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Department of Geology and Geophysics


Professor Sims Receives NSF Grant to Further Study Nyiragongo Volcano

Nyiragongo volcano

April 16, 2015 — Professor Kenneth Sims recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant in the amount of $267,619 to help fund his research project titled, “Toward a Better Understanding of Magmatic Processes and Volcanic Hazards at Nyiragongo Volcano, DR Congo.”

Nyiragongo is a spectacular, active stratovolcano in the Virunga Volcanic Province that towers over the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), and hosts the world’s largest lava lake in its summit crater. Its unusual lavas are some of the least viscous on the planet and are capable of moving at velocities of up to tens of kilometers per hour. Nyiragongo is also a dangerous volcano. It looms within 20 km of the major population centers of Goma and neighboring Gisenyi Rwanda, with a combined population of at least 1 million. Destructive eruptions in 1977 and 2002 claimed many lives and devastated infrastructure in this war torn region. The next eruption could prove disastrous in this politically volatile and economically challenged area and there is consequently an urgent need to provide a concrete scientific framework for hazard assessment and risk mitigation at Nyiragongo.

There is a dearth of scientific contributions that address magmatic cyclicity at this volcano and thus the primary goal of this research is to provide a temporal structure of past eruptions by age dating lava samples from Nyiragongo’s main cone and from peripheral volcanic cones, which are especially dangerous because of their proximity to the population of Goma, with many cones residing within the city limits.

The NSF grant will run from June 1, 2015 to May 31, 2017. Sims and Ph.D. student Erin Phillips plans to travel to Nyiragongo in the fall of 2015 for field work.

Photo: Nyiragongo (3470 meters above sea), an active strato volcano looms large over the city of Goma, which is home to the United Nations regional headquarters. With numerous refuges seeking safety and opportunity from the war-torn countryside, Goma’s population has grown to more than 1.1 million. Nyiragongo is dangerously active, and an eruption would create a humanitarian crisis in this war torn region.

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