The Merapi 2010 eruption: An interdisciplinary impact assessment methodology for studying pyroclastic density current dynamics

S Jenkins, J.-C. Komorowski, P.J. Baxter, R. Spence, A. Picquout, F. Lavigne, S Surono

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

13 Citations (Scopus)


The large explosive eruption of Merapi volcano, Indonesia, in 2010 presented a key, and rare, opportunity to study the impacts of a major explosive eruption in a densely populated area. Pyroclastic density currents (PDCs) produced throughout the 2010 eruption were unusually destructive, causing near complete devastation
across a 22 km2 swath of the densely populated southern flanks and casualties to the end of their runout at 15.5 km from the volcano. The majority (>120) of the more than 200 fatalities occurred more than 12 km from the volcano, where many people were caught in PDCs as they were evacuating. The 2010 eruption (VEI 4) exhibited a range of PDC behaviour in a complex multi-stage event that marked a change in eruption style and behaviour at Merapi, being the first eruption of this magnitude and style since 1872. This shift in style may mark a change in regime and so understanding the potential impact of such large explosive eruptions is essential for future risk-assessment at Merapi. We describe a new impact assessment methodology that allowed us to collect important empirical geological, damage and casualty information and reconstruct impact dynamics associated with the PDCs. In contrast to previous PDC impact studies, we combined remote, field, laboratory and GIS assessments and were able to enter the affected areas safely and before their disturbance by rains or human activity. By integrating the results of our geological, damage and medical studies, we could reconstruct the spatial and temporal dynamics of the PDCs and their main hazard characteristics. Our interdisciplinary methods and preliminary findings are discussed here. In the areas damaged by PDCs, we used empirical damage data and calculations of material and structural resistance to lateral force to estimate approximate dynamic pressures. Dynamic pressures associated with the 5 November paroxysm exceeded 15 kPa more than 6 km from source and rapidly attenuated over a distance of less than 1 km at the end of the PDC runouts. Analysis of thermal indicators, such as deformed plastic, and correlation with information on burns injuries and fires provided estimates of ambient temperatures associated with the PDCs. Even at the relatively low temperatures estimated for the PDCs (200-300°C) they were lethal to people inside as well as
outside buildings, in part because of the building design that enabled the PDCs to rapidly infiltrate inside. Such detailed quantitative data can be used to support numerical PDC and impact modelling and risk assessment at dome-forming volcanoes, providing an improved understanding of the complexity of PDCs and their associated impacts on exposed populations.
Translated title of the contributionThe Merapi 2010 eruption: A new multi-disciplinary impact assessment methodology for studying pyroclastic density currents for the purposes of volcanic risk mitigation
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)316-329
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Issue numberMerapi eruption
Early online date28 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013


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