higher SiO2 if they are hot enough.

But a truly primitive nephelinite / melilinite, like the extraordinary magmas of Vogelsberg, Urach that goes to below 30% Sio2, will be much more fluid than basalts, if they erupted at same temperatures as normal basalts.

But to end the discussion, Nyiragongo is almost certainly not more fluid than Halemaumau or Fagradalshraun’s basalts, that are both hotter and more silica rich than Nyiragongo’s. In other words the viscosity is probably the same (although Nyiragongo could be a bit lower in viscosity) but its impossible to say really. Nyiragongo’s nephelinite is one of the planets most fluid silicate magmas, but it is hard to say if it has a lower viscosity than a really hot basalt. The contest of which is the most fluid currently active silicate based magma/lava ends with a draw… and that ends this series.

Jacques Durieux with his lava sample pulled from the newborn lava lake. The 2003 samples from Nyiragongo were crystal free nephelinites at full liquid temperature so the rebirth of the lava lake came fresh from mantle. Such hot crystal free ultrabasic magma will have a very low viscosity.
Photograph by Patrick Aventurier during the 2003 sample expedition

Photographed by Patrick Aventurier during the 2003 sample expedition


This article series is mostly based on what I learnt myself about volcanism, Nyiragongo and lava rheology and is written in my own words which is the whole point, but some scientific sources that support my materials can be found below here.

Fledgling Mantle Plume May Be Cause Of African Volcano’s Unique Lava https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090313110733.htm


Petrogenesis of Basanitic to Tholeiitic Volcanic Rocks from the Miocene Vogelsberg, Central Germany https://academic.oup.com/petrology/article/44/3/569/1576323


Thermo-rheological magma control on the impact of highly fluid lava flows at Mt. Nyiragongo https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2006GL028459

Dynamics of the Mount Nyiragongo lava lake https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2013JB010895

January 2002 volcano-tectonic eruption of Nyiragongo volcano, Democratic Republic of Congo https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2006JB004762

Nyiragongo https://volcano.si.edu/volcano.cfm?vn=223030#bgvn_197203


The rheology of crystallizing basaltic lavas
from Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira volcanoes, D.R.C. http://jvolcanica.org › ojs › article › download

Jesper Sandberg, July 2022

261 thoughts on “Nyiragongo and its ultra alkaline magma – Part IV

  1. All of the active volcanoes in the world for the last two weeks, and more…

    Series of eruptions at Anak Krakatau volcano, Indonesia.
    Volcanic activity at Anak Krakatau increased on August 2, 2022, with the first of several eruptions starting at 08:49 UTC. It had a maximum amplitude of 33 mm and lasted 32 seconds, ejecting ash up to 1.5 km (4 900 feet) above the peak. The Aviation Color Code remains at Orange.

    Increased likelihood of eruption near Fagradalsfjall, Iceland.
    An intense earthquake swarm that started in the Krýsuvík-Trölladyngja volcanic system on July 30 continues and, according to the latest analysis by the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO), the chances of eruption in the area around Fagradalsfjall in the coming days or weeks have increased and are considered significant.

    Increased seismicity under Grímsvötn volcano, Aviation Color Code raised to Yellow, Iceland.
    Increased seismicity was detected under the Grímsvötn volcano in SE Iceland on August 2, 2022, forcing the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) to raise the Aviation Color Code for the volcano to Yellow. This is now the third volcano in Iceland with Yellow Aviation Color Code in effect – after Askja and Krysuvik. The last eruption of this volcano took place in 2011.

    Over 9000 earthquakes and ground uplift were detected at Mt Thorbjorn, Iceland.
    Recent deformation observations (both GPS and InSAR) identified the onset of a new inflation event west of Mt Thorbjorn, likely caused by magma intrusion. Preliminary modeling results indicate the source is located at a depth of between 4-5 km. In the past month, seismographs detected nearly 9000 earthquakes in the area, mostly related to underground volcanic activity.

    Kilauea Volcano, Hawaiian Islands, US.
    Current Volcano Alert Level: WATCH
    Current Aviation Color Code: ORANGE
    The summit eruption of Kīlauea Volcano, within Halemaʻumaʻu crater, has continued over the past 24 hours. All recent lava activity has been confined to the crater and current data indicate that this scenario is likely to continue. No significant changes have been noted at the summit or in either rift zone.

    Sakurajima Volcano, Kagoshima Prefecture in Kyushu, Japan.
    On July 24, 2022, at 20:05 JST, an explosive eruption occurred at the summit crater of the volcano, and cinders scattered up to 2.5 km from the crater.[30][31] Following this eruption, at 20:50 JST, the Japan Meteorological Agency raised the eruption alert level from Level 3 to Level 5, the highest level, and urged maximum precaution and evacuation.[30] This was the first time an eruption alert level 5 has been issued for Sakurajima

    • No mention of Chiles-cerro negro? The volcano having 2000+ quakes a day? 🤨

      • The guy made a video about Chiles-Cerro-Negro 5 days ago.

