Natural Hazards

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 45–61 | Cite as

Volcanic natural dams: identification, stability, and secondary effects

  • Lucia CapraEmail author
Original Paper


Volcanic activity can enhance several secondary effects, including the formation of one or more natural dams. A common example is from volcanic collapse, where huge mass volumes are rapidly emplaced, obstructing the drainage around a volcano. Their duration depends on the volume of the obstructing mass, inflow rate, and on its textural characteristics. A block facies of a debris avalanche produces durable and permeable dams that consist of decimeter to meter-sized blocks without matrix, whereas a mixed facies is easily eroded after overflowing. Analysis of the sedimentological characteristics of different volcaniclastic deposits that formed natural dams indicate that a mean grain size (Md) equal to −1 phi divides the field of debris avalanche dams (Md < −1 phi) from that formed from other types of volcanic deposits. In addition, the matrix proportion of dams formed by debris avalanches are less than the 50% and the percentage of mud fraction is highly variable, up to 30%. Combining the granulometric textures with duration time of the dam shows no clear relation. Dam durability is probably more dependent on the volume of the lake and the inflow rate. Only in some cases, as mud fraction increases is the blockage also less durable because the lower permeability favors rapid infilling. The texture of the dam also determines the types of secondary flows that originate by their breakdown. These vary from cohesive debris flow to hyperconcentrated flow, representing different hazards due to their magnitude and their different behavior downstream.


Natural dam Volcano Volcanic collapse Debris flow 



I would like to acknowledge José Luis Macías and John Duncan Keppie, as well as an anonymous reviewer, who provided useful suggestions. Special thanks to Dr. Catherine Hickson who improved the last version of the manuscript. The ASTER images were acquired from web site. Dr. Kevin Scott from the Cascade Volcano Observatory (USGS) kindly provided support during field work at Mount St. Helens Volcano.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centro de Geociencias, UNAMQueretaroMexico

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