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Abstract

Lahars are rapid flows of mud–rock slurries that can occur without warning and
catastrophically impact areas more than 100 km downstream of source volcanoes.
Strategies to mitigate the potential for damage or loss from lahars fall into four basic
categories: (1) avoidance of lahar hazards through land-use planning; (2) modification of
lahar hazards through engineered protection structures; (3) lahar warning systems to
enable evacuations; and (4) effective response to and recovery from lahars when they do
occur. Successful application of any of these strategies requires an accurate
understanding and assessment of the hazard, an understanding of the applicability and
limitations of the strategy, and thorough planning. The human and institutional
components leading to successful application can be even more important: engagement
of all stakeholders in hazard education and risk-reduction planning; good communication
of hazard and risk information among scientists, emergency managers, elected officials,
and the at-risk public during crisis and non-crisis periods; sustained response training; and
adequate funding for risk-reduction efforts. This paper reviews a number of methods for
lahar-hazard risk reduction, examines the limitations and tradeoffs, and provides real-
world examples of their application in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and in other volcanic
regions of the world. An overriding theme is that lahar-hazard risk reduction cannot be
effectively accomplished without the active, impartial involvement of volcano scientists,
who are willing to assume educational, interpretive, and advisory roles to work in
partnership with elected officials, emergency managers, and vulnerable communities.

Background
Lahars are discrete, rapid, gravity-driven flows of saturated, high-concentration mixtures
containing water and solid particles of rock, ice, wood, and other debris that originate from
volcanoes (Vallance [2000]). Primary lahars are triggered during eruptions by various
eruption-related mechanisms; between AD 1600 and 2010 such lahars killed 37,451
people worldwide, including 23,080 in the 1985 Nevado del Ruiz disaster alone (Witham
[2005]; Aucker et al. [2013]). During the same period secondary lahars, most commonly
triggered by post-eruption erosion and entrainment of tephra during heavy rainfall, killed
an additional 6,801 (Aucker et al. [2013]). Just in the past several decades, staggering
losses from widely publicized lahar-related disasters at Mount St. Helens, USA; Nevado
del Ruiz, Colombia; Mount Pinatubo, Philippines; and Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand,
have demonstrated how lahars of both types significantly threaten the safety, economic
well-being, and resources of communities downstream of volcanoes. Lahars can range in
consistency from thick viscous slurries resembling wet concrete (termed debris flows) to
more fluid slurries of mostly mud and sand that resemble motor oil in consistency
(termed hyperconcentrated flows). These two types of flows commonly occur in all types
of mountainous terrain throughout the world, but the largest and most far-reaching
originate from volcanoes, where extraordinarily large volumes of both unstable rock debris
and water can be mobilized (Vallance and Scott [1997]; Mothes et al. [1998]).

The destructive nature of lahars derives from their speed, reach, and composition—and
our difficulty in predicting (in the absence of warning systems) when they may occur.
Large lahars commonly achieve speeds in excess of 20 m/s on the lower flanks of
volcanoes and can maintain velocities in excess of 10 m/s for more than 50 km from their
source when confined to narrow canyons (Cummans [1981]; Pierson [1985]; Pierson et al.
[1990]) (Table 1). Impact forces from multi-ton solid objects commonly suspended in
debris-flow lahars (such as large boulders, logs, and other debris) and drag forces exerted
by the viscous fluid phase can destroy almost any structure (Figure 1a).
Hyperconcentrated-flow lahars damage structures primarily through vigorous lateral
erosion of channels that results in bank collapse (Figure 1b). Both flow types commonly
occur during a single lahar event as the highly concentrated head of a lahar typically
transitions to a more dilute tail. On flow margins or at the downstream ends of depositional
zones where velocities are much slower, lahars can encase buildings, roads, towers, and
farm land in mud-rock slurries that can dry out to near concrete-like hardness. Yet fresh
lahar deposits, commonly many meters deep, can remain fluidized like quicksand for days
to weeks, complicating search and rescue efforts. Although most lahars are triggered
during or shortly after volcanic eruptions, they can also be initiated without warning by
noneruptive events, such as the gravitational collapse of structurally weakened volcanic
edifices, large earthquakes, lake outbreaks, or extreme rainfall.

