In 2002, the last time Nyiragongo volcano erupted, lava raced down its flanks into the crowded city of Goma, on the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.
About 250 people died, 20% of the city was destroyed, and hundreds of thousands fled.
Since then, the at-risk population living in the shadow of the 3470-meter-tall volcano has more than doubled to 1.5 million.
Now, conditions are ripe for another disaster, researchers say.
A February scientific campaign into the volcano’s roiling crater found the lava lake there filling at an alarming rate, raising the risk that the molten rock could burst through the crater walls once again.
An analysis, published in August, suggests peak hazard will arrive in 4 years, although researchers believe an earthquake could trigger a crisis earlier.
Adding to the concerns, the Goma Volcano Observatory, the only monitoring station in the region, is losing its financial support from the World Bank.
The volcanic field of Nyiragongo is surrounded by the volcanic fields of Nyamulagira (in the north and west), Karisimbi and Mikeno volcanoes (in the east), and by Lake Kivu on its southern side.
The volcanic field of Nyiragongo also extends southward, in the northern basin of Lake Kivu, which is well-known for its dangerous limnic eruptions:
At the ground surface, the volcanic field is characterized by several magmatic and phreatomagmatic cones and, in its northern part, by the main volcanic edifice.
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