A lahar travels down a river valley in Guatemala near the Santa Maria volcano, 1989

A lahar ( /ˈlɑːhɑːr/, from Javanese: ꦮ꧀ꦭꦲꦂ) is a violent type of mudflow or debris flow composed of a slurry of pyroclastic material, rocky debris and water. The material flows down from a volcano, typically along a river valley.[1]

Lahars are extremely destructive: they can flow tens of metres per second, they have been known to be up to 140 metres (460 ft) deep, and large flows tend to destroy any structures in their path. Notable lahars include those at Mount Pinatubo and Nevado del Ruiz, the latter of which killed thousands of people in the town of Armero.


The word lahar is of Javanese origin.[2] The geological term was introduced by Berend George Escher in 1922.[3]


Excavated 9th century Sambisari Hindu temple near Yogyakarta in Java, Indonesia. The temple was buried 6.5 metres under the lahar volcanic debris accumulated from centuries of Mount Merapi eruptions.

The word lahar is a general term used to describe a flowing mixture of water and pyroclastic debris; it does not specifically refer to a particular rheology or sediment concentration.[4] Lahars can exist as normal stream flows (sediment concentration of less than 30%), hyper-concentrated stream flows (sediment concentration between 30 and 60%), or debris flows (sediment concentration exceeding 60%). Indeed, the rheology and subsequent behaviour of a lahar flow may vary in space and time within a single event, owing to changes in sediment supply and water supply.[4] Lahars may be described as 'primary' or 'syn-eruptive', if they occur simultaneously with, or are triggered by, primary volcanic activity. 'Secondary' or 'post-eruptive' lahars occur in the absence of primary volcanic activity, e.g. as a result of rainfall during pauses in activity or during dormancy.[5][6]

In addition to their variable rheology, lahars vary considerably in magnitude. The Osceola Lahar produced by Mount Rainier (Washington) some 5600 years ago resulted in a wall of mud 140 metres (460 ft) deep in the White River canyon, which covered an area of over 330 square kilometres (130 sq mi), for a total volume of2.3 cubic kilometres (12 cu mi).[7] A debris-flow lahar can erase virtually any structure in its path, while a hyperconcentrated-flow lahar is capable of carving its own pathway, destroying buildings by undermining their foundations.[5] A hyperconcentrated-flow lahar can leave even frail huts standing, while at the same time burying them in mud,[8] which can harden to near-concrete hardness. A lahar's viscosity decreases with time, and can be further thinned by rain, producing a quicksand-like mixture that can remain fluidized for weeks and complicates search and rescue.[5]

Lahars vary in size and speed. Small lahars less than a few metres wide and several centimetres deep may flow a few metres per second. Large lahars hundreds of metres wide and tens of metres deep can flow several tens of metres per second (22 mph or more): much too fast for people to outrun.[9] On steep slopes, lahar speeds can exceed 200 kilometres per hour (120 mph).[9] With the potential to flow distances of more than 300 kilometres (190 mi), a lahar can cause catastrophic destruction in its path.[10]

Lahars from the 1985 Nevado del Ruiz eruption in Colombia caused the Armero tragedy, which killed an estimated 23,000 people, when the city of Armero was buried under 5 metres (16 ft) of mud and debris.[11] A lahar caused New Zealand's Tangiwai disaster,[12] where 151 people died after a Christmas Eve express train fell into the Whangaehu River in 1953. Lahars have been responsible for 17% of volcano-related deaths between 1783 and 1997.[13]

Trigger mechanisms

Mudline left behind on trees on the banks of the Muddy River after the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens showing the height of the lahar

Lahars have several possible causes:[9]

  • Snow and glaciers can be melted by lava or pyroclastic surges during an eruption.
  • Lava can erupt from open vents and mix with wet soil, mud or snow on the slope of the volcano making a very viscous, high energy lahar. The higher up the slope of the volcano, the more gravitational potential energy the flows will have.
  • A flood caused by a glacier, lake breakout, or heavy rainfalls can generate lahars, also called glacier run or jökulhlaup.
  • Water from a crater lake can combine with volcanic material in an eruption.
  • Heavy rainfall can mobilize unconsolidated pyroclastic deposits.