Hazard and risk education


The foundation for all risk-reduction strategies is a public that is well informed about the
nature of hazards to their community, informed about how to lessen societal risk related to
these hazards, and motivated to take risk-reducing actions. This knowledge base and
accompanying appreciation of volcano hazards are needed to increase the interest and
ability of public officials to implement risk-reduction measures and create a supportive and
responsive at-risk population that will react appropriately when an extreme event occurs.
Volcano scientists play a critical role in effective hazard education by informing officials
and the public about realistic hazard probabilities and scenarios (including potential
magnitude, timing, and impacts); by helping evaluate the effectiveness of proposed risk-
reduction strategies; by helping promote acceptance of (and confidence in) hazards
information through participatory engagement with officials and vulnerable communities as
partners in risk reduction efforts; and by communicating with emergency managers during
extreme events (Peterson [1988], [1996]; Cronin et al. [2004b]; McGuire et al. [2009]). But
before successful use of hazard information can occur, the scientists’ first and main role is
to make technical data, hypotheses, and uncertainties understandable to non-technical
users of hazard information. Serious misunderstandings can arise, sometimes with tragic
consequences, when scientists do not perform this role effectively (Voight [1990]; Hall
[1992]).

An effective hazard education program begins when scientists inform people in vulnerable
communities about past hazardous events and current threats—information necessary for
preparedness for future events. Scientists need to be involved in hazard-education efforts,
because they provide the needed hazard expertise, and the public tends to imbue them
with a high level of trust (Ronan et al. [2000]; Haynes et al. [2008]; Mei et al. [2013]). But
the straightforward presentation of information that may seem logical to many scientists
may not be effective; hazards information must be transmitted in ways that are not only
understandable but also emotionally palatable and culturally relevant to the target
audience (Cronin et al. [2004b]). People are more likely to implement risk-reduction
strategies before an event or evacuate during an event if they comprehend that past
events have impacted their communities, if they believe that future events could do so
again and that viable mitigation options exist, and if they themselves have been involved
in determining their community’s risk-reduction strategies (Mileti [1999]). Community
adoption of mitigation strategies is also more likely if hazard education is integrated into
existing development programs and if it includes discussion of tangible actions that can be
taken to protect lives and livelihoods, instead of just discussing uncontrollable threats
(Paton et al. [2001]). The types of educational products, activities, and tasks that benefit
from the active participation of scientists are varied (Figure 3):
 Informative, jargon-free, general-interest publications and multi-media information
products about potential hazards in digital and print formats (e.g., IAVCEI [1995], [1996];
USGS [1996], [1998], [2010]; Gardner et al. [2000]; Gardner and Guffanti [2006]; Driedger
and Scott [2008]; Dzurisin et al. [2013]).
 Technical information products to summarize scientific information about potential or
ongoing volcanic activity or potential hazards, such as hazard-assessment reports, alerts
and information statements on the status of current volcanic activity, volcanic-activity
notification services, response plans developed in partnership with other agencies and
stakeholders, and specific guidance based on the latest research (Guffanti et al. [2007]).
Such products can be made available through print, fax, email, web-site, and social media
outlets (e.g., Scott et al. [1997]; Hoblitt et al. [1998]; Pierce County [2008]; Wood and
Soulard [2009a]).
 Accessible and understandable spatial depictions of hazardous areas and evacuation
routes to safe areas that are tailored to a target audience (Figure 3a,b), such as traditional
hazard maps, evacuation route maps, explanations of the volcanic origins of familiar
landscape features, labeled aerial photographs with vertical and oblique perspectives, and
simple perspective maps keyed on cultural features and boundaries (Haynes et al. [2007];
Némath and Cronin [2009]). Web sites developed by local agencies can be good outlets
for this type of information (e.g., http://www.piercecountywa.org/activevolcano).
 Hazards information presentations and training for the media (Figure 3c), emergency
management officials (Figure 3d), first responders, land managers, public safety officials,
search-and-rescue (SAR) teams, community-based monitoring teams, and public
information officers before and during volcano crises (Driedger et al. [2008]; Frenzen and
Matarrese [2008]; Peterson [1988], [1996]; Driedger et al. [2008]; Driedger and Scott
[2010]; de Bélizal et al. [2013]; Stone et al. [2014]).
 Teacher trainings (Figure 3e) and special school curricula for children in order to provide a
foundation of knowledge at a young age, as well as to educate and motivate their families
(e.g., Driedger et al. [2014]).
 Presentations to and dialogues with community groups and councils, volunteer
organizations, local government bodies, and schools about existing hazards (Figure 3f),
while seeking opportunities to engage vulnerable populations in devising potential options
for risk reduction (Peterson [1988], [1996]; Driedger et al. [1998]; Cronin et al. [2004a],[b]).
 Relationship-building with communities and community leaders (official and unofficial) to
establish trust and credibility, to encourage community-based risk-reduction solutions, and
to maintain an ongoing dialogue with officials and at-risk community members (Peterson
[1988], [1996]; Cronin et al. [2004b]; Haynes et al. [2008]; McGuire et al. [2009]; Mileti
[1999]; Stone et al. [2014]).
 Collaboration with emergency managers in the design and message content of signs for
hazard awareness, locations of hazard zones, and evacuation procedures and routes
(Figure 3g) (Schelling et al. [2014]; Driedger et al. [1998], [2002], [2010]; Myers and
Driedger [2008a], [b]) and for disaster commemorations (such as monuments or
memorials) that remind the public that extreme events are possible (Figure 3h).
 Collaboration in the development of accurate and consistent warning messages to be sent
out when a lahar triggers a warning system alert (Mileti and Sorenson [1990]).

