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U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5176–C

Lahar Hazard Zones for Eruption-Generated Lahars in the Lassen Volcanic Center, California

By Joel E. Robinson and Michael A. Clynne

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (5.8 MB)Abstract

Lahar deposits are found in drainages that head on or near Lassen Peak in northern California, demonstrating that these valleys are susceptible to future lahars. In general, lahars are uncommon in the Lassen region. Lassen Peak’s lack of large perennial snowfields and glaciers limits its potential for lahar development, with the winter snowpack being the largest source of water for lahar generation. The most extensive lahar deposits are related to the May 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak, and evidence for pre-1915 lahars is sparse and spatially limited. The May 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak was a small-volume eruption that generated a snow and hot-rock avalanche, a pyroclastic flow, and two large and four smaller lahars. The two large lahars were generated on May 19 and 22 and inundated sections of Lost and Hat Creeks. We use 80 years of snow depth measurements from Lassen Peak to calculate average and maximum liquid water depths, 2.02 meters (m) and 3.90 m respectively, for the month of May as estimates of the 1915 lahars. These depths are multiplied by the areal extents of the eruptive deposits to calculate a water volume range, 7.05–13.6x106 cubic meters (m3). We assume the lahars were a 50/50 mix of water and sediment and double the water volumes to provide an estimate of the 1915 lahars, 13.2–19.8x106 m3. We use a representative volume of 15x106 m3 in the software program LAHARZ to calculate cross-sectional and planimetric areas for the 1915 lahars. The resultant lahar inundation zone reasonably portrays both of the May 1915 lahars.

We use this same technique to calculate the potential for future lahars in basins that head on or near Lassen Peak. LAHARZ assumes that the total lahar volume does not change after leaving the potential energy, H/L, cone (the height of the edifice, H, down to the approximate break in slope at its base, L); therefore, all water available to initiate a lahar is contained inside this cone. Because snow is the primary source of water for lahar generation, we assume that the maximum historical water equivalent, 3.90 m, covers the entire basin area inside the H/L cone. The product of planimetric area of each basin inside the H/L and the maximum historical water equivalent yields the maximum water volume available to generate a lahar. We then double the water volumes to approximate maximum lahar volumes. The maximum lahar volumes and an understanding of the statistical uncertainties inherent to the LAHARZ calculations guided our selection of six hypothetical volumes, 1, 3, 10, 30, 60, and 90x106 m3, to delineate concentric lahar inundation zones.

The lahar inundation zones extend, in general, tens of kilometers away from Lassen Peak. The small, more-frequent lahar inundation zones (1 and 3x106 m3) are, on average, 10 km long. The exceptions are the zones in Warner Creek and Mill Creek, which extend much further. All but one of the small, more-frequent lahar inundation zones reach outside of the Lassen Volcanic National Park boundary, and the zone in Mill Creek extends well past the park boundary. All of the medium, moderately frequent lahar inundation zones (10 and 30x106 m3) extend past the park boundary and could potentially impact the communities of Viola and Old Station and State Highways 36 and 44, both north and west of Lassen Peak. The approximately 27-km-long on average, large, less-frequent lahar inundation zones (60 and 90x106 m3) represent worst-case lahar scenarios that are unlikely to occur. Flood hazards continue downstream from the toes of the lahars, potentially affecting communities in the Sacramento River Valley.

         See also:
  • SIR 2012–5176–A, Volcano Hazards Assessment for the Lassen Region, Northern California
  • This report is available only on the Web.

For additional information:
Contact CalVO
Volcano Science Center, California Volcano Observatory
U.S. Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Road, MS 910
Menlo Park, CA 94025

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Suggested citation:

Robinson, J.E., Clynne, M.A., 2012, Lahar hazard zones for eruption-generated lahars in the Lassen Volcanic Center, California: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5176–C, 13 p. (Available at





Calculating Lahar Inundation Zones for the May 1915 Eruptions

Calculating Lahar Inundation Zones




References Cited

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