Cablegate: Update On Nyamulagira Volcano Near Goma: Specialist Says

DE RUEHKI #0042/01 0121212
O R 121211Z JAN 10



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 10 Kinshasa 08

1. Summary: On Thursday January 7, USAID/OFDA Rep and Goma-based
POLOFF attended a special briefing by Dario Tedesco, an Italian
volcanologist with extensive experience analyzing Goma's volcanoes
and Lake Kivu. Tedesco said that although lava flows were not
headed toward any populated area, the lava from this eruption might
well flow over the Goma-Sake road if the eruption continued for
several months. He did not think this was a possibility for at
least another several weeks, however. He reassured the community
it was very unlikely lava from this eruption could release deadly
gases from Lake Kivu or that it would trigger an eruption of
Nyiragongo Volcano, much close to Goma. In terms of humanitarian
side effects, Tedesco doubted that water pollution would be a major
concern, but suggested that the effects on agriculture in the area
could be serious if the eruption continued long term. Tedesco also
doubted the value of any possible future "degassing" interventions
for the lake. In the days following the briefing, volcanic
activity has significantly diminished, and the chances that this
eruption will have major detrimental effects on the populations or
the environment subsided. End summary.

Major concerns


2. At the time of Tedesco's briefing, Nyamulagira volcano,
approximately 35 kilometers from Goma and in proximity to the
Virunga Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was in full eruption,
with lava flowing both from an external fissure and also beginning
to fill in the previously-empty crater. The flow from the fissure
had, since the beginning of the eruption early in the morning on
January 2, already traveled 7 kilometers in a southerly direction,
covering approximately half the distance between the volcano and
the Goma-Sake road. By January 7, it was, however, no longer
moving very quickly, having cooled significantly and having spread
from a 15-meter wide stream to one over 200m in width.

3. There were three major concerns at the time: that the lava
flow would cross the Goma-Sake road, cutting off access to Sake and
Masisi from Goma for as long as it continued to flow, that the
activity of Nyamulagira could trigger an eruption in Nyiragongo
Volcano, just 10 kilometers from Goma, and finally, that the lava
would reach Lake Kivu at a point somewhere in the Kabuno Bay, the
part of the lake near Sake that is almost cut off completely from
the rest of the lake and which has a different and more volatile
chemical composition than the rest of the lake. (There had been
considerable speculation that an influx of lava into this part of
Lake Kivu could cause a "turnover" of the gas trapped beneath the
lake's surface and release a deadly cloud of CO2 gas that could
kill residents of Sake and Minova, similar to what occurred with
Lake Nyos in Cameroon in 1986.) It was not a concern that lava
would reach populated areas since it was not headed in that
direction and couldn't, for topographical reasons, reach Goma.

4. As regards the concern of Nyamulagira "triggering" an eruption
in Nyiragongo, Tedesco pointed out that Nyamulagira and Nyiragongo
have separate underground systems and that an eruption in one would
not normally "cause" the eruption of the other and has not done so
in the past. He noted, however, that since it was seismic activity
deep underground that had permitted an eruption in Nyamulagira, it
could not be ruled out that the same seismic activity might also
affect Nyiragongo. There were, he insisted, as yet no signs that
Nyiragongo was preparing to erupt.

5. As concerns the Goma-Sake road, Tedesco first noted that
Nyamulagira eruptions were very common, occurring every 2-3 years
or so. He added that though eruptions had been short in duration
in recent years, the volcano was known to have historically
undergone eruptions lasting up to 3 years. Given that the current
eruption was showing no signs of declining intensity at the volcano
itself, but rather causing lava fountains of greater height than

KINSHASA 00000042 002 OF 003

during the first days of the eruption, and that seismic activity
had not decreased, Tedesco thought there was still a good
possibility -- if the eruption continued -- that lava might indeed
reach the Goma-Sake road. Given the distance between the volcano
and the road, and the viscosity of the lava now approaching the
road, this, however, would not happen for another 3-8 weeks.

6. Tedesco then turned to the question of the danger of the lava
eventually releasing the CO2 gas of Kabuno Bay. He did not feel
this was at all likely. In his view, an "overturn" of the lake
could be caused only by a sudden serious major event, such as an
earthquake, a large landslide, or a sudden major volcanic eruption
in or quite near the lake. He pointed out that the lava from
Nyamulagira, if it reached the lake, would be traveling very slowly
and enter the lake over a period of time, not suddenly. Tedesco
also felt that historical evidence indicated that the lake was not
as unstable as some people were suggesting. He noted that though
there was much CO2 present, quite close to the surface of the lake,
"saturation" had not been reached. Most importantly, the lake, he
observed, had survived many major "traumas" in recent history --
serious earthquakes, large volcanic eruptions lasting years and
dumping many tons of lava into the lake -- without having
manifested any dramatic reaction. By historical standards, the
present flow of lava from Nyamulagira -- if it reached the lake at
all (which is 4 km further south than the Goma-Sake road -- was a
minor event, and very unlikely to cause any special catastrophe.
Tedesco noted also that even were there a gas release from Kabuno
Bay, winds -- which normally flow east to west -- would most likely
carry these towards the west and not towards Goma.

7. Local humanitarian actors had been concerned that the ash from
the volcano's eruption could contaminate water sources in nearby
population centers. Some tests conducted had confirmed that
drinking water in some communities was below standards for safety.
Tedesco pointed out, however, that only communities obtaining water
from standing sources would be affected. Spring water, as well as
fresh rain water, could be expected to be pollution free.
Regarding the tests conducted, Tedesco doubted that the poor
quality results had anything to do with the volcano's current
eruption, but were rather chronic problems for these communities
living in areas with no good water sources.

8. The major concern, in Tedesco's view, was the possible effect
on agriculture in the area if the eruption were long in duration.
The ash and hair-like debris from the eruption were dangerous for
grazing animals and for agriculture. He agreed that moving cattle
and other grazing stock away from the area would be a wise
precaution, and suggested that awareness campaigns be conducted to
ensure that populations washed agricultural products from the Sake
area well before consuming them.

Possible risk reduction via degassing of the Kabuno Bay

--------------------------------------------- ----------

9. In a private conversation, USAID/OFDA Rep asked Tedesco
specifically if he thought a "degassing" intervention of the type
in place in Lake Nyos in Cameroon -- where CO2 is allowed to escape
the lake gradually through the insertion of a large tube -- would
significantly reduce the risk of a deadly gas release from Lake
Kivu at some point in the future. Tedesco was of the opinion that
this was not a priority, given both the proven stability of the
lake and the undesirability of adding more CO2 to the atmosphere in
the current "global warming" context. He added that a small such
operation was already in place in Kabuno Bay.

Post-briefing developments


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10. In the days that have followed Tedesco's briefing, volcanic
activity at the Nyamulagira source has weakened significantly. The
lake has drained and lava stopped flowing from the fissure in major
quantities. The original lava flow has veered in an easterly
direction away from the direction of the Sake-Goma road toward an
uninhabited forest area, though additional deviations are possible.
Though the volcanologists of the Goma Volcanic Observatory say it
is too early to declare that the eruption is for sure completely
over, it now seems clear that neither the road (still 11 kilometers
distant) nor the lake will be touched. There has also been a
significant decrease in volcanic ash falling into areas west of the

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