In particular, although lahars are typically associated with the effects of volcanic activity, lahars can occur even without any current volcanic activity, as long as the conditions are right to cause the collapse and movement of mud originating from existing volcanic ash deposits.

  • Snow and glaciers can melt during periods of mild to hot weather.
  • Earthquakes underneath or close to the volcano can shake material loose and cause it to collapse, triggering a lahar avalanche.
  • Rainfall can cause the still-hanging slabs of solidified mud to come rushing down the slopes at a speed of more than 18.64 mph (30.0 km/h), causing devastating results.

Places at risk

The aftermath of a lahar from the 1982 eruption of Galunggung, Indonesia

Several mountains in the world – including Mount Rainier in the United States, Mount Ruapehu in New Zealand, and Merapi[14][15] and Galunggung in Indonesia[16] – are considered particularly dangerous due to the risk of lahars. Several towns in the Puyallup River valley in Washington state, including Orting, are built on top of lahar deposits that are only about 500 years old. Lahars are predicted to flow through the valley every 500 to 1,000 years, so Orting, Sumner, Puyallup, Fife, and the Port of Tacoma face considerable risk.[17] The USGS has set up lahar warning sirens in Pierce County, Washington, so that people can flee an approaching debris flow in the event of a Mount Rainier eruption.[18]

A lahar warning system has been set up at Mount Ruapehu by the New Zealand Department of Conservation and hailed as a success after it successfully alerted officials to an impending lahar on 18 March 2007.[19]

Since mid-June 1991, when violent eruptions triggered Mount Pinatubo's first lahars in 500 years, a system to monitor and warn of lahars has been in operation. Radio-telemetered rain gauges provide data on rainfall in lahar source regions, acoustic flow monitors on stream banks detect ground vibration as lahars pass, and manned watchpoints further confirm that lahars are rushing down Pinatubo's slopes. This system has enabled warnings to be sounded for most but not all major lahars at Pinatubo, saving hundreds of lives.[20] Physical preventative measures by the Philippine government were not adequate to stop over 6 m (20 ft) of mud from flooding many villages around Mount Pinatubo from 1992 through 1998.[21]

Scientists and governments try to identify areas with a high risk of lahars based on historical events and computer models. 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.[22] An example of such a model is TITAN2D.[23] These models are directed towards future planning: identifying low-risk regions to place community buildings, discovering how to mitigate lahars with dams, and constructing evacuation plans.[24]


Nevado del Ruiz

The lahar from the 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz that wiped out the town of Armero in Colombia

In 1985, the volcano Nevado del Ruiz erupted in central Colombia. As pyroclastic flows erupted from the volcano's crater, they melted the mountain's glaciers, sending four enormous lahars down its slopes at 60 kilometers per hour (37 miles per hour). The lahars picked up speed in gullies and coursed into the six major rivers at the base of the volcano; they engulfed the town of Armero, killing more than 20,000 of its almost 29,000 inhabitants.[25]

Casualties in other towns, particularly Chinchiná, brought the overall death toll to over 25,000.[26] Footage and photographs of Omayra Sánchez, a young victim of the tragedy, were published around the world.[27] Other photographs of the lahars and the impact of the disaster captured attention worldwide and led to controversy over the degree to which the Colombian government was responsible for the disaster.[28]

Mount Pinatubo

A before-and-after photograph of a river valley filled in by lahars from Mount Pinatubo

The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo caused lahars: the first eruption itself killed six people, but the lahar killed more than 1500. The eye of Typhoon Yunya passed over the volcano during its eruption on June 15, 1991. The rain from the typhoon triggered the flow of volcanic ash, boulders, and water down the rivers surrounding the volcano. In Pampanga, Angeles City and neighbouring cities and towns were damaged by the volcano's lahar when Sapang Balen Creek and the Abacan River became the channels for the mudflows and carried it to the heart of the city and surrounding areas.[29]

