Large scale expedition to the heart of Nyiragongo
Their last mission (30/08/2011-23/09/2011): to install a monitoring system for the Nyiragongo lava lake.
Nyiragongo is one of the most active volcanoes on the African continent. Located to the east of the DRC, approximately 15 km North of the town of Goma (~700,000 inhabitants), this active volcano is a direct threat to the local population. There is an active lava lake in the volcano’s main crater, the level of which progressively rises (up to 80 m per year). The lava lake’s on-going elevation increases the risk of eruption along the sides of the volcano. The pressure exerted by the accumulated lava “weakens” the volcanic edifice thus increasing the chances of fractures opening up on the sides of the volcano. In 1977 and 2002, such an event occurred, draining the lava lake and feeding the devastating lava flows. To date, the critical threshold remains unknown.
The expedition was jointly organised by François Kervyn, Benoît Smets, their colleagues from the National Museum of Natural History of Luxembourg, and the Goma Volcano Observatory. The goal of the mission was the measurement of various parameters that could potentially be correlated with the lava lake activity. Ground deformations, seismic activity, temperature, and gas flux were measured inside the crater and on the rim. A very first experimental monitoring system for the Nyiragongo lava lake was also installed. This stereo-photogrammetric system enables pairs of images of the lava lake to be acquired at regular intervals for a several-month period. It should then enable the 3D modelling of this part of the main crater as well as quantifying the volumes of lava emitted as a result of successive lava overflows.
The researchers will be able to identify and define the parameters which express variations in volcanic activity. The monitoring of these parameters will enable a better understanding of the lava lake’s activity and, in more general terms, will contribute to an improvement in the monitoring of this activity.
Followed by the media
Journalists from RTBF and ARTE accompanied the researchers. A report will soon be broadcast as part of RTBF’s Matière grise series. Sequences will also be incorporated in a series dedicated to volcanoes which will be broadcast on ARTE.
A few facts and figures from the expedition
Almost 500 kg of scientific equipment was brought over from Belgium. 115 porters transported 1.6 tons of equipment and provisions from the foot of the volcano to its summit. 11 days later, 54 porters helped the researchers to climb back down from the summit.
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