Volcanic Mudflows Could Wipe Out Industrial Town In Mexico, UB Researchers Have Determined

October 29, 1998

TORONTO -- Extremely fast-moving volcanic mudflows could inundate and destroy a large part of a key industrial town near Colima volcano in Mexico sometime in the next 10 years, according to researchers at the University at Buffalo. And that's the least-extreme scenario if the volcano reaches the climactic stage of its eruption cycle, which is expected during the next decade, according to internationally known volcanologist Michael Sheridan, Ph.D., professor and chair of the UB Department of Geology, and Yvonne Paul, a UB senior who is first author on the study.

They presented their results about the fate that appears to await Atenquique here today (Oct. 29, 1998) at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.

"The largest resulting mudflow that we calculated would destroy much of Atenquique with a wall of water and debris 200 feet high," said Sheridan. Atenquique is a major paper- and lumber-producing center; the main rail connection from the Pacific to Central Mexico passes through the town. Sheridan noted that newer, industrial towns near volcanoes often are located in more dangerous areas than those settled by indigenous peoples. "In modern towns, everything is new and there is no cultural memory of the volcano, especially if it erupts in a 100-year-cycle, like Colima," he said. Indigenous peoples, on the other hand, tend to retain that memory through generations.

The researchers applied to Colima volcano a mathematical model that predicts the width, travel distance and course of debris flows of various potential sizes that result from volcanic eruptions. The model was developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and is based on data from other existing volcanoes. Paul, a geology major, performed the calculations as the result of work she did on a senior-class project.

"The results I got are consistent with different runout lengths that have been known to occur at this volcano," said Paul. "Even the smallest predicted mudflow would wipe out most of the village."

Added Sheridan: "We looked at the possible size range from the smallest to the largest mudflows that would affect the population and plotted them, to calculate the potential risks. Our results show that mudflows from the Colima volcano will travel extremely quickly, and would reach as far as 100 kilometers. Anything in the way would be wiped out."

University at Buffalo

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