Piton de la Fournaise

Piton de la Fournaise




The structure and morphology of Piton de la Fournaise are influenced by the location of La Réunion. As such, it has been a source of constant eruptions which have continuously poured lava in all direction. The volcano has continued to exhibit all the characteristic of the young volcano through its structural formation as a basaltic shield formation and fluidity of its lava. Nonetheless, although the volcano has been a source of worry for the local community, it has opened economic opportunities for them through tourism.

Key Words:  Piton de la Fournaise, structure, eruption, young, basaltic shield formation.


Continuous activities within the earth have resulted in the formation of various physical geological features. Among the notable geological features that have continued to shape the environments where they are found are volcanic mountains. A result of the eruption of the softer and hotter layer in the earth’s mantle, some of these volcanic features continue to be active while others have died or remain dormant. However, although they may share similarities in various aspects, volcanoes are also different in various aspects like the type of lava they release and how they are formed which determines how they are classified which may be strato or composite, cone, and shield volcano. Nonetheless, among the most notable shield volcanoes is the Piton de la Fournaise volcano in the French colony island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. Its short, frequent eruptions and large lava flows make Piton de la Fournaise one of the most active and productive volcanoes in the world.


Geographic Location

La Réunion is a French colony Island in the Indian Ocean that is located east of Madagascar. The island is 63 kilometers at it’s longest and 45 kilometers at it’s widest. Further, it is characterized by Piton des Neiges Mountain as its highest point at 3071 meters above sea level which is a dormant volcano. However, to the south-east of Piton des Neiges lies Piton de la Fournaise which is an active volcano that rises to 2632 meters above sea level. In addition, the island is characterized by a tropical climate with varying temperatures based on altitude, season, and location on the island. However, apart from its pristine beaches and azure waters, the island is famous for Piton de la Fournaise which is one of the world’s most active volcanoes.


Geographic location

The Piton de la Fournaise is an active shield basaltic volcano located on the south eastern side of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean. To the Northwest, it is bounded by its much taller but extinct volcanic mountain of Piton des Neiges and to the south by the Indian Ocean.

Tectonic Setting

According to Stamps et al., (2008), the island of La Réunion sits on the Somalian plate and is boarded to the east by the Central ridge and to the south by the SW Indian ridge. In addition, it boarded to the west by the East African rift and forms part of the two volcano edifices that form the island of La Réunion (Mishon et al., 2016). Further, the entire island sits on a lithosphere with no or very little movement and is characterized as a large volcanic edifice covering an area 220-240 km in diameter with a height of 7 kilometers looking like flattened cone (Lenat, 2016). As a result, the island is considered to be sitting on volcanic hotspot that is expressed through the Piton de la Fournaise. However, since northern part of the island has moved further from the hot spot, the volcanic activity at the Piton des Neiges died, and the volcano cooled and became dormant.

Type of Volcanic Structure

The Piton de la Fournaise is a basaltic shield Volcano. This type of volcano is characterized by very fluid lava flows. In addition, they have gently sloping sides that make lava to flow in all directions. As such their expansion is horizontal. Further, although they erupt frequently, these events are usually not violent. Nonetheless, the lava can cover vast areas which make them one of the most productive volcanic structures.

Age of the Structure

The age of a volcano is correlated with its structure. As such, the Piton de la Fournaise volcano structure is a sign of its young age. According to Lenat (2016), the Piton de la Fournaise is a characterized as a relatively young edifice formation that lies on top of an older formation known as Les Alizes edifice at approximately 530,000 years. During this period that was also characterized by activity from Piton des Neiges to its NW, three calderas formed progressively eastwards as the volcano collapsed into the Indian Ocean.

Morphology of the Structure

The building, damage and deformation processes that act together during the evolution of volcanoes define their morphology. As such by critically examining the morphology can offer insights into internal processes that have had an impact on the structure of the volcano (Michon and Saint-Ange, 2008). As such, the morphological characteristic of Piton de la Fournaise has been characterized by collapsed calderas and sideways landslides that have resulted in marine flanks built mainly by deposits and not lava flows. However, the Piton de la Fournaise is distinct because of the caldera where the main cone of the active volcano emanated from (Rowland and Garbeil, 2000).Nonetheless, the Piton de la Fournaise’s morphology is a result of the interceding processes of erosion and deposition which have led to its striking features.

