Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A lahar is a mixture of rock, mud, and water that flows down from a volcano (or occasionally other mountains), typically along a river valley. The term originated in Indonesia, meaning "lava" in Javanese.
Lahars have the consistency of concrete: wet when moving, then solid when stopped. Lahars can be huge: the lahar produced 5,600 years ago by Mount Rainier in Washington state produced a wall of mud 180 m (600 feet) deep in the White River canyon and extends over an area of over 320 km².
Lahars can be extremely dangerous, because of their energy and speed: large lahars can flow several tens of meters per second, and can flow for many kilometres, causing catastrophic destruction along the way. The lahars from the Nevado del Ruiz eruption in Colombia in 1985 killed an estimated 23,000 people who were buried under 8 m (26 ft) of mud and debris. The 1953 Tangiwai disaster in New Zealand was caused by a lahar.
Lahars have several possible causes :
- Snow and glaciers can be melted by a pyroclastic flow during an eruption
- A flood caused by a glacier, lake breakout, or heavy rainfall can release a lahar, also called glacier run or jökulhlaup.
- A sudden landslide, not associated with a major eruption, can trigger a lahar.
The last two causes can cause a lahar with no warning, which adds to the danger.
Several mountains in the world, including Mount Rainier, Mount Ruapehu in New Zealand, and Galunggung in Indonesia, are considered particularly dangerous due to the risk of lahars. Several towns in the Puyallup River valley in Washington state, including Orting, the closest to Mount Rainier, are built on top of lahar deposits that are only about 500 years old. Lahars are predicted to flow through the valley every 500-1000 years, so Orting, Sumner, Puyallup, Fife, and the Port of Tacoma face considerable risk. The USGS has set up lahar warning sirens in Pierce County, so that people can flee the approaching debris flow. A lahar warning system is also being set up at Mount Ruapehu by the New Zealand Department of Conservation.
Lahar is also the name of a Babylonian goddess of domestic animals.
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