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The Africa and Red Sea Region
Africa's historical record is relatively brief, but it is the only region other than the Mediterranean with a historically dated BC eruption (at Mt. Cameroon, observed by a passing Carthaginian navigator in the 5th century BC). By the 15th century AD, however, when Portuguese exploration of Africa had begun and Vasco de Gama sailed to India via the Cape of Good Hope, only 2 more historical eruptions had been recorded (both from Ethiopia), and the main historical record of the continent did not begin until the opening of the Suez Canal at the end of 1869, and the heyday of African exploration that followed. More than 85% of the region's 155 historical eruptions are since 1870.
Most African volcanoes result from the rifting in E Africa, hotspots, or a combination of the two. The East African Rift, one of the world's most dramatic extensional structures, has produced the continent's highest and lowest volcanoes, ranging from massive Kilimanjaro to vents in Ethiopia's Danakil Depression that lie below sea level. Young fissure-fed lava flows blanket large areas along the floor of the East African Rift. Recent eruptions in 2007 and 2009 from closely spaced fissures of the Manda Hararo complex in Ethiopia mark an episode of extension and lava effusion analogous to rifting episodes along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in Iceland at Krafla volcano in the 18th and 20th centuries. Four African volcanoes are its most active, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the continent's historical eruptions. Two neighboring volcanoes in Zaire's Virunga National Park, Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo, have 64 historical eruptions between them, and are responsible for more than two-fifths of Africa's historical eruptions. Mount Cameroon and Ol Doinyo Lengai have another 37 historical eruptions. The latter is renowned as the world's only known volcano to have produced unusual eruptions of high-calcium carbonatitic lavas in historical time. Ol Doinyo Lengai, known to the Maasai as 'The Mountain of God,' rises abruptly above the broad plain south of Lake Natron in the Gregory Rift Valley and has been the focus of repeated climbs by tourists and volcanologists to observe and document its unusual eruptions.
Africa has the highest number and percentage of volcanoes that are undated but known or thought to be Holocene, reflecting the early stage of detailed geologic studies. The continent, consequently has recorded relatively few large (VEI ?4) eruptions in the Holocene, also reflecting the typical milder eruptions of many rift zone volcanoes. However, rift zone volcanoes are bimodal in chemistry, and many large-volume caldera-forming eruptions have occurred from East-African Rift volcanoes during the early Holocene and late Pleistocene. Africa leads the world in the rate of lava lake production, with 10% of its eruptions (most at Erta Ale, Nyiragongo, and Nyamuragira) having exhibited this relatively uncommon characteristic. Dramatic draining of long-term lava lakes at the summit crater of Nyiragongo volcano through fissures on its southern flanks in 1977 and 2002 produced lava flows that reached inhabited areas and caused many fatalities. The 1977 flows were particularly fluid and traveled at unusually high velocities, estimated at 60-100 km/hr. The 2002 lava flows traveled through the city of Goma, exacerbating the pre-existing humanitarian crisis due to long-term political turmoil.
Africa, somewhat surprisingly, consistently ranks in the top five volcanic regions in numbers of people living in proximity to volcanoes within distances of 5-100 km. This largely reflects the high number of broad volcanic fields and calderas in proximity to cities such as Adis Abeba, Nairobi, and Goma in the East African Rift and along the Cameroon Line of SW Africa. The latter area has become known for a relatively unusual type of volcanic hazard resulting from lethal gas emissions from overturn of stratified volcanic lake waters. Lake Monoun and Lake Nyos both produced catastrophic carbon-dioxide gas release events in 1984 and 1986, respectively; the Lake Nyos disaster caused at least 1700 fatalities when the denser-than-air CO2 flowed down inhabited valleys.
List of Holocene volcanoes in the Africa and Red Sea region.