Lava flow impacts on the built environment: Insights from a new global dataset

Journal of Applied Volcanology
By: , and 



The recent destruction of thousands of homes by lava flows from La Palma volcano, Canary Islands, and Nyiragongo volcano, Democratic Republic of Congo, serves as a reminder of the devastating impact that lava flows can have on communities living in volcanically active regions. Damage to buildings and infrastructure can have widespread and long-lasting effects on rehabilitation and livelihoods. Our understanding of how lava flows interact with buildings is limited and based upon sparse empirical data. Often a binary impact is assumed (destroyed when in contact with the flow and intact when not in contact with the flow), although previous events have shown this to be an oversimplification. Empirical damage data collected after past events provide an evidence base from which to better understand lava flow impacts across a range of building types, environments, and eruption styles, as well as to explore the temporal and spatial trends in these impacts. However, information on lava flow impacts is scattered across literature, reports, and maps; no comprehensive dataset of lava flow impacts exists. In this study, we compile and standardise lava flow impact information from previously compiled data, eruption records, and published literature to create the first comprehensive global dataset of impacts on the built environment from lava flows. We found that since the first recorded event between 5494 yr B.P. and 5387 yr B.P., lava flows from at least 155 events have impacted buildings or infrastructure (e.g., roads, electricity pylons, ski-lifts), with most (47%, n = 73) recorded as located in Europe. Over the last century, there have been approximately seven lava flow impact events per decade (n = 71 total). This greatly expands on the past compilations of lava flow impact events. Since ca. 1800 CE, impacts have been consistently documented for less than 14% of recorded eruptions with lava flows globally; prior to 1800 CE, impacts were recorded much more variably (between 0 and 70% of lava flows in any 10-year time bin). The most destructive recorded events were the 1669 CE lava flows at Etna volcano, Italy, which destroyed up to 12 villages and part of the city of Catania, and the 2002 CE lava flows at Nyiragongo volcano, Democratic Republic of Congo, which destroyed up to 14,000 buildings. We found that few studies in the dataset report building typology, damage severity, or hazard intensity at the building-level scale, limiting our ability to assess past building-lava interactions. Future collection of building-level hazard and impact data, supplemented with non-English language records, can be used to inform models that forecast future impacts, support lava flow risk assessments, and develop potential mitigation measures.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Lava flow impacts on the built environment: Insights from a new global dataset
Series title Journal of Applied Volcanology
DOI 10.1186/s13617-023-00140-7
Volume 13
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher Springer Nature
Contributing office(s) Volcano Science Center
Description 1, 19 p.
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