Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 166–175 | Cite as

Pyroclastic flows from the 1991 eruption of Unzen volcano, Japan

  • Takahiro Yamamoto
  • Shinji Takarada
  • Shigeru Suto


Pyroclastic flows from Unzen were generated by gravitational collapse of the growing lava dome. As soon as the parental lobe failed at the edge of the dome, spontaneous shattering of lava occurred and induced a gravity flow of blocks and finer debris. The flows had a overhanging, tongue-like head and cone- or rollershaped vortices expanding outward and upward. Most of the flows traveled from 1 to 3 km, but some flows reached more than 4 km, burning houses and killing people in the evacuated zone of Kita-kamikoba on the eastern foot of the volcano. The velocities of the flows ranged from 15 to 25 m/s on the gentle middle flank. Observations of the flows and their deposits suggest that they consisted of a dense basal avalanche and an overlying turbulent ash cloud. The basal avalanche swept down a topographic low and formed to tongue-like lobe having well-defined levees; it is presumed to have moved as a non-Newtonian fluid. The measured velocities and runout distances of the flows can be matched to a Bingham model for the basal avalanche by the addition of turbulent resistance. The rheologic model parameters for the 29 May flow are as follows: the density is 1300 kg/m3, the yield strength is 850 Pa, the viscosity is 90 Pa s, and the thickness of the avalanche is 2 m. The ash cloud is interpreted as a turbulent mixing layer above the basal avalanche. The buoyant portions of the cloud produced ash-fall deposits, whereas the dense portions moved as a surge separated from the parental avalanche. The ash-cloud surges formed a wide devastated zone covered by very thin debris. The initial velocities of the 3 June surges, when they detached from avalanches, are determined by the runout distance and the angle of the energy-line slope. A comparison between the estimated velocities of the 3 June avalanches and the surges indicates that the surges that extended steep slopes along the avalanche path, detached directly from the turbulent heads of the avalanches. The over-running surge that reached Kita-Kamikoba had an estimated velocity higher than that of the avalanche; this farther-travelled surge is presumed to have been generated by collapse of a rising ash-cloud plume.

Key words

Unzen volcano Japan 1991 eruption pyroclastic flow ash-cloud surge lava dome velocity 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Takahiro Yamamoto
    • 1
  • Shinji Takarada
    • 2
  • Shigeru Suto
    • 3
  1. 1.Geology DepartmentGeological Survey of JapanTsukubaJapan
  2. 2.Hokkaido BranchGeological Survey of JapanSapporoJapan
  3. 3.Kyushu CenterGeological Survey of JapanFukuokaJapan

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