Nyiragongo, exploration into the heart of an African volcano

At the beginning of July 2015, two researchers and a team of highly-motivated volcanologists descended to the bottom of the Nyiragongo crater to stand along the shores of the world’s largest lava lake. The volcano, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, constantly threatens the city of Goma and its one million inhabitants.


  • Project partner: Magma Exploration Association
  • Country: Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa
  • Project type: Gaining knowledge
  • Budget: €9,900 in 2015, including difficult-to-access equipment

Since 2003, researchers and amateur volcanologists with the Magma Exploration association have been helping the Goma Volcanological Observatory with monitoring Mount Nyiragongo, considered to be the most active and dangerous volcano in Africa. In 1977 and then in 2002, the lava lake located at the bottom of the crater abruptly drained, sending lava flows down the mountain into the outskirts of Goma. Every eruption has killed dozens of people caught by surprise as the lava flows in excess of sixty kilometers an hour. Devastated by years of war between the regular army and M23 rebels (2009-2013), people in the North Kivu region live under the constant threat of a new natural disaster.

Nyiragongo, exploration au cœur d’un volcan africain

From June 30 to July 8, 2015, two researchers from the Magma and Volcanoes laboratory in Clermont-Ferrand (France) and the University of Naples, along with volunteers from Magma Exploration, rappelled down to the bottom of the crater to take a series of samples and measurements. Photographer and director Olivier Grunewald joined the expedition in order to help the team and to film a documentary that will be on screens this fall.

Even though the strong winds and toxic fumes made work difficult, the team was able to make a 3D model of the crater to establish a baseline of this constantly changing environment. Analyzing the walls of the crater with a thermal camera provided a new way to study the crater and allowed the team to detect fragile high-temperature areas. The equipment installed to monitor lake level via minute-by-minute photos suffered a more ominous fate. Ripped out of place by a gust of wind, it ended up in the depths of the crater.
New trips to the bottom of the crater will be necessary to set up a more permanent monitoring system for Nyiragongo and to help local volcanologists to better forecast the risk of an eruption.

Nyiragongo, exploration au cœur d’un volcan africain

Nyiragongo, exploration au cœur d’un volcan africain

Olivier Grunewald’s documentary, "Journey to the Center of the Earth", will be broadcast on Ushuaïa TV (France), TV5 Monde (France), and RTS (Switzerland).

Uploaded in November 2015



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