NYALHA Project – Dynamics of volcanic activity and lava flow hazard of Nyiragongo volcano (North Kivu, DRC) studied by means of remote sensing, ground-based monitoring and numerical modelling

Nyiragongo volcano (Virunga Volcanic Province, North Kivu, D.R. Congo) hosts the largest (semi-) permanent lava lake (~200m-wide) on Earth. It is also probably the most dangerous volcano in Africa as it directly threatens ± 1 million persons. Its highly fluid silica-undersaturated lava can flows at several tens of km/h even on gentle slopes (Tazieff, 1977). During the only two known historical flank eruptions (1977 and 2002), the lava lake drained and fed >10km-long flows that destroyed entire villages and a part of the city of Goma within few hours.

NYALHA is a PhD project funded by the FNR through the AFR PhD Grant Scheme (AFR Grant n°3221321) and is performed at the European Center for Geodynamics & Seismology, in collaboration with the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium) and the Royal Museum for Central Africa (Belgium). This project focuses on the study of the mechanisms that control Nyiragongo activity and the assessment of the potential impact of new lava flows resulting from the drainage of the lava lake.

In a first part, the geological and structural setting of the Virunga Volcanic Province will be reviewed and reinterpreted in the light of modern concepts and recent observations, in order to highlight the parameters that influence the volcanic activity.

The second part will focus on the reconstruction of past volcanic activity and hence contribute to assess the potential impact of future events.

The third part is dedicated to the study of the current activity of Nyiragongo. Available monitoring techniques (geodetic, seismic, geochemical) will be complemented with an innovative combination of close-range photogrammetry and stereographic time-lapse camera technique providing the first quantitative measurements of the lava lake activity.

Finally the lava flow hazard will be assessed using the FLOWGO model (Harris & Rowland, 2001). Realistic flow models will benefit from a high resolution TanDEM-X Digital Elevation Model and thermo-rheological properties of lava derived from laboratory analysis. Lava flow hazard maps will be produced on the basis of improved eruption scenarios and susceptibility mapping.

Period: 2012-2014


  • AFR PhD Grant n°3221321, FNR (Luxembourg)
  • Royal Museum for Central Africa (Belgium)

PhD Candidate: B. Smets
ECGS Supervisor: Dr. N. d’Oreye
VUB Supervisor: Dr. M. Kervyn
RMCA Supervisor: Dr. F. Kervyn

Associated projects: Vi-X Project, GeoRisCA Project