Abstract

A new method of delineating lahar hazard zones in valleys that head on volcano flanks provides a rapid, objective, reproducible alternative to traditional methods. The rationale for the method derives from scaling analyses of generic lahar paths and statistical analyses of 27 lahar paths documented at nine volcanoes. Together these analyses yield semiempirical equations that predict inundated valley cross-sectional areas (A) and planimetric areas (B) as functions of lahar volume (V). The predictive equations (A = 0.05V2/3 and B = 200 V2/3) provide all information necessary to calculate and plot inundation limits on topographic maps. By using a range of prospective lahar volumes to evaluate A and B, a range of inundation limits can be plotted for lahars of increasing volume and decreasing probability. Resulting hazard maps show graphically that lahar-inundation potentials are highest near volcanoes and along valley thalwegs, and diminish gradually as distances from volcanoes and elevations above valley floors increase. We automate hazard-zone delineation by embedding the predictive equations in a geographic information system (GIS) computer program that uses digital elevation models of topography. Lahar hazard zones computed for Mount Rainier, Washington, mimic those constructed on the basis of intensive field investigations. The computed hazard zones illustrate the potentially widespread impact of large lahars, which on average inundate planimetric areas 20 times larger than those inundated by rock avalanches of comparable volume.

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