Phreatic eruptions at crater lakes: occurrence statistics and probabilistic hazard forecast

Karen Strehlow*, Laura Sandri, Joachim H. Gottsmann, Geoff Kilgour, Alison C. Rust, Roberto Tonini

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
446 Downloads (Pure)


Phreatic eruptions, although posing a serious threat to people in crater proximity, are often underestimated and have been comparatively understudied. The detailed eruption catalogue for Ruapehu Volcano (New Zealand) provides an exceptional opportunity to study the statistics of recurring phreatic explosions at a crater lake volcano. We performed a statistical analysis on this phreatic eruption database, which suggests that phreatic events at Ruapehu do not follow a Poisson process. Instead they tend to cluster, which is possibly linked to an increased heat flow during periods of a more shallow-seated magma column. Larger explosions are more likely to follow shortly after smaller events, as opposed to longer periods of quiescence. The absolute probability for a phreatic explosion to occur at Ruapehu within the next month is about 10%, when averaging over the last 70 years of recording. However, the frequency of phreatic explosions is significantly higher than the background level in years prior to magmatic episodes. Combining clast ejection simulations with a Bayesian event tree tool (PyBetVH) we perform a probabilistic assessment of the hazard due to ballistic ejecta in the summit area of Ruapehu, which is frequently visited by hikers. Resulting hazard maps show that the absolute probability for the summit to be affected by ballistics within the next month is up to 6%. The hazard is especially high on the northern lakeshore, where there is a mountain refuge. Our results contribute to the local hazard assessment as well as the general perception of hazards due to steam-driven explosions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Applied Volcanology
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2017


  • Ballistic ejecta
  • Phreatic eruptions
  • Probabilistic hazard assessment
  • PyBetVH
  • Ruapehu


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