Structure and Eruptive History of Karthala Volcano

  • Patrick Bachèlery
  • Julie Morin
  • Nicolas Villeneuve
  • Hamidi Soulé
  • Hamidou Nassor
  • Ahmed Radadi Ali
Part of the Active Volcanoes of the World book series (AVOLCAN)


Much work has been done on Karthala volcano over the last 30 years concerning the volcanology, structural geology, petrology, geochemistry and geophysics. We focus here on the current state of knowledge about the structure of this typical shield volcano and its recent eruptive activity. Karthala is a large basaltic shield volcano with a typical “Hawaiian” shape, with two well-developed rift zones diverging from a polylobate summit caldera complex. Karthala has not been dissected by erosion, although the concave morphology of its southern and eastern flanks may have resulted from huge flank landslides. Karthala volcano is one of the most active African volcanoes. During the last two centuries, most of the eruptions have been magmatic, emitting alkali basalts. They have been characterised by eruptive fissures which opened along the rift zones, within the caldera, or at low elevation far from the rift zones and the caldera. Karthala’s eruptive style is mostly effusive; however, phreatic and phreatomagmatic explosions also occur. Karthala erupted regularly (with an average frequency of one eruption every 6–8 years) over the past 100 years until the phreatic eruption of 1991. Since then, its activity has increased, with four eruptions from 2005 to 2007, two of them with significant impacts on the local population. The two phreatomagmatic to violent-strombolian eruptions in 2005 were more explosive and long-lasting than the preceding eruptions, projecting ashes and volcanic debris onto the eastern part of the island, affecting as many as 245,000 people. In the recent past, the 1977 eruption was the most destructive of Karthala’s historic lava flows. But in 1858, a lava flow travelled 13 km from the upper part of the north rift zone to the western coast, going close to the capital Moroni. Wherever the location of the eruptive vent, lava flows can reach inhabited areas and the sea in a few hours.


Lava Flow Rift Zone Eruptive Fissure Cinder Cone Shield Volcano 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors wish to thank Sebastien Zaragosi for providing the frame of the Fig. 22.1. We are grateful to Fran Van Wyk de Vries for proofreading this manuscript. This paper benefited from the constructive comments of L. Michon and JF Lénat.