        I think he also mentioned it in another vid one or two ago.

      • Yeah, I’m following South American news articles that are coming out every few days right now. Often the translation ends up rather poor, but the meaning comes across fine; there’s definitely a growing sense of concern.

        The fact that this system apparently hasn’t erupted in so long makes this whole thing such a scary enigma. How much stress can the rock hold? Is this the run-up that will lead to a near term eruption, or can this large system hold another decade of pressure in check?

        I love reading about the activity in Reykjanes and Kilauea, I learn so much from everything that gets posted here. But my attention is definitely pegged over at Chiles – Cerro Negro at the moment. I was a toddler when Pinatubo erupted, but from everything I’ve since learned what’s going on near this volcano reminds me of when they realized Pinatubo might be a (big) problem.

  2. It looks like the amplitude of the swarm is slowly decreasing this past day, maybe like last year magma is about to break the surface soon.

    • I don’t think so. If it was, there’d be no doubt about it.

      • There’s no doubt about what I’m seeing now – multiple flare ups along the ridge. Announcement coming imminently I think

        • It has started. No moss fire would be doing this. Just interesting how slow things seem to be developing with the flares only increasing in frequency a bit and not much height to them

        • Civil authorities are sending an aircraft to check out the situation…!

    • FFS do I have to say it again?

      If you have to ask the question, “Is that an eruption?” the answer is NO, it is not an eruption!

      Free clue: remember the start of the first eruption here. Remember the start of the Holuhraun eruption. Or indeed Fimmvörðuháls; when an eruption starts, the entire bloody sky lights up orange!

  3. Like what Sam said before, an eruption might be happening in the livestream. It might also be some sort of peat fire, but I seen multiple flares at the northern end. NO JOKE.

    • Well, I called wolf when there was no wolf… I was on edge, though.

  4. There may be some jumping to conclusions here.
    Reykjavik airport is in the background of the close-up shot, so the flights seen there are nothing to do with the smoke. The small flare-ups could be burning moss and grass. It could be a fire started by a careless walker discarding a cigarette this afternoon.
    The thing is, there is no tremor on the charts. That’s our hard evidence. If we had tremor we’d sit up and notice.
    Time will tell. Let’s wait for a day or two and see what turns up.

    • Yeah, RUV is reporting it as a moss fire. Sorry folks, not tonight. Still no word on the cause.

  5. Seems it was a moss fire, but then it does bring up the qurstion of what started it. Seems a bit convenient that a fire would start now during an intrusion when people have been going there all the time since last year and nothing has burned… I think at least heating of the ground is in affect.

    • Right now at 7:35 pm PDT there have been 4 episodes of brief flaring or flames then fading away. Camera is probably very sensitive. It is not lava but definitely a flare of fire like a candle?

      • Those “flares” are either headlamps or vehicle lights from people investigating the smoke. I’ve seen at least 3 separate ones at the same time, all in the vicinity of the source of the smoke.

    • Could be degassing? Weren’t some of the moss fires during the last eruption caused by an easily combustible gas?

      If yes, magma might be pretty close to the surface.

      • Don’t think so. It was by direct heat from the lava, or from lava bombs. There were some hydrogen flames but they were within the eruption. Peat needs considerable heat to ignite. Pandora’s box is mostly opened by people

      • Rock have very low conductivity, lava Will not heat the surface very much unless it sits Half a meter below for many months and pretty much all intrusions are much faster than that

        It coud be that If it erupts it coud be just a car sized spatter cone that forms and nothing else

        But it probaly will be larger than so. The swarm is slowing, that coud mean the lateral rock breaking is over. And then the dyke will go To the surface If it cannot push forward more

        • I dont think an eruption can really be so small on its own, all of the cases that such tiny flows exist are either breakouts on a large intrusion or part of a bigger eruption. The tiny eruption from a borehole at Krafla was literally because the dike happened to exactly intersect the borehole and was fluid enough to leak out. Its very unlikely it would have erupted otherwise. All of the tiny eruptions at Kilauea too are associated with large intrusions, where a bit manages to surface. In this case the intrusion is fairly slow and seems very forceful, and maybe more importantly has not got a great length, only about 2-3 km rather than 8 last year.
          It will be absolutely undeniable if it erupts though, remember last year even very early when it was small the deep red glow, will not be mistaken for a moss fire 🙂

  6. PHIVOLCS just sent out an advisory ah hour ago re: Sudden increase of so2 to 12k and observed VOG in the Taal Volcano region

