Geologists witness unique volcanic mudflow in action in New Zealand

July 13, 2007

Volcanologist Sarah Fagents from the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa had an amazing opportunity to study volcanic hazards first hand, when a volcanic mudflow broke through the banks of a volcanic lake at Mount Ruapehu in New Zealand.

Fagents and colleagues were there on a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project to study the long-forecast Crater Lake break-out lahar at Mount Ruapehu. A lahar is a type of mudflow composed of water and other sediment that flows down from a volcano, typically along a river valley.

Lahars are caused by the rapid melting of snow and/or glaciers during a volcanic eruption, or as in the case of Mount Ruapehu, the breakout of a volcanic lake.

"Lahars can be extremely hazardous, especially in populated areas, because of their great speed and mass," said William Leeman, NSF program director for petrology and geochemistry. "They can flow for many tens of miles, causing catastrophic destruction along their path. The 1980 eruptions at Mount St. Helens, for example, resulted in spectacular lahar flows that choked virtually all drainages on the volcano, and impacted major rivers as far away as Portland, Ore."

Fagents visited stretches of the lahar pathway before the breakout to assess pre-event channel conditions. Although the event was predicted to occur in 2007, the recent decreased filling rate of Crater Lake suggested that the lake bank actually would not be overtopped until 2008.

However, several days of intense rainfall and increased seepage through the bank ultimately caused it to collapse much sooner, on March 18, 2007.

A lahar warning system had been installed at Mount Ruapehu, and was hailed a success after it successfully alerted officials to the onset of the lahar. In total, about 1.3 million cubic meters of water were released from Crater Lake.

"We found a broad area covered in a veneer of mud and boulders," said Fagents. "It was an unprecedented opportunity to see the immediate aftermath of such an event. It's particularly motivating for the students who were along to learn first-hand about lahar processes in such a dynamic environment."

Fagents and colleagues returned to New Zealand a month later to conduct a more detailed analysis of the deposit. "Because the Crater Lake breakout had been long forecast, there was an unprecedented amount of instrumentation installed in the catchment by our New Zealand colleagues to capture the event," says Fagents.

"The 2007 event is the best studied lahar in the world," she said.

Prediction of the effects of the events is of critical importance in populated volcanic regions. Many other volcanoes around the world, including Mount Rainier in Washington State, and Galunggung in Indonesia, are also considered particularly dangerous due to the risk of lahars, according to Leeman.

Fagents is developing a computer model to simulate lahar emplacement and to predict the associated hazards. "The intent is to adapt this model to account for different lahar triggering mechanisms, and for different locations, to make it widely applicable," said Fagents. "The ultimate goal is provide a useful hazards assessment tool for future lahars."
-end-
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of $5.58 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 1,700 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes nearly 10,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $400 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Receive official NSF news electronically through the e-mail delivery and notification system, MyNSF (formerly the Custom News Service). To subscribe, visit http://www.nsf.gov/mynsf/ and fill in the information under "new users".

Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov
NSF News: http://www.nsf.gov/news/
For the News Media: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsroom.jsp
Science and Engineering Statistics: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/
Awards Searches: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/

National Science Foundation

Related Water Articles from Brightsurf:

Transport of water to mars' upper atmosphere dominates planet's water loss to space
Instead of its scarce atmospheric water being confined in Mars' lower atmosphere, a new study finds evidence that water on Mars is directly transported to the upper atmosphere, where it is converted to atomic hydrogen that escapes to space.

Water striders learn from experience how to jump up safely from water surface
Water striders jump upwards from the water surface without breaking it.

'Pregnancy test for water' delivers fast, easy results on water quality
A new platform technology can assess water safety and quality with just a single drop and a few minutes.

Something in the water
Between 2015 and 2016, Brazil suffered from an epidemic outbreak of the Zika virus, whose infections occurred throughout the country states.

Researchers create new tools to monitor water quality, measure water insecurity
A wife-husband team will present both high-tech and low-tech solutions for improving water security at this year's American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Seattle on Sunday, Feb.

The shape of water: What water molecules look like on the surface of materials
Water is a familiar substance that is present virtually everywhere.

Water, water everywhere -- and it's weirder than you think
Researchers at The University of Tokyo show that liquid water has 2 distinct molecular arrangements: tetrahedral and non-tetrahedral.

What's in your water?
Mixing drinking water with chlorine, the United States' most common method of disinfecting drinking water, creates previously unidentified toxic byproducts, says Carsten Prasse from Johns Hopkins University and his collaborators from the University of California, Berkeley and Switzerland.

How we transport water in our bodies inspires new water filtration method
A multidisciplinary group of engineers and scientists has discovered a new method for water filtration that could have implications for a variety of technologies, such as desalination plants, breathable and protective fabrics, and carbon capture in gas separations.

Source water key to bacterial water safety in remote Northern Australia
In the wet-dry topics of Australia, drinking water in remote communities is often sourced from groundwater bores.

Read More: Water News and Water Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.