Ash falls from continued explosive jetting of fine volcanic particles into high ash clouds
generally do not cause any direct fatalities. However, where the ash accumulates more
than a few centimetres, collapsing roofs and failure of crops are major secondary hazards.
Crop failure can occur over large areas downwind from major ash eruptions, and
widespread famine and disease may result, especially in poorly developed countries. In
the long run, however, the decomposition of nutrient-rich volcanic fallout is responsible for
some of the world’s best soils. Volcanic ash consists of tiny jagged particles of rock
and natural glass blasted into the air by a volcano. Ash can threaten the health
of people and livestock, pose a hazard to flying jet aircraft, damage electronics
and machinery, and interrupt power generation and telecommunications. Wind
can carry ash thousands of miles, affecting far greater areas and many more
people than other volcano hazards. Even after a series of ash-producing
eruptions has ended, wind and human activity can stir up fallen ash for
months or years, presenting a long-term health and economic hazard.

Some Effects of Volcanic Ash

When volcanic ash accumulates on buildings, its weight can cause roofs to
collapse, killing and injuring people. A dry layer of ash 4 inches thick weighs
120 to 200 pounds per square yard, and wet ash can weigh twice as much.
The load of ash that different roofs can withstand before collapsing varies
greatly—flat roofs are more likely to collapse than steeply pitched ones.

Because wet ash conducts electricity, it can cause short circuits and failure of
electronic components, especially high-voltage circuits and transformers.
Power outages are common in ash-fall areas, making backup power systems
important for critical facilities, such as hospitals.

Eruption clouds and ash fall commonly interrupt or prevent telephone and
radio communications in several ways, including physical damage to
equipment, frequent lightning (electrical discharges), and either scattering or
absorption of radio signals by the heated and electrically charged ash particles.

Volcanic ash can cause internal-combustion engines to stall by clogging air


filters and also damage the moving parts of vehicles and machinery, including
bearings and gears. Engines of jet aircraft have suddenly failed after flying
through clouds of even thinly dispersed ash. Roads, highways, and airport
runways can be made treacherous or impassable because ash is slippery and
may reduce visibility to near zero. Cars driving faster than 5 miles per hour on
ash-covered roads stir up thick clouds of ash, reducing visibility and causing
accidents.

