Goma-Gisenyi and other volcanic cities – UPDATED

A more generalized variation of this post was originally published back in June on Progressive Blogic. Here is an updated and expanded version which delves into the geological threats facing the Goma-Gisenyi urban area. 

One of the features about Edinburgh, Scotland that surprised and intrigued me the most when traveling there in 2009 is the fact that the city is literally built upon extinct volcanoes. Two of the cities most prominent features, Arthur’s Seat and Castle Hill are both volcanoes. But Edinburgh is not alone. many great cities around the world are built upon or situated close to active and/or extinct volcanoes. The most surprising one is Jackson, Mississippi.

For those of us working in the urban planning profession, the proximity of an active volcano obviously adds a number of new dimensions to our efforts. At a minimum, these could include determining evacuation routes, developing emergency plans, air quality and pollution issues, and/or disaster-recovery plans. More realistically, when an urban area faces an ongoing and deadly threat of a natural disaster, every aspect of city planning should take that potential threat into full consideration. For one metropolitan area in Africa, the threat of a volcanic eruption is a part of everyday life — and only part of the story.

One of the best examples of an urban area built perilously close to active volcanoes is the Goma, Congo/Gisenyi, Rwanda metropolitan region.  Occupying the shoreline of Lake Kivu, these cities are positioned near two dangerous volcanoes and rest upon one of the most seismically active regions on the planet – The Great Rift Valley of Africa. Throw in the fact that Lake Kivu is one of three exploding (limnic eruption) lakes known to exist in the world and you have a triple dose of potential catastrophic natural disasters just waiting to impact metropolitan Gome-Gisenyi from virtually every direction. The following is a brief summary of what a limnic eruption is from wikipedia:

“A limnic eruption, also referred to as a lake overturn, is a rare type of natural disaster in which carbon dioxide (CO2) suddenly erupts from deep lake water, suffocating wildlife, livestock and humans. Such an eruption may also cause tsunamis in the lake as the rising CO2 displaces water. Scientists believe landslidesvolcanic activity, or explosions can trigger such an eruption.”

This amazing image shows the proximity of the Goma-Gisenyi metropolitan area (foreground along shoreline) and the two adjacent/nearby volcanoes – Nyiragongo (right) and Nyamuragira (left).

Below is a photo of Goma, Congo from 2002, where 40 percent of the city was destroyed by an eruption from Nyiragongo. Though they may face more threats, Goma-Gisenyi are not alone. The following is a list of cities around the world located on or perilously close to active and/or extinct volcanoes.

  • Aden, Yemen – unnamed (extinct)
  • Arequipa, Peru – El Misti  (photo below)

  • Auckland, New Zealand – Auckland volcanic field (dormant)
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico – volcanoes of Petroglyph National Monument and Valles Caldera (added 9/28/19)
  • Bend, Oregon – Pilot Butte (extinct)
  • Cartago, Costa Rica – Irazu
  • Catania, Italy – Mount Etna
  • Christchurch, New Zealand – Canterbury (dormant)
  • Clermont-Ferrand, France – Puy de Dome’ (extinct)
  • Colima, Mexico – Colima
  • Duoala, Cameroon – Mondo ma Ndemi (Mount Cameroon)
  • Dunedin, New Zealand – Dunedin (extinct)
  • Edinburgh, Scotland – Arthur’s Seat (photo below) and Castle Hill (both extinct)

  • Flagstaff, Arizona – Sunset Crater and numerous others
  • Goma, Congo/Gisenyi, Rwanda – Nyiragongo (photo below) and Nyamuragira

  • Guatemala City, Guatemala – Pacaya
  • Hamilton, Bermuda (extinct)
  • Honolulu, Hawaii – Diamond Head (extinct) and Punchbowl Crater (extinct)
  • Jackson, Mississippi -Jackson (extinct)
  • Kagoshima, Japan – Sakurajima (photo below)

  • Los Alamos, New Mexico – Valles Caldera (added 9/28/19)
  • Mexico City, Mexico – Popocatépetl
  • Naples, Italy – Mount Vesuvious (photo below)

  • Portland, Oregon – Mount Tabor (extinct), Mount Hood, and Mount St. Helens
  • Puebla, Mexico – Popocatépetl
  • Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain – Mount Teide
  • Quito, Ecuador – Cotopaxi
  • San Salvador, El Salvador (dormant)
  • Santiago, Chile – Maipo
  • Seattle-Tacoma, Washington – Mount Rainer
  • Wellington, New Zealand – unnamed (extinct)
  • White Rock, New Mexico – Valles Caldera (added 9/28/19)
  • Yogyakarta, Indonesia – Merapi
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5 Responses to Goma-Gisenyi and other volcanic cities – UPDATED

  1. bicycles says:

    It sounds you have been in the know about this.


  2. rab9975 says:

    Hello: nice post – interesting collection (surprised by Jackson, MS). I wanted to test relative ease of geocoding and compare two tools for making a map. Hence, I used your information here and made a map.

    Here is the map-

    I tried to use GeoCommons, but the geocoding ironically did not like Jackson, MS and instead placed the point in Jacksonville, FL.

    ArcExplorerOnline mapped all points without error.

    Thanks for the interesting information.

    Rob Beutner


  3. rab9975 says:


    Great info! I thought I would use this data for a little experiment. I wanted to compare the relative accuracy of geocoding scraped information for two mapping portals – Geocommons.com and ArcExplorerOnline.

    Here is the map I wound up making: http://www.arcgis.com/explorer/?open=8f8f9eb0eb6b49dfa31409285a756527&extent=-21233633.1428131,-8056469.26288849,18228811.6794737,10708745.384376

    And my blog post about making it:


  4. Pingback: Smells that personify place | Panethos

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