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Rainfall-runoff properties of tephra: simulated effects of grain-size and antecedent rainfall

Jones, Robbie; Thomas, Robert E.; Peakall, Jeff; Manville, Vern


Robbie Jones

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Dr Robert Thomas
Senior Research Fellow in Geomorphology and Flood Risk

Jeff Peakall

Vern Manville


Rain-triggered lahars (RTLs) are a significant and often persistent secondary volcanic hazard at many volcanoes around the world. Rainfall on unconsolidated volcaniclastic material is the primary initiation mechanism of RTLs: the resultant flows have the potential for large runout distances (> 100 km) and present a substantial hazard to downstream infrastructure and communities. RTLs are frequently anticipated in the aftermath of eruptions, but the pattern, timing and scale of lahars varies on an eruption-by-eruption and even catchment-by-catchment basis. This variability is driven by a set of local factors including the grain size distribution, thickness, stratigraphy and spatial distribution of source material in addition to topography, vegetation coverage and rainfall conditions. These factors are often qualitatively discussed in RTL studies based on post-eruption lahar observations or instrumental detections. Conversely, this study aims to move towards a quantitative assessment of RTL hazard in order to facilitate RTL predictions and forecasts based on constrained rainfall, grain size distribution and isopach data. Calibrated simulated rainfall and laboratory-constructed tephra beds are used within a repeatable experimental set-up to isolate the effects of individual parameters and to examine runoff and infiltration processes from analogous RTL source conditions.

Laboratory experiments show that increased antecedent rainfall and finer-grained surface tephra individually increase runoff rates and decrease runoff lag times, while a combination of these factors produces a compound effect. These impacts are driven by increased residual moisture content and decreased permeability due to surface sealing, and have previously been inferred from downstream observations of lahars but not identified at source. Water and sediment transport mechanisms differ based on surface grain size distribution: a fine-grained surface layer displayed airborne remobilisation, accretionary pellet formation, rapid surface sealing and infiltration-excess overland flow generation whilst a coarse surface layer demonstrated exclusively rainsplash-driven particle detachment throughout the rainfall simulations. This experimental protocol has the potential to quantitatively examine the effects of a variety of individual parameters in RTL initiation under controlled conditions.


Jones, R., Thomas, R. E., Peakall, J., & Manville, V. (2017). Rainfall-runoff properties of tephra: simulated effects of grain-size and antecedent rainfall. Geomorphology, 282, 39-51.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 23, 2016
Online Publication Date Jan 12, 2017
Publication Date Apr 1, 2017
Deposit Date Oct 29, 2018
Publicly Available Date Oct 29, 2018
Journal Geomorphology
Print ISSN 0169-555X
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 282
Pages 39-51
Keywords Earth-Surface Processes
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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