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Volcano Web Shorts 2: Debris Flows

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Volcano Web Shorts #2

Debris Flows

Featuring Dick Iverson

Dick Iverson:

My name is Richard Iverson. I’m a research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey Cascades Volcano Observatory here in Vancouver, Washington.

My work focuses particularly on the dynamics of debris flows, debris avalanches and other kinds of mass movements that occur at volcanoes and also can occur in other settings as well.

Debris flows are basically masses of rock and mud and water that travel rapidly down slopes and down stream under the action of gravity. Volcanoes are a particularly ripe setting for large debris flows and debris flow disasters in part because they’re these huge steep piles of rubble and there’s nearly an infinite supply of lose debris sitting there that can possibly get involved in one of these flows.

It’s important to realize that the hazard around volcanoes like those we have in the northwest goes well beyond the immediate environs of the volcano. It extends well down stream in lowlands perhaps as much as 100 kilometers away from the volcano. As a result of these long traveled debris flows.

The goal of the research group that I lead is quantitative forecasting of hazards from debris avalanches and debris flows. That work involves several components. There’s a field component that entails simply observing and measuring what happens when these events occur naturally in the field. There’s a laboratory, experimentation component that involves making artificial debris flows at our USGS debris flow flume. And then there’s a mathematical modeling component that involves deriving appropriate equations to describe the behavior. And then there’s the task of actually solving those equations and portraying predictions on a computer.

The experimental component of our work is conducted largely at a facility we call the USGS Debris Flow Flume. This is basically a huge concrete chute built on a steep hillside about 50 miles east of Eugene, Oregon. And what we do at this facility is mix up batches of debris that are very similar to natural debris in debris flows and then let them flow down the chute a distance of about 100 meters. And this allows us to make lots of measurements under controlled conditions. It additionally allows us to repeat the experiment over and over to make sure that we’re getting replicable results. And without that kind of experimental testing it would really be difficult to know whether our models are performing as well as we would like them to.

Some of our models have been used extensively throughout the world for making long-range hazard forecasts and also sometimes implemented in sort of an emergency situation as well. And that’s really gratifying to see the science has that kind of practical application. This work really does lead to saving of lives and additionally to protection of property to some degree.



Title: Volcano Web Shorts 2: Debris Flows


Debris flows are hazardous flows of rock, sediment and water that surge down mountain slopes and into adjacent valleys. Hydrologist Richard Iverson describes the nature of debris-flow research and explains how debris flow experiments are conducted at the USGS Debris Flow Flume, west of Eugene, Oregon. Spectacular debris flow footage, recorded by Franck Lavigne of the Universite Paris, makes clear the destructive power of these flows.

Location: Vancouver, WA, USA

Date Taken: 5/10/2012

Length: 3:34

Video Producer: Stephen M. Wessells , U.S. Geological Survey

Note: This video has been released into the public domain by the U.S. Geological Survey for use in its entirety. Some videos may contain pieces of copyrighted material. If you wish to use a portion of the video for any purpose, other than for resharing/reposting the video in its entirety, please contact the Video Producer/Videographer listed with this video. Please refer to the USGS Copyright section for how to credit this video.

Additional Video Credits:

A Production of:
USGS Volcano Hazards Program USGS Office of Communications & Publishing

Produced by
Stephen M. Wessells

Executive Producers
John Ewert Thomas Murray

Carolyn Driedger

On-Camera Expert
Richard Iverson

Richard Lyons

Haydon Lane

Additional Photographs & Video
USGS Numerous

Debris Flow Footage
Franck Lavigne, Universite Paris

Post-Production Assistant
Jennifer Weible

Lisa Faust


For more information go to: Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO) Site

File Details:

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Tags: DebrisFlow DebrisFlowFlume DebrisFlows DickIverson FranckLavigne Hydrologist RichardIverson USGS VolcanicHazards Volcanoes eruption volcano


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