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Open-File Report 2012-1078

Preliminary Observations of Voluminous Ice-Rich and Water-Rich Lahars Generated During the 2009 Eruption of Redoubt Volcano, Alaska

By Christopher F. Waythomas, Thomas C. Pierson, Jon J. Major, and William E. Scott


Redoubt Volcano in south-central Alaska began erupting on March 15, 2009, and by April 4, 2009, had produced at least 20 explosive events that generated plumes of ash and lahars. The 3,108-m high, snow- and -ice-clad stratovolcano has an ice-filled summit crater that is breached to the north. The volcano supports about 4 km3 of ice and snow and about 1 km3 of this makes up the Drift glacier on the northern side of the volcano. Explosive eruptions between March 22 and April 4, which included the destruction of at least two lava domes, triggered significant lahars in the Drift River valley on March 23 and April 4 and several smaller lahars between March 24 and March 31. High-flow marks, character of deposits, areas of inundation, and estimates of flow velocity revealed that the lahars on March 23 and April 4 were the largest of the eruption. In the 2-km-wide upper Drift River valley, average flow depths were about 3–5 m. Average peak-flow velocities were likely between 10 and 15 ms-1, and peak discharges were on the order of 104–105 m3s-1. The area inundated by lahars on March 23 was at least 100 km2 and on April 4 about 125 km2. The lahars emplaced on March 23 and April 4 had volumes on the order of 107–108 m3 and were similar in size to the largest lahar of the 1989–90 eruption. The March 23 lahars were primarily flowing slurries of snow and ice entrained from the Drift glacier and seasonal snow and tabular blocks of river ice from the Drift River valley. Only a single, undifferentiated deposit up to 5 m thick was found and contained about 80–95 percent of poorly sorted, massive to imbricate assemblages of snow and ice. The deposit was frozen soon after it was emplaced and later eroded and buried by the April 4 lahar. The lahar of April 4, in contrast, was primarily a hyperconcentrated flow, as interpreted from 1- to 6-m thick deposits of massive to horizontally stratified sand-to-fine-gravel. Rock material in the April 4 lahar deposit is predominantly juvenile andesite. We infer that the lahars generated on March 23 were initiated by a rapid succession of vent-clearing explosions that blasted through about 50–100 m of crater-filling glacier ice and snow, producing a voluminous release of meltwater from the Drift glacier. The resulting flood eroded and entrained snow, fragments of glacier and river ice, and liquid water along its flow path. Small-volume pyroclastic flows, possibly associated with destruction of a small dome or minor eruption-column collapses, may have contributed additional meltwater to the lahar. Meltwater generated by subglacial hydrothermal activity and stored beneath the Drift glacier may have been ejected or released rapidly as well. The April 4 lahar was initiated when hot dome-collapse pyroclastic flows entrained and swiftly melted snow and ice, and incorporated additional rock debris from the Drift glacier. The peak discharge of the April 4 lahar was in the range of 60,000–160,000 m3s-1. For comparison, the largest lahar of the 1989–90 eruption had a peak discharge of about 80,000 m3s-1. Lahars generated by the 2009 eruption led to significant channel aggradation in the lower Drift River valley and caused extensive inundation at an oil storage and transfer facility located there. The April 4, 2009, lahar was 6–30 times larger than the largest meteorological floods known or estimated in the Drift River drainage.

First posted April 25, 2012

For additional information contact:
Scientist-In-Charge, Alaska Volcano Observatory
U.S. Geological Survey
4210 University Drive
Anchorage, Alaska 99508-4650

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Suggested citation:

Waythomas, C.F., Pierson, T.C., Major, J.J., and Scott, W.E., 2012, Preliminary observations of voluminous ice-rich and water-rich lahars generated during the 2009 eruption of Redoubt, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012-1078, 42 p.




Eruption Effects on the Drift Glacier in 2009

2009 Eruption and Lahars

Deposit Characteristics of March 23 and April 4 Lahars

Discharge and Volume Estimates




References Cited

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