Nyiragongo volcano in the DR Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo) is a highly dangerous stratovolcano with a lava lake in the crater. Activity began on May 22. The nearby town of Goma (2 million people) evacuated as flowing lava from a flank eruption claimed many small villages. Goma remains at high risk of being devastated by continued activity. Seismic tremors could indicate that a larger eruption may be imminent as underground magma is moving. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed and dozens have died. The lava flows, ash, and acid rain produced as a byproduct of the eruption make an already precarious existence in this area near Rwanda even more untenable. Poverty, hunger, and violence are a way of life here. The volcano, which is highly active with effusive and fast-moving lava, is woefully under-monitored leaving officials uncertain about what will happen next. Will the eruption fizzle out or will it catastrophically erupt?
One resident, Zacharie Paluku, told the Associated Press news agency that the eruption had sparked fear and people began running. “We really don’t know what to do,” he said. Some locals complained about the lack of information from the authorities amid conflicting accounts circulating on social media. Crowds were seen with mattresses and other belongings, fleeing even before the government’s announcement, which came several hours after the eruption started. Mount Nyiragongo is one of the world’s more active volcanoes but there were concerns that its activity had not been properly observed by the Goma Volcano Observatory, since the World Bank cut funding amid allegations of corruption.BBC
The sky turned red from the molten rock and hot gases. Electricity was cut.
News sites have focused on Lake Kivu. Scientists believe that the magma chamber extends under the lake. Lake Kivu is over an active rifting zone. Gases vent on the lake floor. Like Lake Nyos in Cameroon, Lake Kivu can suddenly out-gas if the water layers are disrupted. This would release a huge amount of carbon dioxide and other gasses that would displace oxygen and kill people and animals across a broad area. Kivu also contains methane that can ignite. It is not an unreasonable fear that the lake could be affected by the nearly constant earthquakes occurring now, the magma movement underground that can increase the gas emissions and the possible increased heat from the magma underground.
The website Volcano Discovery has the following worst scenario:
An eruption of Nyiragongo volcano opening of fractures on its southern flank inside the city and/or inside the lake Kivu. Parts of Goma and Giseny would be destroyed and the heat released by lava in the lake would trigger an overturn of the deep lake water rich in dissolved CO2. This would cause a catastrophic overturn and sudden release of large quantities of CO2, a so-called limnic eruption. The gas cloud would instantly kill all people and animals at lower elevations around the lake – likely thousands of people. The same could be triggered if a very large earthquake was to occur under the lake sufficiently disturbing the water layering… While this is the worst scenario, it is hopefully also the least likely.Volcano Discovery
The information about methane and the visuals of the molten rock emissions were irresistible to end-times apocalypse-mongering websites like SOTT.net and StrangeSounds – unscientific sites run for clicks and intended to scare people into thinking the world is ending. These sites used a video of a lake surface on fire to suggest that Lake Kivu was already affected by volcanic activity. A dramatic image combined with the rumor of a deadly exploding lake is being propagated on social media.
The problems with this misinformation are multiple. Primarily, it’s not helpful or ethical to promote exaggeration or misattributed information over verified facts. These sites do not fact-check but put out clickbait to promote their agenda and gain ad revenue. Please, never retweet information from aggregator sites that have no scientific credibility. Clicks and shares allow them to continue this nonsense. If you see a dramatic image or story, search for corroborating information to make sure it’s true. It’s usually very easy to find credible reporting from news organizations if the story is genuine. It’s impossible to undo a false news story since all the initial viewers will not see the correction. The damage is done.
Follow the reports on Nyiragongo and other volcanic eruptions at VolcanoDiscovery and the Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism network. The Wikipedia page on the current eruption is also updated with local news sources you can check yourself.