When some people hear the words Democratic Republic of Congo, the first thing that comes to their minds is the longstanding political hostilities between rebels and government forces. But aside from the conflicts, DRC is honored to be hosting the world’s largest lava lake.
Carefully hidden on top of Mount Nyiragongo in Virunga National Park, south of the DRC, Lake Nyiragongo is a product of an active volcano that has been active for hundreds of years.
The last eruption happened in 2002 but meteorologists have recently warned that another eruption might be on the way. Although records don’t show exactly when the first eruption happened, it is believed that the mountain has erupted at least 34 times since 1882.
The existence of a lava lake on Mount Nyiragongo was not scientifically confirmed until 1948 when it was estimated to cover 120,000 square meters. Recent studies have shown that the lake has been fluctuating in size, depth and temperature over time.
Currently, the lake is confined in an extensive, steep-sided residue funnel on the crater’s floor, about 60ft high and 600ft wide.
The lake’s proximity to populated human settlements poses a great risk to people and animals in the area.
At least 147 people are said to have died in the 1977 eruption from inhaling asphyxiation produced by carbon dioxide. Others died in collapsed buildings due to the flowing lava and earthquakes.
At least 15 percent of Goma, the capital city of North Kivu, which comprised of approximately 4,500 buildings, was destroyed, leaving at least 120,000 people homeless.
Lake Nyiragongo is often blamed for a harmful gas, locally known as Mazuku, which is said to kill children in the area.
Since the 1977 eruption, which raised serious questions about the risks posed by Nyiragongo, the lake has become a special research site, with scientists monitoring it round the clock.
Seismic data of the lake is produced every four minutes while temperature data is generated every ten minutes.
When the lake overflows, streams of red hot mortar flow down the extremely steep sides of the mountain at a speed of 60 km/h, which experts say is the fastest lava flow ever recorded.
The lake and the surrounding park have become a major tourist attraction site in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but visitors are advised to be extra cautious because the lake could overflow at any time.