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Lahar—River of volcanic mud and debris

May 9, 2018

Lahar, an Indonesian word for volcanic mudflow, is a mixture of water, mud, and volcanic rock flowing swiftly along a channel draining a volcano. Lahars can form during or after eruptions, or even during periods of inactivity. They are among the greatest threats volcanoes pose to people and property. Lahars can occur with little to no warning, and may travel great distances at high speeds, destroying or burying everything in their paths.

Lahars form in many ways. They commonly occur when eruptions melt snow and ice on snow-clad volcanoes; when rains fall on steep slopes covered with fresh volcanic ash; when crater lakes, volcano glaciers or lakes dammed by volcanic debris suddenly release water; and when volcanic landslides evolve into flowing debris. Lahars are especially likely to occur at erupting or recently active volcanoes.

Because lahars are so hazardous, U.S. Geological Survey scientists pay them close attention. They study lahar deposits and limits of inundation, model flow behavior, develop lahar-hazard maps, and work with community leaders and governmental authorities to help them understand and minimize the risks of devastating lahars.