History of Eruptions

As a young volcano, the Piton de la Fournais is undergoing a period of recurrent eruptions. However, although most of its eruptions have not been violent, they have been frequent but short-lived. Nonetheless, as one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Piton de la Fournais erupts frequently. The first recorded eruption was in 1651, but numerous eruptions have been recorded since then. For instance, there have been 25 eruptions between the years 2000 and 2017. However, all of them have happened within the caldera. Nonetheless, the Piton de la Fournaise has erupted and forced the evacuation of nearby villages where it has destroyed buildings.










Figure 1. Church of Piton Sainte-Rose with lava to the door after Piton de la Fournais eruption in 1977 (Boilley, 2006).

Common Rock Types

The Piton de la Fournais is composed of various rocks that differ in both texture and chemical composition. Among these rocks are the dunites. These rocks are characterized by coarse grains in texture. Further, the rock is predominately composed of Olivine, and as a ‘Ultramafic’ rock, it is almost entirely made up of mafic minerals. In addition, the volcano is composed of basalt rocks which are the main extrusive rocks formed after eruptions. This is a fine-grained rock in texture that is mainly composed of pyroxene and plagioclase minerals (Famin et al., 2009). Consequently, the different types of rock also indicate that the magma composition will vary.

Type of Magma

The composition of magma is determined by the presence of various minerals. As the magma is pushed towards the surface, chemical reactions lead to magma of various chemical compositions. At the Piton de la Fournais, studies conducted by Famin et al., (2009) indicated that the difference in depth affected the composition of magnesium oxide (MgO) and potassium oxide (K2O) which influenced all the other elements in the Piton de la Fournais lava. In addition, the study indicated that the most copious volcanic products occurred at shallower depths of less than 2.5 Km’s and were Olivine controlled. As such, the differences in magma composition can be attributed depth differences which influence the chemical reactions.

Impact on Local Environment and People

Although the Piton de la Fournais erupts gently, the frequent activities do disrupt normal life. For instance, constant earthquakes weaken houses and in the process endanger lives. Further, the frequent flow of host lava destroys vegetation and maintains a constant state of change in the local environment. However, the mountain is a source of revenue for locals who are involved in the tourism business and also the management of the local National Park where the volcano is located.


The Piton de la Fournaise is one of the most active and productive volcanoes in the world. However, its structural characteristics have been shaped by the location of the island in volcano hotspot. As a young volcano, it is characterized as a basaltic shield volcano that is continuously erupting. Due to the fluidity of the lava flowing from this kind of structure, it is generally gentle in its eruptions but the lava flow can cover large areas. Further, its morphology has been shaped by events of erosion, avalanches, and sedimentation. In addition, the composition of magma at has been influenced by chemical reactions occasioned by depth differences. Besides, although the constant eruptions have had some negative effects on the environment and lives of the local people, it has also provided economic opportunities for them and the supporting industries.













Boilley, D., 2006, Church of Piton Sainte-Rose (Notre-Dame des laves), Réunion Island,

Famin, V., Welsch, B., Okumura, S., Bachèlery, P., and Nakashima, S., 2009, Three differentiation stages of a single magma at Piton de la Fournaise volcano (Reunion hot spot), Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, V 10, no.1, p. 1-18,

Lenat, J. F., 2016, Geodynamic settings of La Réunion, in Bachelery, P., Lenat, J.F., Di Muro, A., Mishon, L., eds., Active volcanoes of the South West Indian Ocean: Piton de la Fournaise and Karthala, Active Volcanoes of the World, doi 10.1007/978-3-642-31395-0_4

Mishon, L., Ferrazzini, V., Di Muro, A., 2016, Magma paths at Piton de la Fournaise volcano, in Bachelery, P., Lenat, J.F., Di Muro, A., Mishon, L., eds., Active volcanoes of the South West Indian Ocean: Piton de la Fournaise and Karthala, Active Volcanoes of the World, doi 10.1007/978-3-642-31395-0_4

Michon, M and Saint-Ange, F (2008) Morphology of Piton de la Fournaise basaltic shield volcano (La Réunion Island): Characterization and implication in the volcano evolution. Journal of Geophysical Research. v. 113, p. 1-19, doi: 10.1029/2005JB004118

Rowland. S., and Garbeil, H., 2000, Slopes of oceanic basalt volcanoes. in: Mouginis-Mark, P.J., Crisp, J.A., and Fink, J.H., eds., Remote sensing of active volcanism, AGU Geophys Monogr Ser, doi 10.1007/978-3-642-4233789_35

Stamps D.S., Calaise, E., Saria, E., Hartnady, C., Nocquet, J.M., Ebinger, C.J., Fernandes. R., 2008), A kinetic Model for the East African Rift, Geophysical Research Letters, v. 35, p. 1-6, doi:10.1029/2007GL032781


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