Ash also clogs filters used in air-ventilation systems to the point that airflow
often stops completely, causing equipment to overheat. Such filters may even
collapse from the added weight of ash, allowing ash to invade buildings and
damage computers and other equipment cooled by circulating outside air.
Agriculture can also be affected by volcanic ash fall. Crop damage can range
from negligible to severe, depending on the thickness of ash, type and
maturity of plants, and timing of subsequent rainfall. For farm animals,
especially grazing livestock, ash fall can lead to health effects, including
dehydration, starvation, and poisoning.

Like airborne particles from duststorms, forest fires, and air pollution, volcanic
ash poses a health risk, especially to children, the elderly, and people with
cardiac or respiratory conditions, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and
emphysema.

The best time for communities, businesses, and homeowners to make


preparations for a rain of volcanic ash is before an eruption occurs. When an
explosive eruption does occur, warning of advancing ash clouds may precede
actual ash fall by only minutes or hours. By developing community
emergency-response plans that can be activated when a volcano is
threatening to erupt, the harmful and disruptive effects of ash can be greatly
reduced. So that the public can be warned of impending eruptions and
advancing ash clouds, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and cooperating
organizations operate instrument networks that monitor more than 40 active
volcanoes in the United States.

Pyroclastic flow, in a volcanic eruption, a fluidized mixture of hot rock fragments, hot
gases, and entrapped air that moves at high speed in thick, gray-to-black, turbulent clouds
that hug the ground. The temperature of the volcanic gases can reach about 600 to 700
°C (1,100 to 1,300 °F). The velocity of a flow often exceeds 100 km (60 miles) per hour
and may attain speeds as great as 160 km (100 miles) per hour. Flows may even travel
some distance uphill when they have sufficient velocity, which they achieve either through
the simple effects of gravity or from the force of a lateral blast out of the side of an
exploding volcano. Reaching such temperatures and velocities, pyroclastic flows can be
extremely dangerous. Perhaps the most famous flow of this type occurred in 1902 on the
French Caribbean island of Martinique, when a huge nuée ardente (“glowing cloud”) swept
down the slopes of Mount Pelée and incinerated the small port city of Saint-Pierre, killing
all but two of its 29,000 residents.
Pyroclastic flows have their origin in explosive volcanic eruptions, when a violent
expansion of gas shreds escaping magma into small particles, creating what are known
as pyroclastic fragments. (The term pyroclastic derives from the Greek pyro, meaning
“fire,” and clastic, meaning “broken.”) Pyroclastic materials are classified according to their
size, measured in millimetres: dust (less than 0.6 mm), ash (fragments between 0.6 and 2
mm), cinders (fragments between 2 and 64 mm, also known as lapilli), blocks (angular
fragments greater than 64 mm), and bombs (rounded fragments greater than 64 mm). The
fluid nature of a pyroclastic flow is maintained by the turbulence of its internal gases. Both
the incandescent pyroclastic particles and the rolling clouds of dust that rise above them
actively liberate more gas. The expansion of these gases accounts for the nearly
frictionless character of the flow as well as its great mobility and destructive power.
Pyroclastic flow, in a volcanic eruption, a fluidized mixture of hot rock fragments, hot
gases, and entrapped air that moves at high speed in thick, gray-to-black, turbulent clouds
that hug the ground. The temperature of the volcanic gases can reach about 600 to 700
°C (1,100 to 1,300 °F). The velocity of a flow often exceeds 100 km (60 miles) per hour
and may attain speeds as great as 160 km (100 miles) per hour. Flows may even travel
some distance uphill when they have sufficient velocity, which they achieve either through
the simple effects of gravity or from the force of a lateral blast out of the side of an
exploding volcano. Reaching such temperatures and velocities, pyroclastic flows can be
extremely dangerous. Perhaps the most famous flow of this type occurred in 1902 on the
French Caribbean island of Martinique, when a huge nuée ardente (“glowing cloud”) swept
down the slopes of Mount Pelée and incinerated the small port city of Saint-Pierre, killing
all but two of its 29,000 residents.
Pyroclastic flows have their origin in explosive volcanic eruptions, when a violent
expansion of gas shreds escaping magma into small particles, creating what are known
as pyroclastic fragments. (The term pyroclastic derives from the Greek pyro, meaning
“fire,” and clastic, meaning “broken.”) Pyroclastic materials are classified according to their
size, measured in millimetres: dust (less than 0.6 mm), ash (fragments between 0.6 and 2
mm), cinders (fragments between 2 and 64 mm, also known as lapilli), blocks (angular
fragments greater than 64 mm), and bombs (rounded fragments greater than 64 mm). The
fluid nature of a pyroclastic flow is maintained by the turbulence of its internal gases. Both
the incandescent pyroclastic particles and the rolling clouds of dust that rise above them
actively liberate more gas. The expansion of these gases accounts for the nearly
frictionless character of the flow as well as its great mobility and destructive power.

