Lahar risk assessment from source identification to potential impact analysis: the case of Vulcano Island, Italy

Alessandro Gattuso, Costanza Bonadonna, Corine Frischknecht, Sabatino Cuomo, Valérie Baumann, Marco Pistolesi, Sebastien Biass, J. Ramon Arrowsmith, Mariagiovanna Moscariello, Mauro Rosi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Lahars are rapid flows composed of water and volcaniclastic sediments, which have the potential to impact residential buildings and critical infrastructure as well as to disrupt critical services, especially in the absence of hazard-based land-use planning. Their destructive power is mostly associated with their velocity (related to internal flow properties and topographic interactions) and to their ability to bury buildings and structures (due to deposit thickness). The distance reached by lahars depends on their volume, on sediments/water ratio, as well as on the geometrical properties of the topography where they propagate. Here we present the assessment of risk associated with lahar using Vulcano island (Italy) as a case study. First, we estimated an initial lahar source volume considering the remobilisation by intense rain events of the tephra fallout on the slopes of the La Fossa cone (the active system on the island), where the tephra fallout is associated with the most likely scenario (e.g. long-lasting Vulcanian cycle). Second, we modelled and identified the potential syn-eruptive lahar impact areas on the northern sector of Vulcano, where residential and touristic facilities are located. We tested a range of parameters (e.g., entrainment capability, consolidation of tephra fallout deposit, friction angle) that can influence lahar propagation output both in terms of intensity of the event and extent of the inundation area. Finally, exposure and vulnerability surveys were carried out in order to compile exposure and risk maps for lahar-flow front velocity (semi-quantitative indicator-based risk assessment) and final lahar-deposit thickness (qualitative exposure-based risk assessment). Main outcomes show that the syn-eruptive lahar scenario with medium entrainment capability produces the highest impact associated with building burial by the final lahar deposit. Nonetheless, the syn-eruptive lahar scenario with low entrainment capacity is associated with higher runout and results in the highest impact associated with lahar-flow velocities. Based on our simulations, two critical infrastructures (telecommunication and power plant), as well as the main road crossing the island are exposed to potential lahar impacts (either due to lahar-flow velocity or lahar-deposit thickness or both). These results show that a risk-based spatial planning of the island could represent a valuable strategy to reduce the volcanic risk in the long term.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9
JournalJournal of Applied Volcanology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Debris flow
  • Hazard
  • La Fossa volcano
  • Lahar
  • Risk
  • SPH
  • Vulcano Island

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Safety Research
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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