Erupting Soil

By Jheri St. James


The archipelago of Comoros is a study in contrasts, being the third-smallest nation by area in Africa, with one of the highest population densities, and home to the largest active volcanic mountain in the world, Mt. Karthala. Erupting in 2006, 2005 and 1991, during the 2005 eruption which lasted two days, 40,000 citizens were evacuated and the crater lake in the volcano’s caldera (a large crater formed by volcanic explosion or by collapse of a volcanic cone.) was destroyed. This was the site of the soil collection from Comoros, facilitated by Lanto Hariveloniaina, another friend of Common Ground 191, in the U.S. Embassy in Moroni, capital city. Mr. Hariveloniaina also obtained soil from Madagascar.


The archipelago is notable for its diverse culture and history, as a nation formed at the crossroads of many civilizations. Though in the contested island of Mayotte the sole official language is French, the “Union of the Comoros” has three official languages—Comorian, Arabic and French.

The Comoros islands' vegetation like that in most volcanic soil regions is rich and varied: 65% of the world's perfume essence comes from here, being processed from the blossoms of ylang-ylang, jasmine and orange. Spices, including nutmeg, cloves, pepper, basil and vanilla, are another mainstay of the economy. Surrounded by coral reefs, Comoros might be one of the island nations growing in size thanks to lava, rather than shrinking from global warming.

The oldest of the islands, Maore has the richest soil as well as good harbors and local fish populations, due to its ring of coral reefs. The islands of the Comoros Archipelago were formed by volcanic activity. Mount Karthala, an ative shield volcano is the country’s highest point, located on Ngazidja. It contains the largest patch of its disappearing rainforest. Karthala is currently one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The Comoros constitute an ecoregion in their own right, Comoros forests.

Satellite view of Mount Karthala after a November 2005 eruption. Ash obscures the islands (outlined).


From the bowels of the earth comes the soil of Comoros, erupting into being and creating a growing island nation. We thank Lanto Harivelonialina of the U.S. Embassy in Madagascar for collecting this fresh, new soil for our project.

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