VHP Photo Glossary: Pyroclastic Flow

Pyroclastic flow rushes down side of Mayon Volcano, Philippines

Photograph by C. Newhall on 15 September 1984

Pyroclastic flow

A pyroclastic flow is a ground-hugging avalanche of hot ash, pumice, rock fragments, and volcanic gas that rushes down the side of a volcano as fast as 100 km/hour or more. The temperature within a pyroclastic flow may be greater than 500° C, sufficient to burn and carbonize wood. Once deposited, the ash, pumice, and rock fragments may deform (flatten) and weld together because of the intense heat and the weight of the overlying material.


Photo 1: Pyroclastic flow sweeps down the side of Mayon Volcano, Philippines,  during an explosive eruption on 15 September 1984. Note the ground-hugging cloud of ash (lower left) that is billowing from the pyroclastic flow and the eruption column rising from the top of the volcano.


Pyroclastic flow rushes down side of Mayon Volcano, Philippines

Photograph by C. Newhall on 15 September 1984

Photo 2: Pyroclastic flows descend the south-eastern flank of Mayon Volcano, Philippines. Maximum height of the eruption column was 15 km above sea level, and volcanic ash fell within about 50 km toward the west. There were no casualties from the 1984 eruption because more than 73,000 people evacuated the danger zones as recommended by scientists of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.


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