    • I can’t keep up with all this volcano-attention grabbing in the race for eruption leadership. The front runner, Fagra, is doing a fast U-turn while blaming a bad press. The leader of the opposition, Grimsvotn, makes an announcement but lacks power. The challenger, Katla, makes a strong case but does not promise enough to convince the voters. Grand old man Chiles-Negro coughs in the background and looks inflated. The Florida volcano (remember that one?) tries with a pretend eruption. The peace-loving block of the Pacific push Taal for number one. China forbids any volcano in its territory (defined as the entire solar system) (plus surroundings) from erupting without permission. Kilauea is refused permission by the supreme court to abort its eruption. It is becoming a tad confusing

      • What happened to the people’s priorities? Bring back Borisbunga, I say.

      • Of them all, Taal is the one I would least like to see going into full blown eruption !
        Maybe I just don’t know enough about the others, but nothing about Taal strikes me as being “fun”.

    • It has really picked up compared to the previous hours, I wonder if this is the final push? Last year began in silence but generally there is a seismic signal to herald a new fissure opening, or the last bit of a dike reaching the surface. Fagradalsfjall is a hyaloclastite mountain and is basically made of gravel, it might be that the reason last year was silent is that ladt 100 or so meters the magma had to rise was through this medium? If it is now expected to erupt north of the mountain it might be a bit more conventional in starting. Might well be that is what we are seeing as we speak 🙂

  7. The eruption is beneath the old lava field, but where exactly? To the north of the previous eruption or to the south?

  8. I see lava is either re-heating ponded remnants of Fagradals’ outflows, or is spreading out under the crust. It is seeping out at the edges of the old flow, now.

    • In my untalented opinion, this would appear to be the same dike that activated the original Fagradals volcano. Either it has been refreshed from below, or pushed into reactivation.
      I wonder if the magma will find the channel(s) up to the original volcano and reactivate them? They must be hot and mushy below, and eager for a fresh gas supply, ready to re-liquify.

      • This is extension of the same fissure toward Keilir volcano.

      • It’s probably a new dyke, but the same source. It’s a bit more to the east than last year’s fissures. I also thought the glowing edges was lava that had spread under the crust, but a closer look says the new lava flow has actually already reached the edge of the old field, flowing on top.

      • Yes, the dike extends from Keilir to just south of Fagradals where it comes up against the MAR.
        I’m curious if this arrival of fresh magma may revitalise the vents up through Fagradals crater.
        Time will tell, I suppose.

  9. Alright, I think I figured out where the new eruption is! It isn’t in Meradalir proper, but the circular valley just to the west. I mapped it here: https://imgur.com/a/TkKF3dy (base map can be found here: https://twitter.com/geoviews/status/1453709371481993218/photo/1). It is hard to tell exactly how far north the line extends, as that part is largely hidden by the smoke. A pretty long stretch opened up, more than at the beginning of the previous eruption. Roughly the length of the stretch of fissures 2-6 that opened after the Twins developed.

    It is *not* the original fissure line reactivated. The current line of eruption has the same orientation, but is roughly 600 meters to the east of where the original line would have been if it extended north.

  10. Important people in florescent jackets have arrived on site.
    Also 2 cyclists with lava resistant tyres have appeared at the other side.

  11. To the Dragons: why do I have to sign in to click the ‘Like’ button? Used not to be that way.

  12. looking at the height those lava fountains are already reaching it looks like we will have one or two new cones very soon.

  13. Curiously, there is still a lot of rock cracking going on around the area around 6-3km down. I shall throw out a guess that we may – in due course – see another crack open elsewhere, possibly to the SE of Keilir.
    Please, no rotten tomatoes, cabbages need to be thrown. I’m perfectly capable of making silly predictions.

  14. Is it possible that the current fissure will turn into a bonafide lava lake? I ask because the fissure is erupting into a depression formed by the margin of last years flows, and the lower end already is being drowned by the new lava. How will we know if 2 way circulation gets established?

      • ? surely the fissures are the roots or am I missing something?

      • Alice the new fissure is going up slope. The gas is obscuring half of the active part. It’s 379m long according to the announcement I’ve seen.

      • rootless lava lake

        With that, i guess you mean, a not long supported lava lake like erta ale or so. But a bigger area of liquid lava, filled up by a steady stream of fresh lava from a fissure like this.

    • I was also wondering which direction it will flow. Obviously it will depend on how long this new eruption will last and on the topograpy but my guess without topographical maps is morthwards

  15. There is a video (Coast guard footage?) running right now. If it is over when you see it, it starts at timestamp apx. 15.18.00 as per the ruv videoscreen next to it. Enjoy!

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