  1. Bachèlery P, Coudray J (1993) Carte volcano-tectonique (1/50000e) de la Grande Comore et notice explicative. Edited by the French Embassy in Moroni, Comores, and The University of La Réunion, St. Denis de La RéunionGoogle Scholar
  2. Bachèlery P, Hémond C (2016) Geochemical and Petrological aspects of Karthala. In: Bachèlery, P., Lénat J-F, Di Muro A, Michon L (eds) Active Volcanoes of the Southwest Indian Ocean: and Karthala. Active Volcanoes of the world. Springer, Berlin (Chapter 23)Google Scholar
  3. Bachèlery P, Villeneuve N (2013) Hot Spots and large Igneous Provinces. In: Shroder JF (Editor-in-chief), Owen LA (Volume Editor). In treatise on geomorphology, vol 5, Tectonic geomorphology, Academic Press, San Diego, pp 193–233Google Scholar
  4. Bachèlery P, Ben Ali D, Desgrolard F, Toutain JP, Coudray J, Cheminée JL, Delmond JC, Klein JL (1995) L’éruption phréatique du volcan Karthala (Grande Comore) en Juillet 1991 : première crise sismo-volcanique suivie depuis l’implantation d’un réseau de surveillance. Comptes Rendus Académie Sciences Paris, t 320, Issue 8, Série II a, 691–698Google Scholar
  5. Battistini R (1967) Le volcan actif de la Grande Comore. Revue de Géographie de Madagascar, No 10(11):41–77Google Scholar
  6. Bossu R (2000) A simple approach to constrain the position and the geometry of seismogenic structures: Application to the Karthala volcano (Grande Comores Island). Mozambique J Seismolog 4:41–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bourdon B, Joron JL, Claude-Ivanaj C, Allègre CJ (1998) U-Th-Pa-Ra systematic for the Grande Comore volcanic: melting processes in an upwelling plume. Earth Planet Sci Lett 164:119–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Class C, Goldstein SL (1997) Plume-lithosphere interactions in the ocean basins: constraints from the source mineralogy. Earth Planet Sci Lett 150:245–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Class C, Goldstein SL, Altherr R, Bachelery P (1998) The process of plume—lithosphere interactions in the Ocean Basins—the case of Grande Comore. J Petrol 39(5):881–903CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Class C, Goldstein SL, Stute M, Kurz MD, Schlosser P (2005) Grand Comore Island: a well-constrained “low 3He/4He”. Earth Planet Sci Lett 233:391–409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Class C, Goldstein SL, Shirey SB (2009) Osmium in Grande Comore lavas: a new extreme among a spectrum of EM-type mantle endmembers. Earth Planet Sci Lett 284:219–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Claude-Ivanaj C, Bourdon B, Allègre CJ (1998) Ra-Th-Sr isotope systematic in Grande Comore Island: a case study of plume-lithosphere interaction. Earth Planet Sci Lett 164:99–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. de Saint-Ours J (1960) Etudes géologiques dans l’extrême Nord de Madagascar et de l’Archipel des Comores. Thèse de Doctorat, Rapport Service géologique de Tananarive no 221, Tananarive, Madagascar, p 205Google Scholar
  14. Debeuf D (2004) Etude de l’évolution volcano-structurale et magmatique de Mayotte (Archipel des Comores, Océan Indien). PhD thesis, University of La Réunion, p 277Google Scholar
  15. Deniel C (1998) Geochemical and isotopic (Sr, Nd, Pb) evidence for plume-lithosphere interactions in the genesis of Grande Comore magmas (Indian Ocean). Geochem Geol 144:281–303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Emerick CM, Duncan RA (1982) Age progressive volcanism in the Comores Archipelago, western Indian Ocean and implications for Somali plate tectonics. Earth Planet Sci Lett 60:415–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Emerick CM, Duncan RA (1983) Errata. Earth Planet Sci Lett 62:439CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Esson J, Flower MFJ, Strong DF, Upton BGJ, Wadsworth WJ (1970) Geology of the Comores Archipelago, Western Indian Ocean. Geol Mag 107–6:549–557CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Flower MFJ, Strong DF (1969) The significance of sandstone inclusions in lavas from the Comores Archipelago. Earth Planet Sci Lett 7:47–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hajash A, Armstrong RL (1972) Paleomagnetic and radiometric evidence for the age of the Comores Islands, West Central Indian Ocean. Earth Planet Sci Lett 16:231–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kaneoka I, Takaoka N, Upton BGJ (1986) Noble gas systematics in basalts and a nodule from Réunion and Grande Comoro islands, Indian Ocean. Chem Geol 59:35–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Krafft M (1982) L’éruption volcanique du Karthala : Avril 1977 (Grande Comore, océan Indien). Comptes Rendus Académie Sciences Paris 294:753–758Google Scholar
  23. Krafft M (1983) Guide des volcans de la Grande Comore [unpublished], p 94Google Scholar
  24. Lacroix A (1916) La constitution des roches volcaniques de l’archipel des Comores. Comptes Rendus Acad Sci Paris, t 163(9):213–219Google Scholar
  25. Lacroix A (1920) Une éruption du volcan Karthala à la Grande Comore en août 1918. Comptes Rendus Acad Sci Paris, t 171:5–10Google Scholar
  26. Lacroix A (1922) La constitution lithologique de l’archipel des Comores. C.R. XIIIème congrès Int. Géol. Bruxelles 2:949–979Google Scholar
  27. Lacroix A (1938) Le volcan actif de l’île de La Réunion (supplément) et celui de la Grande Comore. Gauthier Villars Ed., Paris p 57Google Scholar
  28. Lénat JF, Robineau B, Durand S, Bachèlery P (1998) A self-potential survey of the summit zone of Karthala volcano (Grande Comore). Comptes Rendus Acad Sci Paris, Earth Planet Sci 327:781–788Google Scholar
  29. Michon L (2016) The volcanism of the Comores archipelago integrated at a regional scale. In: Bachèlery P, Lénat J-F, Di Muro A, Michon L (eds) Active volcanoes of the southwest Indian Ocean: and Karthala. Active volcanoes of the World. Springer, Berlin (Chapter 21)Google Scholar
