GORISK (2007-2010)

Launched in January 2007 in the frame of the STEREOII program, the GORISK project was based on a multidisciplinary approach  focused on the implementation and improvement of ground-based and spaceborne tools for volcanic risk and health impact assessment in the Goma region (North Kivu, DRC). This area (potentially 1 million people) is threatened by two highly active volcanoes: Nyiragongo and Nyamulagira. The January 2002 eruption of Nyiragongo had an important and long-term economical, socio-political and humanitarian impact on the region. Though the Nyamulagira is not a major direct threat for populations, it erupts every two years and represents a potential concern for some inhabited areas and road infrastructures.

GORISK was funded by the Belgian Federal Science Policy (SR/00/113 project) and the National Research Fund of Luxembourg (FNR/STEREOII/06/01 project). It involved four European partners: the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA, coordinator), the National Museum for Natural History of Luxembourg (NMNH), the University of Luxembourg (Uni.lu) and the Second University of Naples (UniNap) and three local end-users, the Goma Volcano Observatory (GVO), the Risk Management Unit of UNOPS (RMU, also named Unité de Gestion des Risques (UGR) in French) and the Belgian NGO CEMUBAC.

The main objectives of this initiative were to provide these three interconnected end-users working in the Nyiragongo – Nyamulagira volcanic context with appropriate products and services to assess the volcanic hazards and to mitigate the related risks. It followed three parallel axes: strengthening of the local capacity with new products and services, transversal pluri-disciplinary approach and capacity building including implication and training of the end users.

GORISK was composed by the following main activities:

Satellite based observations:
o InSAR deformation measurements
o Optical data for map updates
o Optical data for volcanic plume monitoring (outsourced)

Ground based observations:
o Ground deformations measurements
o Gas and water monitoring
o Health data collection

Outputs production:
o Deformation maps and InSAR by-products
o Continuous tilt measurement
o Geochemistry dispersion maps
o GIS platform
o Updated map of Goma

Capacity building

One of the major inputs to the project was the systematic SAR acquisition obtained from ESA Category 1 projects (CAT-1 3224, CAT-1 3690). The routine acquisition was negotiated with ESA prior to the project start-up. On the equipment side, the NRF-Lux provided the project with 3 tiltmeters, 4 data acquisition and transmission system for tilt stations and 2 permanent CO2-Rn gas monitoring stations. The equipment was installed at an early stage of the project, in March and June 2007. The first GPS geodetic stations of a network of 7 that were provided as an external support by NMNH were also installed during that period. The CEMUBAC partner collected water in the Kivu provinces but it was complicated by the difficult security situation and the permanent war context in part of the province (e.g. Masisi and Walikale). Health data were analyzed by the same partner.

Though the project was often threatened and its achievement endangered by looting, sabotage, plane crash, insecurity, collapse of the local structures, war and field inaccessibility…, the experience has demonstrated that the huge energy spent into tedious management struggles was worthy. In particular, the last eruption of the Nyamulagira in January 2010 allowed demonstrating the efficiency of the new tools and methods we developed. That eruption was indeed the first one ever monitored in the Virunga simultaneously and in real time with so many different disciplines: seismology, satellite radar interferometry (InSAR), tiltmetry, GPS, thermal, geochemical and visual observations. In addition, it provided the local actors and scientists with the opportunity to evaluate the preparedness for managing the next crisis for the inevitable eruption of the close neighbour Nyiragongo , which is the major concern for the city of Goma.

The project also allowed shedding light on some broader and more fundamental questions related to plate tectonic and contributed to advance the knowledge of the continental rifting processes in general and the East African Rift in particular (see for instance the unravelling of the 2002 eruption and the study of the 2008 Bukavu earthquake that contribute to the understanding of the opening of those portions of the EAR).

Motivated and organized by GORISK partners, the first « Active Volcanism & COntinental Rifting (AVCOR) with special focus on the Virunga (Nord Kivu, DRC) » meeting organized in Luxembourg in November 2007 also initiated a much broader initiative of a working group composed by scientists from North and South. Eighty participants from 19 countries attended to this workshop, including 15 participants from 6 African countires who (co-)authored >25% of the contributions.
The collaborative spirit that has and still prevails also served the discussions of scientific questions or research orientation, priorities, and policies to be developed at the local, regional, and continental scale. These aspects have been discussed during the AVCOR meeting, but also at the Lake Kivu international meeting held in Gisenyi (Rwanda) in January 2010 which issued with a white paper on the setup of an integrated research framework.

Finally, the fallouts of GORISK stirred more projects introduced among others to European, German and Canadian space agencies to carry on the study of the Virunga and other parts of the EAR.

The final report of the GORISK project is online HERE.