Numerical Analysis of a Potential Debris Flow Event on the Irazú Volcano, Costa Rica Open image in new window

  • Marina PirulliEmail author
  • Rolando Mora
Conference paper


The active Irazú Volcano is the highest of several composite volcanic cones which make up the Cordillera Central in Costa Rica, close to the city of Cartago. The top of the volcano is strategic for the Country, since at the height of over 3400 m sit 84 telecommunication towers used by government agencies and several TV and radio stations, which guarantee the station coverage of more than 60 percent of the national territory. Since December 2014, a series of minor tremors, or microseisms, occurred at the Irazú and some open and deep fissures formed on the upper part of the volcano associated with formation of landslides. More research is needed to determine if these fissures are directly related to recent seismic activity. However, the landslide formation has made it necessary to relocate the towers and there is evidence of the possible destabilization of a volume of about 3.5 million cubic meters of material. In particular, if the landslide triggers in conjunction with heavy rains the movement could evolve into a huge debris flow that could affect Cartago city, similar to the debris flow disaster of December 1963. The dynamics of this potential event have been analyzed using the numerical code RASH3D. The calculated flow intensities and flow paths could be used to support hazard mapping and the design of mitigation measures. The reliability of the obtained results are a function of assumptions regarding source areas, magnitudes of possible debris flows and calibration of rheological characteristics, but also digital terrain model (DTM) quality. As to this last aspect, a systematic comparison of numerical results, DTM and air photos enabled identification of various weak points of the digital terrain model and identified potentially critical zones due to the presence of man-made structures.


Irazú Slope stability Debris flows Numerical simulation 


  1. Alvarado GE (1993) Volcanology and petrology of Irazu Volcano. Thesis, Kiel Univ, Germany, Costa RicaGoogle Scholar
  2. Alvarado GE, Schmincke HU (1993) Stratigraphic and sedimentological aspects of the rain-triggered lahars of the 1963-1965 Irazu eruption. Costa Rica Zbl Geol Paläont 1(2):513–530Google Scholar
  3. Mangeney-Castelnau A, Vilotte JP, Bristeau MO, Perthame B, Bouchut F, Simeoni C, Yerneni S (2003) Numerical modelling of avalanche based on saint Venant equations using a kinetic scheme. J Geophys Res 108:B11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. McDougall S, Hungr O (2005) Dynamic modelling of entrainment in rapid landslides. Can Geot J 42:1437–1448CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Pierson TC (1998) An empirical method for estimating travel times for wet volcanic mass flows. Bull Volcan 60:98–109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Pirulli M (2005) Numerical modelling of landslide runout, a continuum mechanics approach. PhD Thesis, Politecnico di Torino, Torino, ItalyGoogle Scholar
  7. Pirulli M, Bristeau MO, Mangeney A, Scavia C (2007) The effect of earth pressure coefficient on the runout of granular material. Env Model & Softw 22(10):1437–1454CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Pirulli M, Sorbino G (2008) Assessing potential debris flow runout: a comparison ot two simulation models. Nat Hazards Earth System Sci 8:961–971CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Pirulli M, Pastor M (2012) Numerical study on the entrainment of bed material into rapid landslides. Geotechnique 62(11):959–972CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Quan Luna B (2007) Assessment and modelling of two lahars caused by “Hurricane Stan” at Atitlan, Guatemala. M.S. Thesis, University of Oslo, Oslo, NorwayGoogle Scholar
  11. Smith GA, Lowe DR (1991) Lahars: volcano-hydrologic events and deposition in the debris flow–hyperconcentrated flow continuum. In: Fisher RV, Smith GA (eds), Sedimentation in volcanic settings. SEPM Spec Pub 45: 59–70Google Scholar
  12. Sosio R, Crosta GB, Hungr O (2012) Numerical modeling of debris avalanche propagation from collapse of volcanic edifices. Landslides 9:315–334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ulate CA, Corrales MF (1966) Mud floods related to the Irazu Volcano Eruptions. J Hydraulics Division 92(6):117–129Google Scholar
  14. Vallance JW, Siebert L, Rose WI, Giron JR, Banks NG (1995) Edifice collapse and related hazards in Guatemala. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 66:337–355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Voight B (1990) The 1985 Nevado del Ruiz Volcano catastrophe: anatomy and retrospection. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 44:349–386CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Waldron H (1967) Debris flow and erosion control problems caused by the ash eruptions of Irazu Volcano. Costa Rica USGS Bull 1241:1–37Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Structural, Geotechnical and Building EngineeringPolitecnico di TorinoTurinItaly
  2. 2.Escuela Centroamericana de GeologiaUniversidad de Costa RicaSan JoséCosta Rica

Personalised recommendations