Over 6 metres (20 ft) of mud inundated and damaged the towns of Castillejos, San Marcelino and Botolan in Zambales, Porac and Mabalacat in Pampanga, Tarlac City, Capas, Concepcion and Bamban in Tarlac.[8] The Bamban Bridge on the MacArthur Highway, a major north–south transportation route, was destroyed, and temporary bridges erected in its place were inundated by subsequent lahars.[30]

On the morning of October 1, 1995, pyroclastic material which clung to the slopes of Pinatubo and surrounding mountains rushed down because of heavy rain, and turned into an 8-metre (25 ft) lahar. This mudflow killed at least 100 people in Barangay Cabalantian in Bacolor.[31] The Philippine government under President Fidel V. Ramos ordered the construction of the FVR Mega Dike in an attempt to protect people from further mudflows.[32]

Typhoon Reming triggered additional lahars in the Philippines in 2006.[33]

See also


  1. ^ "Lahar". USGS Photo Glossary. Retrieved 2009-04-19.
  2. ^ Vallance, James W.; Iverson, Richard M. (2015). "Chapter 37 – Lahars and Their Deposits". In Sigurdsson, Haraldur (ed.). Encyclopedia of Volcanoes. Amsterdam: Academic Press. pp. 649–664. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-385938-9.00037-7. ISBN 978-0-12-385938-9.
  3. ^ Vincent E. Neall (2004). "Lahar". In Andrew S. Goudie (ed.). Encyclopedia of Geomorphology. 2. pp. 597–599. ISBN 9780415327381.
  4. ^ a b Vallance, James W.; Iverson, Richard M. (2015-01-01), "Chapter 37 - Lahars and Their Deposits", in Sigurdsson, Haraldur (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Volcanoes (Second Edition), Amsterdam: Academic Press, pp. 649–664, ISBN 978-0-12-385938-9, retrieved 2021-03-26
  5. ^ a b c Pierson, Thomas C; Wood, Nathan J; Driedger, Carolyn L (December 2014). "Reducing risk from lahar hazards: concepts, case studies, and roles for scientists". Journal of Applied Volcanology. 3 (1): 16. doi:10.1186/s13617-014-0016-4.
  6. ^ Kataoka, Kyoko S.; Matsumoto, Takane; Saito, Takeshi; Kawashima, Katsuhisa; Nagahashi, Yoshitaka; Iyobe, Tsutomu; Sasaki, Akihiko; Suzuki, Keisuke (December 2018). "Lahar characteristics as a function of triggering mechanism at a seasonally snow-clad volcano: contrasting lahars following the 2014 phreatic eruption of Ontake Volcano, Japan". Earth, Planets and Space. 70 (1): 113. Bibcode:2018EP&S...70..113K. doi:10.1186/s40623-018-0873-x. hdl:2433/234673. S2CID 135044756.
  7. ^ Crandell, D.R. (1971). "Post glacial lahars From Mount Rainier Volcano, Washington". U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper. Professional Paper. 677. doi:10.3133/pp677.
  8. ^ a b Janda, Richard J.; Daag, Arturo S.; Delos Reyes, Perla J.; Newhall, Christopher G.; Pierson, Thomas C.; Punongbayan, Raymundo S.; Rodolfo, Kelvin S.; Solidum, Renato U.; Umbal, Jesse V. "Assessment and Response to Lahar Hazard around Mount Pinatubo, 1991 to 1993". FIRE and MUD. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  9. ^ a b c Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Geological Survey document:"Lahars and Their Effects". Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  10. ^ Hoblitt, R.P.; Miller, C.D.; Scott, W.E. (1987). "Volcanic hazards with regard to siting nuclear-power plants in the Pacific northwest". U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report. Open-File Report. 87–297. doi:10.3133/ofr87297.
  11. ^ "Deadly Lahars from Nevado del Ruiz, Colombia". USGS Volcano Hazards Program. Archived from the original on 2007-08-24. Retrieved 2007-09-02.
  12. ^ "Lahars from Mt Ruapehu" (PDF). Department of Conservation (New Zealand). 2006. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  13. ^ Tanguy, J.; et al. (1998). "Victims from volcanic eruptions: a revised database". Bulletin of Volcanology. 60 (2): 140. Bibcode:1998BVol...60..137T. doi:10.1007/s004450050222. S2CID 129683922.
  14. ^ Post, The Jakarta. "Lahar destroys farmlands". The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 2018-06-06.
  15. ^ Media, Kompas Cyber (2011-02-24). "Material Lahar Dingin Masih Berbahaya -". (in Indonesian). Retrieved 2018-06-06.
