Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 70, Issue 6, pp 717–742 | Cite as

Growth and collapse of the Reunion Island volcanoes

  • Jean-François OehlerEmail author
  • Jean-François Lénat
  • Philippe Labazuy
Research Article


This work presents the first exhaustive study of the entire surface of the Reunion Island volcanic system. The focus is on the submarine part, for which a compilation of all multibeam data collected during the last 20 years has been made. Different types of submarine features have been identified: a coastal shelf, debris avalanches and sedimentary deposits, erosion canyons, volcanic constructions near the coast, and seamounts offshore. Criteria have been defined to differentiate the types of surfaces and to establish their relative chronology where possible. Debris avalanche deposits are by far the most extensive and voluminous formations in the submarine domain. They have built four huge Submarine Bulges to the east, north, west, and south of the island. They form fans 20–30 km wide at the coastline and 100–150 km wide at their ends, 70–80 km offshore. They were built gradually by the superimposition and/or juxtaposition of products moved during landslide episodes, involving up to several hundred cubic kilometers of material. About 50 individual events deposits can be recognized at the surface. The landslides have recurrently dismantled Piton des Neiges, Les Alizés, and Piton de La Fournaise volcanoes since 2 Ma. About one third are interpreted as secondary landslides, affecting previously emplaced debris avalanche deposits. On land, landslide deposits are observed in the extensively eroded central area of Piton des Neiges and in its coastal areas. Analysis of the present-day topography and of geology allows us to identify presumed faults and scars of previous large landslides. The Submarine Bulges are dissected and bound by canyons up to 200 m deep and 40 km long, filled with coarse-grained sediments, and generally connected to streams onshore. A large zone of sedimentary accumulation exists to the north–east of the island. It covers a zone 20 km in width, extending up to 15 km offshore. Volcanic constructions are observed near the coast on both Piton des Neiges and Piton de la Fournaise volcanoes and are continuations of subaerial structures. Individual seamounts are present on the submarine flanks and the surrounding ocean floor. A few seem to be young volcanoes, but the majority are probably old, eroded seamounts. This study suggests a larger scale and frequency of mass-wasting events on Reunion Island compared to similar islands. The virtual absence of downward flexure of the lithosphere beneath the island probably contributes to this feature. The increased number of known flank–failure events has to be taken into consideration when assessing hazards from future landslides, in particular, the probability of landslide-generated tsunamis.


Reunion Island Landslides Multi-beam bathymetry Sonar backscatter Digital terrain model Oceanic islands 



We thank the chief scientists who have kindly allowed us to use the data acquired during numerous cruises: Roland Schlich (for Rodriguez I and II, 1984), Paul Beuzard (Hydroamsterdam, 1984), Peter Stoffers (SO87, 1993), Marc Munschy (Djire, 1995), Daniel Sauter (Larjaka, 1995), Philippe Patriat (Gallieni, 1995), Jérôme Dyment and Christophe Hemond (Gimnaut, 2000), Louis Geli (Antaus, 2000), Jean-Yves Royer (Deflo, 2000), Eric Humler (Swift, 2001), Nicolas Metzl and Catherine Pierre (Oiso6, 2001), and Mathilde Cannat (Swir, 2003). We are grateful to IFREMER, IPEV, and EOST for having supplied us with the multi-beam data and thankful to Christine Deplus for discussions. The purchase of the Caraibes software (©Ifremer) was funded by the Observatoire de Physique du Globe de Clermont-Ferrand (OPGC). The paper benefited from helpful reviews and comments by James D. L. White, Neil C. Mitchell, and an anonymous reviewer.

