Volcanic flank collapse: diversity of behaviour, hazard generation and controls on volcano evolution

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences


The collapse of volcanoes, resulting from instability, can lead to extremely large landslides. These form avalanches of rock that may travel outwards for tens of kilometres. The impacts of such events can be devastating, destroying all in their path. Such debris avalanches have occurred many times in the past. Field evidence indicates the presence of their deposits around volcanoes worldwide. In some cases, these large landslides may be accompanied by eruption, but at other times, they may occur without a clear link to volcanic activity. Thus, there are different types of edifice collapse that may generate debris avalanches. In addition to generating debris avalanches, the collapse of a portion of a volcano can lead to changes in the subsequent activity of the volcano itself. This change in eruptive behaviour results means that the types of hazard posed by a particular volcanic system may switch through time, as part of a cycle of volcano construction and destruction. Volcanic hazards, related both to landslides and eruption, are at present unpredictable. Only by understanding in more detail the causes of failure, and how failure relates to the hazardous potential of these large landslides, can our forecasting capacity be improved. This project aims to improve our overall understanding of how volcanic debris avalanches are generated, and how different causes or types of collapse result in a range of hazards posed by avalanches. These hazards can be assessed in terms of the timing, style and size of events. The project also aims to place the collapse of volcanoes within the process of volcano formation and destruction. This can be done through understanding how collapse affects magma stored beneath the volcano, and thereby influences later volcanic activity and development. These relationships are fundamental to understanding volcanism. The approach this project will take is to incorporate existing data, from numerous detailed studies of individual volcanoes, with new data from well-known debris avalanche deposits and volcano collapses. I will assess these data for general relationships and patterns relating to the causes of collapse and avalanche processes. The selected field sites are in Mexico and Chile, where several examples of volcanic collapses are well exposed. By taking field-based and chemical measurements, debris avalanches can be placed in a time-context with activity at the collapsed volcano. Additionally, chemical data can be used to understand how magma beneath the volcano has changed through time, in terms of its storage conditions, mixing and ascent. Such data therefore provide information relating to the evolution of volcanoes through time, and how this evolution is impacted by collapse. The field and laboratory results will be strengthened by the application of calculations and models that show how collapse alters the stress and pressure conditions beneath volcanoes. Hence, changes in volcano evolution can be interpreted in light of quantitative data, and relationships between sizes and types of collapse and changes in volcanic behaviour can be better understood. This approach is important for understanding the potential types and impacts of volcanic hazards at individual volcanoes, and how these may differ through time. Further developments of this work will be to apply these finding to understand the behaviour of debris avalanches and their associated hazards in different environments. Such hazards may include changes in debris avalanche flow behaviour, or tsunami generation when debris avalanches interact with water.


10 25 50

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
NE/I02044X/1 19/12/2011 30/09/2013 £241,865
NE/I02044X/2 Transfer NE/I02044X/1 01/10/2013 31/12/2014 £95,120
Description Results from this reserach show that volcanic collapse processes are more complex than previously thought. Many large landslides from volcanoes involve multiple stages of failure, and constraining these accurately is key to producing correct models of hazards from these events. For example, to understand the tsunami-generating potential of these events around ocean island, we need to understand the detailed process of landslide generation. In addition, the research has indicated that volcanic-edifice collapse, generating large landslides, can also feed back into sub-surface processes that control the development of the magma system. As such, collapses drive significant changes in the subsequent behaviour of the volcano, potentially causing different magmatic compositions to reach the surface, and different types of eruptive behaviour to occur. This is providing new insights into what controls the long terms evolution of volcanoes, and how and why the hazard posed by volcanoes may vary through time. Results have been compiled in a paper currently submitted that summarises these findings, in addition to the previous publications entered here. The research has also stimulated additional ongoing projects, in particular investigations of the largest historical volcanic flank-collapse, at Ritter Island in 1888, where the landslide deposit has fully mapped, geophysically surveyed and sampled for the first time, to enable a clearer understanding of collapse generated tsunamis, and of the impact of collapse on the volcanic system.
Exploitation Route The results into landslide complexity have been developed in collaboration with other researchers in an international project to investigate in detail the largest historical example of this type of event. From this, we aim to provide a benchmark for tsunami modellers, to test and develop their models and thereby enable the tsunami hazard at other island volcanoes from volcanic landslides to be more accurately assessed.
The results into the link between edifice growth, collapse and magma storage system processes are being developed through further academic research, and are enhancing our understanding of what dictates the eruptive behaviour displayed by different volcanic systems.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Environment

Description The research has driven associated collaborations and sharing of data (e.g. U. Rhode Island, GEOMAR) and led to ongoing projects. The complexity of the volcano collapse process is becoming apparent from this research, and is significant, for example, for accurately assessing tsunami hazard from such events in coastal settings. In addition, the research has enhanced understanding of the controls on the long-term evolution of volcanic systems, and how and why the behaviour (and hazards) of an individual volcano vary through time. The research was linked to an award from the European Geosciences Union and was the theme of an associated medal lecture and invited publication. The findings are driving further research into volcano evolution and into constraining landslide processes, in collaboration with external partners
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Environment
Description NERC Isotope Geoscience Facility
Amount £38,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2014 
End 01/2015
Description Collapse processes at Jocotitlan and Colima, Mexico 
Organisation National Autonomous University of Mexico
Country Mexico 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Ongoing research into collapse at Mexican volcanoes
Start Year 2012
Description Impacts of volcano collapse at Antuco volcano 
Organisation National Geology and Mining Service
Country Chile 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Ongoing research, in collaboration with Hugo Moreno (Servicio Nacional de Geologia y Mineria, Temuco, Chile)
Collaborator Contribution Sharing of data and transfer of findings, via their associated work, to governmental organisation (SERNAGEOMIN, Chile)
Impact NA
Start Year 2013
Description Numerical modelling of volcanic collapse processes and impact on subsurface magma storage systems 
Organisation University of Savoy
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Hosted for several weeks at Universite de Savoie to use facilities and develop updated numerical models of magma storage systems
Collaborator Contribution Models developed by V. Pinel, Universite de Savoie. Training provided.
Impact NA
Start Year 2013
Description Ritter Island volcanic collapse processes 
Organisation Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Department Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Development of new proposal and associated reserach to complement planned research into collapse deposits around Ritter Island
Collaborator Contribution Sharing of data and results from forthcoming research cruise into deposits offshore Ritter Island (seismic data), including participation in research.
Impact NA
Start Year 2014
Description Multiple public talks and exhibits related to the research project (West Midlands region) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Several talks and outreach events have been given by the investigators involved in this project. Examples include an exhibit at a recent arts and science evening event (Lapworth Lates) held in the Lapworth Museum, Birmingham, where an exhibit showed samples, video and images relating to the research, as a starting point to stimulate discussions with a broad public audience. Other examples include a presentation of the reserach at the upcoming Pint of Science festival (Birmingham), and a talk to school and local interest groups at the Shropshire Geological Society.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020
Description Series of public reserach talks at Bandung Institute of Technology, Indonesia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Following the field element of this project in Indonesia, and building on our partnership with Indonesian collaborators, four members of the reserach team presented a series of talks at Bandung Intsitute of Technology, Indonesia, about the aims of the project and initial results. The talks were given in the university but also live-streamed to a public audience. Following the talks, there was an open discussion between the speakers and the audience, including several questions from the public audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.itb.ac.id/news/read/57208/home/peneliti-itb-bersama-para-geologist-inggris-lakukan-penel...