  16. ^ Suryo, I.; Clarke, M. C. G. (February 1985). "The occurrence and mitigation of volcanic hazards in Indonesia as exemplified at the Mount Merapi, Mount Kelut and Mount Galunggung volcanoes". Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology. 18 (1): 79–98. doi:10.1144/GSL.QJEG.1985.018.01.09. S2CID 129879951.
  17. ^ Wood, Nathan J.; Soulard, Christopher E. (2009). "Community exposure to lahar hazards from Mount Rainier, Washington". U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report. Scientific Investigations Report. 2009–5211: 34. doi:10.3133/sir20095211.
  18. ^ Program, Volcano Hazards. "USGS: Volcano Hazards Program CVO Mount Rainier". Retrieved 2018-05-24.
  19. ^ Massey, Christopher I.; Manville, Vernon; Hancox, Graham H.; Keys, Harry J.; Lawrence, Colin; McSaveney, Mauri (September 2010). "Out-burst flood (lahar) triggered by retrogressive landsliding, 18 March 2007 at Mt Ruapehu, New Zealand—a successful early warning". Landslides. 7 (3): 303–315. doi:10.1007/s10346-009-0180-5. S2CID 140555437.
  20. ^ Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Geological Survey document:Newhall, Chris; Stauffer, Peter H.; Hendley, James W, II. "Lahars of Mount Pinatubo, Philippines".
  21. ^ Leone, Frédéric; Gaillard, Jean-Christophe (1999). "Analysis of the institutional and social responses to the eruption and the lahars of Mount Pinatubo volcano from 1991 to 1998 (Central Luzon, Philippines)". GeoJournal. 49 (2): 223–238. doi:10.1023/A:1007076704752. S2CID 152999296.
  22. ^ Pierson, Wood & Driedger 2014.
  23. ^ Pitman, E. Bruce; Nichita, C. Camil; Patra, Abani; Bauer, Andy; Sheridan, Michael; Bursik, Marcus (December 2003). "Computing granular avalanches and landslides". Physics of Fluids. 15 (12): 3638–3646. Bibcode:2003PhFl...15.3638P. doi:10.1063/1.1614253.
  24. ^ Huggel, C.; Schneider, D.; Miranda, P. Julio; Delgado Granados, H.; Kääb, A. (February 2008). "Evaluation of ASTER and SRTM DEM data for lahar modeling: A case study on lahars from Popocatépetl Volcano, Mexico" (PDF). Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 170 (1–2): 99–110. Bibcode:2008JVGR..170...99H. doi:10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2007.09.005.
  25. ^ Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Geological Survey document:Schuster, Robert L.; Highland, Lynn M. (2001). "Socioeconomic and Environmental Impacts of Landslides in the Western Hemisphere". Open-File Report 01-0276. Retrieved June 11, 2010.
  26. ^ Rodgers, M.; Dixon, T. H.; Gallant, E.; López, C. M.; Malservisi, R.; Ordoñez, M.; Richardson, J. A.; Voss, N. K.; Xie, S. (2015). "Terrestrial Radar Interferometry and Structure-from-Motion Data from Nevado del Ruiz, Colombia for Improved Hazard Assessment and Volcano Monitoring". AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts. 2015. Bibcode:2015AGUFM.G41A1017R.
  27. ^ "World Photo Award". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. February 7, 1986. Retrieved April 19, 2011.
  28. ^ Zeiderman, Austin (June 11, 2009). "Life at Risk: Biopolitics, Citizenship, and Security in Colombia" (PDF). 2009 Congress of the Latin American Studies Association. Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  29. ^ Major, Jon J.; Janda, Richard J.; Daag, Arturo S. (1996). "Watershed Disturbance and Lahars on the East Side of Mount Pinatubo During the mid-June 1991 Eruptions". FIRE and MUD. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  30. ^ Martinez, Ma. Mylene L.; Arboleda, Ronaldo A.; Delos Reyes, Perla J.; Gabinete, Elmer; Dolan, Michael T. "Observations of 1992 Lahars along the Sacobia-Bamban River System". FIRE and MUD. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  31. ^ Gudmundsson, Magnús T. (2015). "Hazards from Lahars and Jökulhlaups". The Encyclopedia of Volcanoes: 971–984. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-385938-9.00056-0. ISBN 9780123859389.
  32. ^ Isip, Rendy (24 June 2016). "FVR mega dike still under threat of lahar". iOrbit News Online. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  33. ^ Steve Lang (2006). "Typhoon Durian Triggers Massive Mudslides in the Philippines". NASA. Retrieved February 20, 2007. known as "Reming" in the Philippines

