Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Volcanology Editors' Highlights

The Ability of Pyroclastic Flows to Generate Tsunamis

Lab experiments of fluidized granular flows entering the water shed light on the dynamics of tsunami generation by fast-moving, pyroclastic density currents at volcanic islands or coastal volcanoes.

Source: Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth


The sudden displacement of water that commonly generates tsunamis can have various triggering mechanisms. Although earthquake-induced tsunamis are by far the best known, and warning systems are mainly structured to deal with this category, there is a plethora of mechanisms related to volcanic edifices and their activity that are also are able to trigger tsunamis. These include underwater explosions, slope instabilities causing submarine and subaerial landslides, flank and caldera collapses, and pyroclastic flows. All of these make coastal communities living close to active volcanoes particularly vulnerable.

Laboratory experiments carried out by Bougouin et al. [2020] on fluidized granular flows impacting the water after travelling along an inclined plane show how the sustained high gas pore pressure of the mixture ensures the dynamic similarity with natural pyroclastic flows entering the sea. The main characteristics of the generated waves are controlled by mixture dynamics, mass flux and volume of the fluidized granular flow. It is also shown how in the near field region the maximum water depth did not affect wave features and can thus be disregarded.

In addition to the macroscopic dynamics of the process (formation of an initial single vertical granular jet over water followed by the leading wave and by low-amplitude waves, coupled with a turbulent mixing zone forming an underwater turbidity current), it is also shown that grain-size and nature of the moving flow (dry, non-fluidized granular flows, fluidized granular flows or water flows) can unexpectedly play a major role in wave generation.

Citation: Bougouin, A., Paris, R., & Roche, O. [2020]. Impact of fluidized granular flows into water: Implications for tsunamis generated by pyroclastic flows. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 125, e2019JB018954.

—Marco Pistolesi, Associate Editor, JGR: Solid Earth

Text © 2020. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Except where otherwise noted, images are subject to copyright. Any reuse without express permission from the copyright owner is prohibited.