Favalli, M., Chirico, G.D., Papale, P. et al. Bull Volcanol (2009) 71: 363. doi:10.1007/s00445-008-0233-y
The 2002 eruption of Nyiragongo volcano constitutes the most outstanding case ever of lava flow in a big town. It also represents one of the very rare cases of direct casualties from lava flows, which had high velocities of up to tens of kilometer per hour. As in the 1977 eruption, which is the only other eccentric eruption of the volcano in more than 100 years, lava flows were emitted from several vents along a N–S system of fractures extending for more than 10 km, from which they propagated mostly towards Lake Kivu and Goma, a town of about 500,000 inhabitants. We assessed the lava flow hazard on the entire volcano and in the towns of Goma (D.R.C.) and Gisenyi (Rwanda) through numerical simulations of probable lava flow paths. Lava flow paths are computed based on the steepest descent principle, modified by stochastically perturbing the topography to take into account the capability of lava flows to override topographic obstacles, fill topographic depressions, and spread over the topography. Code calibration and the definition of the expected lava flow length and vent opening probability distributions were done based on the 1977 and 2002 eruptions. The final lava flow hazard map shows that the eastern sector of Goma devastated in 2002 represents the area of highest hazard on the flanks of the volcano. The second highest hazard sector in Goma is the area of propagation of the western lava flow in 2002. The town of Gisenyi is subject to moderate to high hazard due to its proximity to the alignment of fractures active in 1977 and 2002. In a companion paper (Chirico et al., Bull Volcanol, in this issue, 2008) we use numerical simulations to investigate the possibility of reducing lava flow hazard through the construction of protective barriers, and formulate a proposal for the future development of the town of Goma.