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Alert Level 2 raised over Piton de la Fournaise volcano as second eruption of the year starts, Reunion

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The OVPF has recorded 92 volcano-tectonic earthquakes at the Piton de la Fournaise volcano on April 2, 2020, from 04:15 to 04:51 UTC (08:15 to 08:51 UTC). Following the seismic crisis in the morning and a four-hour lull, another volcanic tremor was at 08:20 UTC (12:20 LT). The prefect of the Reunion Islands decided to implement Alert level 2 before visual confirmation of an eruption. Soon after, an overflight carried out by SAG and the PGHM confirmed the opening of cracks on the eastern flank of the volcano, about 1.7 km (1 mile) from the summit.

According to the volcano observatory, the origin of the tremor is on the eastern flank, inside the enclosure. The tremors were associated with rapid deformation, which indicates that magma has left the surface magmatic reservoir and has spread to the surface.

Up to 92 tremors occurred early in the morning from 04:15 to 04:51 UTC (08:15 to 08:51 LT), followed by another tremor at 08:20 UTC (12:20 LT).

The Prefect of the Reunion Islands has implemented Alert Level 2-2 at 09:00 UTC (13:00 LT) — eruption is in progress. 

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Image credit: OVPF

Although no visual confirmation of the beginning of an eruption could be made in the morning, the presence of a tremor suggested the emission of hot and incandescent gases on the surface and the possibility of lava emission.

Public access to the enclosure has been prohibited until further notice.

The Prefect added that an investigation will be conducted, as well as additional measures as soon as the eruption has been stabilized.

As of around 13:00 UTC (17:00 LT), the intensity of the tremor has become relatively stable and the overflight of the SAG ad the PGHM confirmed the opening of a fissure on the eastern flank of the volcano, at roughly 1 900 m (6 234 feet) altitude.

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Image credit: OVPF/IPGP, SAG/PGHM

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Image credit: OVPF/IPGP, SAG/PGHM

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Image credit: SAG/PGHM

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Image credit: SAG/PGHM

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Image credit: SAG/PGHM

Geological summary

The massive Piton de la Fournaise basaltic shield volcano on the French island of Réunion in the western Indian Ocean is one of the world's most active volcanoes. Much of its more than 530 000-year history overlapped with eruptions of the deeply dissected Piton des Neiges shield volcano to the NW.

Three calderas formed at about 250 000, 65 000, and less than 5 000 years ago by progressive eastward slumping of the volcano. Numerous pyroclastic cones dot the floor of the calderas and their outer flanks.

Most historical eruptions have originated from the summit and flanks of Dolomieu, a 400-m-high (1 312 feet) lava shield that has grown within the youngest caldera, which is 8 km (26 247 feet) wide and breached to below sea level on the eastern side. More than 150 eruptions, most of which have produced fluid basaltic lava flows, have occurred since the 17th century.

Only six eruptions, in 1708, 1774, 1776, 1800, 1977, and 1986, have originated from fissures on the outer flanks of the caldera. The Piton de la Fournaise Volcano Observatory, one of several operated by the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), monitors this very active volcano. (GVP)

Featured image credit: SAG/PGHM

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