An aerial view shows lava flowing from the volcanic eruption of Mount Nyiragongo near Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo on May 22, 2021. [Reuters]
Experts and authorities are now warning people near Mount Nyiragongo in eastern Congo to stay vigilant and listen to the news, as the situation “can change quickly”.
They warn of a potentially catastrophic scenario – a “limnic eruption” that could choke the area with asphyxiating carbon dioxide.
They say that due to its proximity to Lake Kivu in the Congo, the volcano could cause a limnic eruption that releases carbon dioxide dissolved in the water and suffocates people.
A liminic eruption occurs when a body of water is sufficiently disturbed due to volcanic activity and it is forced to release large amounts of the gas it contains.
This happened after the risk assessment at the summit of Nyiragongo Volcano Presence of Magna in the Goma area with an extension below Lake Kivu revealed due to seismicity and soil deformation.
On Friday, a cloud of black smoke rose from the crater on the horizon, which led to the conclusion that the volcano is still active.
Several days of aftershocks have been reported since Saturday, some of which correspond to minor earthquakes and tremors.
According to Dr. Robin George Andrews is trapped in a lot of carbon dioxide in Lake Kivu – worth about 70 cubic miles and containing 15 cubic miles of harmful methane.
He warns that if there is a major volcanic eruption in the lake basin, both gases will flow into the coast and suffocate anyone trapped in it.
“If a major volcanic eruption occurs in the lake’s basin, both gases could spill onto the urban coastline, choking anyone trapped in it,” he said.
A limnic outbreak is a very rare natural event. Catastrophic effects were recorded only twice, both times in Cameroon, in 1984 at Lake Monoun, which killed 37 people, and in 1986 at Lake Nyos, which killed over 1,700 people.
Dr. Andrew, a science writer with a PhD in volcanology, says Nyiragongo’s lavas are one of the fastest in the world at 64 kilometers an hour and could be difficult to overtake in an eruption.
He attributed this to the fact that the lava in the area lacks silica, a compound that gives most lavas a structural rigidity that prevents them from flowing too quickly.
“With eruptions that sometimes don’t give clear warnings, the lava flows can invade locals and are dangerous,” he adds.
He added that, under the right conditions, magma mixing with shallow waters can cause explosive explosions, a type of volcanic activity known as phreatomagmatism.
He says recent work has shown that there have been at least 15 phreatomagmatic eruptions in the Goma area over the past 12,000 years.
A pedestrian walks near a road crack caused by earthquakes as aftershocks following the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo volcano near Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo on May 26, 2021. [Reuters]
A pedestrian walks near a road crack caused by aftershocks earthquakes following the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo volcano near Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo on May 26, 2021. [Reuters]
Such eruptions, which can start with little warning, can wreak havoc with land-digging explosions and scorching, super-fast clouds of volcanic gas and ash.
The Strato volcano spewed out currents of lava that killed nearly three dozen people and destroyed the homes of about 20,000 people before the eruption stopped.
In the past two days, scientists monitoring the volcano have recorded hundreds of aftershocks since then.
Tens of thousands of people fled Goma after Nyiragongo erupted on Saturday night, but many then returned when the outbreak ended the next day.
The outbreak plowed through 17 villages, destroyed hundreds of houses, killed dozen, separated hundreds of children from their families, and disrupted water pipes and electricity supplies.
In 2002, its last major outbreak in 2002 killed hundreds and more than 120,000 homeless people
In 1977, Mount Nyiragongo caused the deadliest eruption in Africa after killing over 2,000 people
Mt. Nyiragongo erupts: 5 people were confirmed dead in the Congolese city of Goma, thousands fled their homes