  30. Morin J (2012) Gestion institutionnelle et réponses des populations face aux crises volcaniques: études de cas à La Réunion et en Grande Comore. PhD thesis, University of La Réunion, p 358 + annexesGoogle Scholar
  31. Morin J, Lavigne F (2009) Institutional and social responses to hazards related to Karthala Volcano, Comoros; part I: the deep-seated root causes of Comorian vulnerabilities. Shima Int J Res Island Cult 3:54–71Google Scholar
  32. Morin J, Lavigne F, Bachèlery P, Finizola A, Villeneuve N (2009) Institutional and social responses to hazards related to Karthala Volcano, Comoros; part I: analysis of the May 2006 eruptive crisis. Shima Int J Res Island Cult 3:33–53Google Scholar
  33. Morin J, Bachèlery P, Soulé H, Nassor H (2016) Volcanic and crisis management on Grande Comore island. In: Bachèlery P, Lénat J-F, Di Muro A, Michon L (eds) Active Volcanoes of the Southwest Indian Ocean: Piton de la Fournaise and Karthala. Active volcanoes of the World. Springer, Berlin (Chapter 25)Google Scholar
  34. Mouginis-Mark PJ, Rowland SK (2001) The geomorphology of planetary calderas. Geomorphology 37:201–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nassor H (2001) Contribution à l’étude du risque volcanique sur les grands volcans boucliers basaltiques: le Karthala et le Piton de la Fournaise. PhD thesis, University of La RéunionGoogle Scholar
  36. Newitt M (1974) The Karthala Caldera, Grande Comore, an historical note. Bull Volcanol 38:493–494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Nougier J, Cantagrel JM, Karche JP (1986) The Comores archipelago in the western Indian Ocean: volcanology, geochronology and setting. J Afr Earth Sci 5–2:135–145Google Scholar
  38. Pavlovsky R, de Saint-Ours J (1953) Etude géologique de l’archipel des Comores. Haut Commissariat de Madagascar et Dépendances, Direction des Mines et de la Géologie, Service Géologique Tananarive, vol. Travaux du bureau géologique numéro 51, p 55Google Scholar
  39. Peterson DW, Moore JG (1987) Geologic history and evolution of geologic bib168 concepts, Island of Hawaii. US Geol Soc Prof Pap 1350:149–189Google Scholar
  40. Poisson C (1949) Mission scientifique au volcan Karthala. Le naturaliste malgache, TananariveGoogle Scholar
  41. Poppe S (2012) Caldera collapse on basaltic shield volcanoes: analogue models compared to the Karthala caldera complex, Grande Comore. Master in Geology, Ghent University, BelgiumGoogle Scholar
  42. Prévot T (2010) Etude multidisciplinaire du système hydrothermal du volcan Karthala (Comores). MSc apprenticeship report, University Blaise Pascal, France, pp 50Google Scholar
  43. Reisberg L, Zindler A, Marcantonio F, White W, Wyman D, Weaver B (1993) Os isotope systematics in ocean island basalts. Earth Planet Sci Lett 120:149–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rittman A (1963) Les volcans et leur activité, Masson Ed., Paris, p 461Google Scholar
  45. Rowland SK, Garbeil H (2000) The slopes of oceanic basalt volcanoes. Remote Sens Act Volcanism AGU Monogr 116:223–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Savin C, Ritz M, Join JL, Bachèlery P (2001) Hydrothermal system mapped by CSAMT method on Karthala volcano, Grande Comore Island (Indian Ocean). J Appl Geophys 48:143–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Savin C, Grasso JB, Bachèlery P (2005) Seismic signature of a phreatic explosion: hydrofracturing damage at Karthala volcano, Grande Comore Island, Indian Ocean. Bull Volc 67:717–731CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Smietana M (2007) Etude pétrologique et volcanologique des dépôts des quatre dernières éruptions du Karthala. MSc apprenticeship report, University of La Réunion, France, pp 51Google Scholar
  49. Soulé H (2003) Proposition d’un plan d’urgence pour la gestion des crises volcaniques en Grande Comore. Ya Mkobe 10:59–73Google Scholar
  50. Späth A, Le Roex AP, Duncan RA (1996) The geochemistry of lavas from the Comores Archipelago, western Indian Ocean: petrogenesis and mantle source region characteristics. J Petrol 37(4):961–994CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Strong DF (1972) The petrology of the lavas of Grande Comore. J Petrol 13:181–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Strong DF, Jacquot C (1970) The Karthala Caldera, Grande Comore. Bull Volcanol 34:663–680CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Upton BGJ (1982) Oceanic Islands. In: Nairn P, Stehli FG (eds) Ocean basins and their margins, Indian Ocean, vol 6(13). Plenum Press, New York, pp 585–648 Google Scholar
  54. Upton BGJ, Wadsworth WJ, Latrille E (1974) The 1972 eruption of Karthala Volcano, Grande Comore. Bull Volcanol 38:136–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Voeltzkow A (1906) Die Comoren, Zeitschrift der gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin, pp 606–630Google Scholar
  56. von der Decken CC (1871) Reisen in Ost-Afrika. 2, book 5, Leipzig, pp 241–243Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick Bachèlery
    • 1
  • Julie Morin
    • 2
  • Nicolas Villeneuve
    • 3
  • Hamidi Soulé
    • 4
  • Hamidou Nassor
    • 4
  • Ahmed Radadi Ali
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Laboratoire Magmas et Volcans, Université Blaise Pascal—CNRS—IRDObservatoire de Physique du Globe de Clermont-FerrandClermont-FerrandFrance
  2. 2.Laboratoire de Géographie Physique de Meudon (LGP)MeudonFrance
  3. 3.Observatoire Volcanologique du Piton de la Fournaise (OVPF)Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris Sorbonne Paris-Cité UMR 7154 CNRSParisFrance
  4. 4.Observatoire Volcanologique du KarthalaCNDRSMoroniGrande Comore

Personalised recommendations