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(U.S.). Immediate And Long-term Hazards From Lahars And Excess Sedimentation In Rivers Draining Mt. Pinatubo
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Flow and Sediment of
the Lahars and Rivers
from the 1991
Eruption of Mount
Pinatubo, Philippines

Background on Location, Eruption, and Lahars:
The location of Mount Pinatubo is about 100km northwest of Manila on the west coast of Luzon Island, which is part of the Luzon
volcanic arc. In this area, the annual rainfall is 1950mm with 60% of that rainfall being within the months of July, August, and
September. The initial eruption occurred on June 15, 1991. It brought devestation and huge changes to the surrounding community and
geography. The eruption created huge sediment yields from pyroclastic material. 5-6km3 of pyroclastic material was deposited on the
flanks of the volcano and 200m of debris filled the river valley after the initial eruption. This sediment was the main fuel in lahars and
fluvial transport.
Lahars are divided into 2 types of flow:
1. Hyperconcentrated flows: These have sediment to water ratio between 20% and 60% in volume and 40% to 80% in weight.
2. Debris Flows: These have greater volumetric and weight ratios than Hyperconcentrated flows. These are so dense that their
vibrations can be seen on seismographs and acoustic flow sensors. They can cause HUGE channel bank erosion and deposition
in lower settlements downstream.
Originally, most sediment was transported by one of these types of lahars but over time, vegetation and stabilizing slopes required
higher intensity and longer duration rainfalls in order to initiate a lahar. Increased sediment from the eruption plus the disturbance
from the eruption and rain caused morphological and hydrological changes that enhanced sediment transport. This would carry on
until watershed recovers and the amount of sediment is reduced. Eventually, increasing amounts of sediments were transported by
natural rivers rather than lahars. Channel responses were affected by magnitude, sediment concentration, and the nature of the
flow. There were an estimated 200+ lahars involving the sediment from this eruption that led into the surrounding rivers. Lahars
feed into, mingle, and affect the surrounding rivers.

Methods of Data Collection:
There were multiple studies done in order to measure transport rates, sediment composition, and the changes or patterns found over
time. The relationship between rainfall duration and intensity in initiating lahars was also examined. The main areas of study were
those of the Pasig-Potrero River and the Sacobia River. In one study, sediment transport rates were measured during 1997-1998 using
the equal-width method done by using the US Geologic Survey DH-48 sampler. This instrument measured the suspended sediment.
From there, bedload discharge was calculated using the width, depth, and surface velocity. In a second study, rain gauges and flow
sensors were used in order to study the relationship between rainfall and initiation of lahars. 6 rain gauges measured rainfall by tipping
for every 1mm that was collected which sent an electric signal out to be recorded. 8 flow sensors measured ground acceleration or
vibrations. This study was done between 1991 and 1997. A third study used radio-telemetric acoustic flow sensors which was similar
to the second study. Debris and Hyperconcentrated lahars have acoustic signals above 300 and 250m3/s discharge. Finally, in a fourth
study, sediment removal and channel response was examined between 1996 and 2003 by looking at grain size, roughness, and
structure. This study also compared transport rates over the years.

Pasig-Potrero River
Sacobia River
Pyroclastic flows buried 33% of the Pasig-Potrero with .3km3 of Acoustic readings showed ranges from debris flows to pyroclastic
lithic sand and pumice after the initial eruption. This filled the
flows affecting this river. Immediate and early lahars here had
valley to 50m. The studies revealed that the flows during storms volumetric sediment concentrations of 63% solids, 27% of which
approached 25m3/s. Large rocks averaged sizes of 1m and
was gravel mainly from pumice and 15% was fine silts and clays.
medium sizes ranged from 2 to 9.8mm. 55% of the bed surface
These lahars were mainly triggered by excessive rain. The
grains were well-rounded and 45% were angular fragments.
frequency of the first few years averaged 1 lahar for every 1.2
Bedload transport rates were high in the rainy season (93 kg/s). It days but could reach 3-5 events per day in the rainy season.
was supplied largely by fine grained sediments of pumice and
Lahars in the monsoon season could be 2-3m deep and 20-50m
lithic, where the pumice was more common but the lithic rocks
wide with surface velocity of 4-8 m/s and peak discharge of
weighed more. The suspended load transport showed
1000m3/s. Typhoon lahars were deeper, faster, and had higher
concentrations up to 20% in volume (Hyperconcentrated flows). discharge. This river impacted y lahars, had high mobility year
They measured that the lahars in 1997 caused 18m of erosion.
round. Originally, 29% of the basin was inundated with
Over time, acoustic readings showed to be slightly decreasing at pyroclastic flow deposits. Pebble clusters and armor patches show
an unsteady pace. Acoustic readings showed ranges from muddy that with enough sand being removed and surface grain size
stream flows to small flow lahars. There was high mobility
increasing, the shear stress is lowered which makes it more
during the rainy season, as was said, but there was also moderate difficult to mobilize sediment.
mobility more upstream in the dry season as well. Sediment
yields on the Pasig-Potrero 6 years after the eruption were still 2
orders higher in magnitude then pre-eruption yields. By 2001,
pumice content was less than 30% of what it was originally and
had moved downstream. Finer grain pyroclast deposition had
washed downstream and larger particles from beneath were once
again emerging.

The occurrence of lahars decreased over time because of the vegetation that began to regrow as slopes stabilized due to the
decrease in the amount of sediment available for transportation. Most lahars were initiated from massive rainfall, mainly found in
the rainy season. High intensity rainfalls over short durations were common with triggering lahars. Due to the decrease in
sediments, however, more and more rain was needed in order to initiate a lahar. Lahar triggering rainfall varied year to year
because of changing physical conditions brought about by erosional sediment movement. By 1998, fluvial stream flows held less
lahars because sediment concentrations were less than 20% in volume. You’d think that the threshold value would increase due to
erosion diminishing volume of material but continuously changing physical conditions make it false. As time went on, lahars
became more diluted because of the depletion of source materials. Sediments inputs decline as upland sources are depleted or
stabilized. Sediment inputs decline causes the shear stress that would be available to transport sediment to decline.
Implications and Discussion:
No set correlation (just an approximate correlation) between rainfall and initiation of lahars or set rainfall threshold has been
distinguished because of continuous geomorphological changes and sudden local changes such as landslides and secondary
eruptions. Stream and river recovery had been prolonged because of the magnitude of sediment loading. This can be described
through a positive feedback loop showing that river transport capacity adjusted through bed-surface grain size caused faster flow
with higher transport efficiency, which allowed more sediment removal, which caused lower sediment supply and therefore sped
watershed recovery. Fluvial sediment transport holds continuous deposition but increases during small thunderstorms and causes
more bed aggredation at the alluvial fanhead. Lahars, however, are less often but account for the majority of sediment yields and
incise the fanheads and deposit sediment downstream of the fans. These studies show that predicting lahars is very difficult
because there are multiple varying factors. These massive events brought on by volcanic eruption bring massive changes to rivers
and surrounding formations. Duration and intensity of rainfall is the main aspect that scientists look at. In addition, lahars play
enormous roles in the movement of sediment and rate at which areas can recover. Some researchers suggest trying to predict future
sediment accumulation using fixed percentages of erosion based off of other volcanoes or using a sediment delivery-rate decay
curve. Because of their strength and damage, it has been suggested that best mitigation strategy is the combination of preventing
settlements in hazardous areas, having a warning system and nearby refuges for safety for those who do live in hazardous areas,
and trying to prevent lahars from reaching settlements by diverting or channeling them.