Supplementary material

445_2007_163_Fig1_ESM.gif (68 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 1

Available data coverage around La Réunion. EM12D swath bathymetry and sonar data were collected aboard the French R/V L'Atalante on Djire (1995), Gallieni (1995), Larjaka (1995), and Gimnaut (2000) cruises. Thomson TSM 5265B swath bathymetry and sonar data were collected aboard the French R/V Marion Dufresne on Antaus (2000), Deflo (2000), Swift (2001), and Oiso6 (2001) cruises. Thales Seafalcon 11 swath bathymetry data were collected aboard the R/V Marion Dufresne on Swir (2003) and 321-FMLP (2003) cruises. Hydrosweep swath bathymetry data were collected aboard the German R/V Sonne on SO87 cruises (1993). GIC Seabeam swath bathymetry data were collected aboard the French R/V Jean Charcot on Hydroamsterdam (1984), Rodriguez 1 and 2 (1984) cruises. Conventional detailed bathymetry supplied by the “Service Hydrographique et Océanographique de la Marine” (SHOM) are used for the bathymetry near the seashore (GIF 68.2 kb)

445_2007_163_Fig2_ESM.gif (398 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 2

3D views (a shaded relief, b acoustic mosaic and the slope) illustrating the textural and acoustic surface characteristics of the main features of the submarine flanks of La Réunion (GIF 397 kb)

445_2007_163_Fig3a_ESM.gif (423 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 3A

Illustrations of the criteria used to differentiate the landslide units (part 1). Contour interval is 500(m. See text for more details. Superimposition criterion applied to the WSB South Lobe. inset shows the location of the different examples (GIF 423 kb)

445_2007_163_Fig3b_ESM.gif (364 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 3B

Illustrations of the criteria used to differentiate the landslide units (part 1). Contour interval is 500 m. See text for more details. Deviation of flows by obstacles criterion applied to the SSB Median Complex (GIF 364 kb)

445_2007_163_Fig3c_ESM.gif (93 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 3C

Illustrations of the criteria used to differentiate the landslide units (part 1). Contour interval is 500(m. See text for more details. Lineaments direction criterion applied to the junction between NSB and ESB formations (GIF 93 kb)

445_2007_163_Fig3d_ESM.gif (248 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 3D

Illustrations of the criteria used to differentiate the landslide units (part 1). Contour interval is 500( m. See text for more details. Magnetic signature criterion applied to the WSB east block (GIF 248 kb)

445_2007_163_Fig3e_ESM.gif (577 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 3E

Illustrations of the criteria used to differentiate the landslide units (part 1). Contour interval is 500( m. See text for more details. Evidence of a submarine secondary landslide on the eastern flank of Piton de La Fournaise (GIF 576 kb)

445_2007_163_Fig4a_ESM.gif (460 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 4A

Illustrations of the criteria used to differentiate the landslide units (part 2). Contour interval is 500 (m. See text for more details. Erosion-dissection structures, erosion channels, and acoustic signature contrast criteria applied to the proximal part of the NSB. Inset shows the location of the different examples (TIF 1.84 Illustrations of the criteria used to differentiate the landslide units (part 2). Contour interval is 500(m. See text for more details. Erosion-dissection structures, erosion channels, and acoustic signature contrast criteria applied to the proximal part of the NSB. Inset shows the location of the different examples (GIF 460 kb)

445_2007_163_Fig4b_ESM.gif (423 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 4B

Illustrations of the criteria used to differentiate the landslide units (part 2). Contour interval is 500 m. See text for more details. Relative degree of erosion criterion applied to the WSB North Lobe (GIF 422 kb)

445_2007_163_Fig5a_ESM.gif (41 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 5A

Summary tables of La Réunion volcanoes flank landslides. Piton de La Fournaise and Les Alizés volcanoes events (GIF 41.4 kb)

445_2007_163_Fig5b_ESM.gif (85 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 5B

Summary tables of La Réunion volcanoes flank landslides. Piton des Neiges volcano events. Refer to Fig. 10b to localize the subaerial deposits and source zones. Single asterisk DA are debris avalanches; BS are block slides. Double asterisks Estimated volume in km3:V− < 1; 1 < V + < 10; 10 < V++ < 100; 100 < V+++ < 1,000. Triple asterisk Secondary landslides are ticked (GIF 85.3 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean-François Oehler
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jean-François Lénat
    • 1
  • Philippe Labazuy
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratoire Magmas et Volcans, UMR 6524 CNRS, OPGCUniversité Blaise PascalClermont-Ferrand CedexFrance

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