Holocene phreatomagmatic eruptions alongside the densely populated northern shoreline of Lake Kivu, East African Rift: timing and hazard implications

Abstract

The Virunga Volcanic Province (VVP) represents the most active zone of volcanism in the western branch of the East African Rift System. While the VVP’s two historically active volcanoes, Nyamulagira and Nyiragongo, have built scoria cones and lava flows in the adjacent lava fields, several small phreatomagmatic eruptive centers lie along Lake Kivu’s northern shoreline, highlighting the potential for explosive magma-water interaction. Their presence in the densely urbanized Sake-Goma-Gisenyi area necessitates an assessment of their eruptive mechanisms and chronology. Some of these eruptive centers possess multiple vents, and depositional contacts suggest distinct eruptive phases within a single structure. Depositional facies range from polymict tuff breccia to tuff and loose lapilli, often impacted by blocks and volcanic bombs. Along with the presence of dilute pyroclastic density current (PDC) deposits, indicators of magma-water interaction include the presence of fine palagonitized ash, ash aggregates, cross-bedding, and ballistic impact sags. We estimate that at least 15 phreatomagmatic eruptions occurred in the Holocene, during which Lake Kivu rose to its current water level. Radiocarbon dates of five paleosols in the top of volcanic tuff deposits range between ∼2500 and ∼150 cal. year bp and suggest centennial- to millennial-scale recurrence of phreatomagmatic activity. A vast part of the currently urbanized zone on the northern shoreline of Lake Kivu was most likely impacted by products from phreatomagmatic activity, including PDC events, during the Late Holocene, highlighting the need to consider explosive magma-water interaction as a potential scenario in future risk assessments.

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Acknowledgments

This work was funded by the Belgian Science Policy (BELSPO) to the project “Geo-risk in Central-Africa” (GeoRisCA, SD/RI/02A, georisca.africamuseum.be). S. Poppe is currently a Ph.D. aspirant of the Flemish Research Foundation (FWO-Flanders) and additionally supported by Vocatio. B. Smets is funded by the National Research Fund of Luxembourg (AFR PhD grant no. 3221321) and K. Fontijn by Natural Environment Research Council grant NE/L013932/1 (RiftVolc). The Goma Volcano Observatory (GVO) and the Belgian embassies in Kigali (Rwanda) and Kinshasa (DRC) are acknowledged for logistic field support. Gastropod determination was carried out by Dirk Van Damme and Pieter Gurdebeke from Ghent University, Belgium. Radiocarbon dating was carried out by Beta Analytic Lab, Florida, USA. Fabien Albino from the RMCA, Tervuren, provided the TanDEM-X-derived DEM, produced in the ViX project funded by BELSPO. Thorough comments by Karoly Németh, Alexa Van Eaton, and associate editor Pierre-Simon Ross helped to considerably improve the manuscript. We further thank John Lockwood for providing field note transcripts, and Brittany Brand, Joan Martí, Audray Delcamp, Jean-Christophe Komorowski, Kelly-Ann Ross, and many others for helpful discussions.

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Poppe, S., Smets, B., Fontijn, K. et al. Holocene phreatomagmatic eruptions alongside the densely populated northern shoreline of Lake Kivu, East African Rift: timing and hazard implications. Bull Volcanol 78, 82 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00445-016-1074-8

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Keywords

  • Virunga Volcanic Province
  • Lake Kivu
  • Phreatomagmatism
  • Dilute pyroclastic density current
  • Volcanic hazard