The nomenclature of pyroclastic flows is complex for two main reasons. Varieties of
pyroclastic flows have been named by volcanologists using several different languages,
resulting in a multiplicity of terms. Also, the danger from pyroclastic flows is so great that
they have seldom been observed during their formation. Therefore, the nature of the flows
must be inferred from their deposits rather than from direct evidence, leaving ample room
for interpretation. Ignimbrites (from the Latin for “fire rain rocks”) are deposited
by pumice flows, creating thick formations of various-sized fragments of very porous,
frothlike volcanic glass. Ignimbrites are generally produced by large eruptions that
form calderas. Nuées ardentes deposit ash- to block-sized fragments that are denser than
pumice. Pyroclastic surges are low-density flows that leave thin but extensive deposits
with cross-bedded layering. Ash flows leave deposits known as tuff, which are made up
mainly of ash-sized fragments. Nuée ardente deposits are confined mainly in valleys,
while ignimbrites form plateaulike deposits that bury the previous topography. Thick
ignimbrites that were very hot when erupted may compact and consolidate into hard,
welded tuffs.

Abstract
Centimeter to meter-sized volcanic ballistic projectiles from explosive eruptions jeopardize people and
properties kilometers from the volcano, but they also provide information about the past eruptions.
Traditionally, projectile trajectory is modeled using simplified ballistic theory, accounting for gravity and drag
forces only and assuming simply shaped projectiles free moving through air. Recently, collisions between
projectiles and interactions with plumes are starting to be considered. Besides theory, experimental studies and
field mapping have so far dominated volcanic projectile research, with only limited observations. High-speed,
high-definition imaging now offers a new spatial and temporal scale of observation that we use to illuminate
projectile dynamics. In-flight collisions commonly affect the size, shape, trajectory, and rotation of projectiles
according to both projectile nature (ductile bomb versus brittle block) and the location and timing of collisions.
These, in turn, are controlled by ejection pulses occurring at the vent. In-flight tearing and fragmentation
characterize large bombs, which often break on landing, both factors concurring to decrease the average grain
size of the resulting deposits. Complex rotation and spinning are ubiquitous features of projectiles, and the
related Magnus effect may deviate projectile trajectory by tens of degrees. A new relationship is derived,
linking projectile velocity and size with the size of the resulting impact crater. Finally, apparent drag coefficient
values, obtained for selected projectiles, mostly range from 1 to 7, higher than expected, reflecting complex
projectile dynamics. These new perspectives will impact projectile hazard mitigation and the interpretation of
projectile deposits from past eruptions, both on Earth and on other planets.
Plain Language Summary
Explosive volcanic eruptions launch incandescent fragments, sometimes partially molten, to distances of up to
several kilometers from the volcano. The largest fragments, from the size of an apple to that of a van, travel in
air following the same laws that control the flight of artillery shells and, on landing, may cause the same
harmful consequences. To protect people and properties from these volcanic projectiles, their occurrence in
volcanic rocks is documented, and their motion is simulated by computer models. However, both field studies
and computer models require validation, but in-flight observation of the projectiles have been sparse, so far. We
used state-of-the-art high-speed cameras, filming volcanic projectiles in slow motion to understand and measure
the processes that control their flight dynamics. We found that the in-flight deformation, rotation, and collision
of the projectiles have a deep impact on their trajectory. We also measured the size of craters left by the
projectiles on landing, and we derived specific parameters that are essential to model projectiles flight. We
found that currently used models often do not account for all the in-flight dynamics. Our findings will improve
interpreting the motion of the projectiles and mitigating their hazard.