External links

Media files used on this page

Armero aftermath Marso.jpg
Río Lagunillas, former location of Armero.

An explosive eruption from Ruiz's summit crater on November 13, 1985, at 9:08 p.m. generated an eruption column and sent a series of pyroclastic flows and surges across the volcano's broad ice-covered summit. Pumice and meltwater produced by the hot pyroclastic flows and surges swept into gullies and channels on the slopes of Ruiz as a series of small lahars. Flowing downstream from Ruiz at an average speed of 60 km per hour, lahars eroded soil, loose rock debris and stripped vegetation from river channels. By incorporating water and debris from along river channels, the lahars grew in size as they moved away from the volcano--some lahars increased up to 4 times their initial volumes.

Within four hours of the beginning of the eruption, lahars had traveled 100 km and left behind a wake of destruction: more than 23,000 people killed, about 5,000 injured, and more than 5,000 homes destroyed along the Chinchiná, Gualí, and Lagunillas rivers. Hardest hit was the town of Armero at the mouth of the Río Lagunillas canyon, which was located in the center of this photograph. Three quarters of its 28,700 inhabitants perished.

(Amalgamation of sentences taken verbatim from source.)
Author/Creator: Dan Polansky based on work currently attributed to Wikimedia Foundation but originally created by Smurrayinchester, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
A logo derived from File:WiktionaryEn.svg, a logo showing a 3 x 3 matrix of variously rotated tiles with a letter or character on each tile. The derivation consisted in removing the tiles that form the background of each of the shown characters. File:WiktionaryEn.svg is under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike, created by Smurrayinchester, and attributed to Wikimedia Foundation. This is the version without the wordmark.
Hot lahar at Santiaguito.jpg
Hot lahar in the Nima II river, near El Palmar, Guatemala, 1989.
MSH80 mudline muddy river with USGS scientist 10-23-80.jpg
(copied description from USGS site): Nearly 135 miles (220 kilometers) of river channels surrounding the volcano [Mt. St. Helens] were affected by the lahars of May 18, 1980. A mudline left behind on trees shows depths reached by the mud. A scientist (middle right) gives scale. This view is along the Muddy River, southeast of Mount St. Helens.
Sambisari 01.jpg
Author/Creator: Gunawan Kartapranata, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
Sambisari temple, the 9th century Hindu temple burried under volcanic ashes for centuries. Yogyakarta, Indonesia.