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Jan 4 / Dave Schumaker

Lahar fears on Mt. Ruapehu

Crater Lake at the summit of Mt. Ruapehu, New ZealandA crater lake on top of Mt. Ruapehu, in New Zealand, that has been slowly rising as snow at the summit melts is starting to leak. The crater lake exists due to a tephra dam that formed during eruptions in 1995 and 1996. The fear is that this leakage can begin to rapidly erode the tephra dam and unleash a dangerous lahar flow down the mountain.

Scientists have noticed that the flow of water from the crater lake has increased the past few days and are concerned that the tephra dam may soon collapse, unleashing a lahar flow larger than one released in 1953 that was responsible for the Tangiwai Railway Disaster.

Interestingly enough, we got to visit this site and discuss those events on our field camp in New Zealand last year, run by Massey University.

Read on below for more.

On the evening of December 24th, 1953, a lahar roared down Mt. Ruapehu and into the Whangaehu River. Just after 10pm, the lahar washed out a railway bridge near the small town of Tangiwai. A few minutes later, an unknowing passenger trail plunged into the river. It ended up being New Zealand’s worst railway disaster.

During our New Zealand field camp stint, we stopped by the site of this disaster to begin our discussions on tephra stratigraphy and some volcanology.

Whangaehu River near the Tangiwai Bridge - Photo by Dave Schumaker
Whangaehu River and the Tangiwai Rail Crossing – Feb. 2nd, 2006
Mt. Ruapehu Tephra - Photo by Dave Schumaker
Mt. Ruapehu Tephra
Mt. Ruapehu obscured by clouds - Photo by Dave Schumaker
Mt. Ruapehu obscured by clouds.

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