The relative effectiveness of empirical and physical models for simulating the dense undercurrent of pyroclastic flows under different emplacement conditions

S.E. Ogburn, Eliza Calder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

High concentration pyroclastic density currents (PDCs) are hot avalanches of volcanic rock and gas and are among the most destructive volcanic hazards due to their speed and mobility. Mitigating the risk associated with these flows depends upon accurate forecasting of possible impacted areas, often using empirical or physical models. TITAN2D, VolcFlow, LAHARZ, and ΔH/L or energy cone models each employ different rheologies or empirical relationships and therefore differ in appropriateness of application for different types of mass flows and topographic environments. This work seeks to test different statistically- and physically-based models against a range of PDCs of different volumes, emplaced under different conditions, over different topography in order to test the relative effectiveness, operational aspects, and ultimately, the utility of each model for use in hazard assessments. The purpose of this work is not to rank models, but rather to understand the extent to which the different modeling approaches can replicate reality in certain conditions, and to explore the dynamics of PDCs themselves. In this work, these models are used to recreate the inundation areas of the dense-basal undercurrent of all 13 mapped, land-confined, Soufrière Hills Volcano dome-collapse PDCs emplaced from 1996 to 2010 to test the relative effectiveness of different computational models. Best-fit model results and their input parameters are compared with results using observation- and deposit-derived input parameters. Additional comparison is made between best-fit model results and those using empirically-derived input parameters from the FlowDat global database, which represent “forward” modeling simulations as would be completed for hazard assessment purposes. Results indicate that TITAN2D is able to reproduce inundated areas well using flux sources, although velocities are often unrealistically high. VolcFlow is also able to replicate flow runout well, but does not capture the lateral spreading in distal regions of larger-volume flows. Both models are better at reproducing the inundated area of single-pulse, valley-confined, smaller-volume flows than sustained, highly unsteady, larger-volume flows, which are often partially unchannelized. The simple rheological models of TITAN2D and VolcFlow are not able to recreate all features of these more complex flows. LAHARZ is fast to run and can give a rough approximation of inundation, but may not be appropriate for all PDCs and the designation of starting locations is difficult. The ΔH/L cone model is also very quick to run and gives reasonable approximations of runout distance, but does not inherently model flow channelization or directionality and thus unrealistically covers all interfluves. Empirically-based models like LAHARZ and ΔH/L cones can be quick, first-approximations of flow runout, provided a database of similar flows, e.g., FlowDat, is available to properly calculate coefficients or ΔH/L. For hazard assessment purposes, geophysical models like TITAN2D and VolcFlow can be useful for producing both scenario-based or probabilistic hazard maps, but must be run many times with varying input parameters. LAHARZ and ΔH/L cones can be used to produce simple modeling-based hazard maps when run with a variety of input volumes, but do not explicitly consider the probability of occurrence of different volumes. For forward modeling purposes, the ability to derive potential input parameters from global or local databases is crucial, though important input parameters for VolcFlow cannot be empirically estimated. Not only does this work provide a useful comparison of the operational aspects and behavior of various models for hazard assessment, but it also enriches conceptual understanding of the dynamics of the PDCs themselves.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
Publication statusPublished - 17 Nov 2017


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