Lahars Caused by Lake Breakouts
Lake breakouts commonly occur weeks to months after a river or one of its tributaries become blocked by a landslide or other volcanic deposits, especially pyroclastic flows and lahars. The most frequent cause of a lake breakout is the overflow of water across the newly formed dam and subsequent erosion and rapid downcutting into the loose rock debris. As more water rushes from the lake, the initial channel grows deeper and wider, which allows even more water to surge downstream. By eroding the blockage and river channel downstream, the initial surge of water will incorporate a tremendous volume of sediment and increase in volume two to four times or more as it races downvalley.
Castle Lake, Mount St. Helens, Washington
Blocked by the massive landslide that slid from Mount St. Helens during an eruption on May 18, 1980, Castle Creek quickly filled with water to form a lake (center left). In 1981, concern among scientists and public officials about the possibility of a sudden lahar caused by the breakout of water from Castle Lake led the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to excavate an outlet channel and line it with heavy wire mesh and boulders. The new channel prevented the lake from overtopping its new debris dam. The water level and stability of the blockage is still monitored by scientists of the U.S. Geological Survey.
Hundreds of lahars triggered by heavy rain formed after the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo. The rainwater eroded loose, hot pyroclastic flow deposits (shown here) that filled river valleys around the volcano to depths of 220 meters. The lahars not only covered large areas downstream with sediment,destroying homes and farmland, but also temporarily blocked tributary streams.