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Report on Unzendake (Japan) — August 1992


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 17, no. 8 (August 1992)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Unzendake (Japan) Continued dome growth; dome 8 extruded; pyroclastic and debris flows damage many buildings

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1992. Report on Unzendake (Japan) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 17:8. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199208-282100



32.761°N, 130.299°E; summit elev. 1483 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Endogenous (cryptodome) and exogenous growth in August produced a new dome (8), which began to emerge 11 August at the upper part of dome 7. Collapses reduced the size of the dome complex until mid-August, then volume increased again, mainly from endogenous growth. Based on digital mapping by the Geographical Survey Institute, the volume of the dome complex is estimated at 5 x 107 m3, with the total amount of magma erupted since 20 May 1991 estimated at 11 x 107 m3. Although the magma-supply rate has not been constant, the average from late April to early August is ~ 1.4 x 105 m3/day.

Dome 7 resumed growth in mid-August as new lava extruded from the magma-supply vent joined lava emerging from the circular fault that appeared on the east-central part of the cryptodome in early August. Dome 8, created from this fresh lava along the circular fault, grew to ~ 300 m long, 150 m wide, and 100 m high. A NW-SE-trending graben up to 50 m wide formed on dome 8 in late August along part of the former circular fault. Upward growth of dome 8 in early September increased the width of the graben until the graben wall collapsed. The growth of dome 8 caused the W half of dome 7 to collapse as a series of rockfalls on 14-15 August. The E half of dome 7 was pushed E until it hung over dome 6.

Partial collapses of the dome complex often generated pyroclastic flows. One SE-flank pyroclastic flow burned 17 houses from 0830 to 1030 on 8 August. Heavy rains triggered debris flows along the Mizunashi River . . . 8-15 August, damaging 240 houses (table 10; note change in the number of damaged houses from previous report). No additional damage had been caused by pyroclastic flows as of mid-September. Pyroclastic flows from Jigokuato crater in late August traveled almost 4 km along the Mizunashi River, longer than the fatal 3 June 1991 flow and the longest since 15 September 1991. The rockfalls of 14-15 August generated pyroclastic flows along the Akamatsu Valley (S and SE of the volcano). The flows frequently struck the N cliff of Mt. Iwatoko (on the S side of the Akamatsu valley), just reaching the top of its lowest saddle, and ash clouds entered a small valley extending 300 m from the saddle. Since mid-August, pyroclastic flows moving NE from the cryptodome overflowed from the Oshiga Valley (extending NE from the summit) into another small valley (north of Taruki Height). The Height is a barrier between the Oshiga Valley and Shimabara city, and the small valley is the headwater of a river flowing into the city. The upper portion of the Oshiga Valley near the head of Taruki Height had been completely filled with pyroclastic-flow deposits until small debris flows eroded them. Cut off by debris flows in early August, the Shimabara railway resumed operation on 1 September.

Table 10. Summary of damage from volcanic activity at Unzen, 1991-92, showing inhabited houses totally and partially destroyed or inundated, uninhabited houses damaged, deaths, and injuries. Data from the Fire Defence Agency; courtesy of JMA.

Date Activity Type Houses Totally Destroyed Houses Partially Destroyed Houses Inundated Uninhabited Houses Damaged Deaths Injuries
15 May 1991 Debris flow 0 0 0 1 0 0
26 May 1991 Pyroclastic flow 0 0 -- 0 0 1
03 Jun 1991 Pyroclastic flow 49 0 -- 130 43 9
08 Jun 1991 Pyroclastic flow 70 2 -- 135 0 0
11 Jun 1991 Falling ejecta 11 houses damaged, along with 53 cars and 2 helicopters (on land)
30 Jun 1991 Debris flow 49 28 21 104 0 1
15 Sep 1991 Pyroclastic flow 53 0 -- 165 0 0
08 Aug 1992 Pyroclastic flow 5 0 -- 12 0 0
08-15 Aug 1992 Debris flow 28 31 104 77 0 0
Total Pyroclastic flow 177 2 -- 442 43 10
Total Debris flow 77 59 125 182 0 1

Seismically detected pyroclastic flows varied from 4 to 26/day in August, for a total of 357 during the month, similar to previous months. Ash clouds from these flows usually rose ~ 1 km; maximum heights were 1.2 km on 8 and 13 August. Ash fell to the E on Shimabara city, Fukae town, and Unzen spa. The number of evacuees was halved to 3,017 on 9 September. Volcanic gas was emitted from dome 3 and a graben area. Gas from a vent in Jigokuato crater was at ~ 800°C, constant since May 1992, according to a direct temperature-probe measurement by Kyushu University's Shimabara Earthquake and Volcano Observatory.

A total of 3,125 earthquakes was recorded in August, at rates of 20-200 per day. The 632 events recorded on 11 September were a new high for the current activity. Earthquake swarms were detected on 13-14, 17, and 31 August. These were located 20 km W of the summit at ~ 15 km depth in Tachibana Bay, in the westernmost area of previous seismicity there. Seismic activity in Tachibana Bay had been low since August 1991. Five shocks from the swarms were felt at UWS . . ., the first felt there since 1 April. The largest shock was M 4.5 at 0912 on 13 August.

Geological Summary. The massive Unzendake volcanic complex comprises much of the Shimabara Peninsula east of the city of Nagasaki. An E-W graben, 30-40 km long, extends across the peninsula. Three large stratovolcanoes with complex structures, Kinugasa on the north, Fugen-dake at the east-center, and Kusenbu on the south, form topographic highs on the broad peninsula. Fugendake and Mayuyama volcanoes in the east-central portion of the andesitic-to-dacitic volcanic complex have been active during the Holocene. The Mayuyama lava dome complex, located along the eastern coast west of Shimabara City, formed about 4000 years ago and was the source of a devastating 1792 CE debris avalanche and tsunami. Historical eruptive activity has been restricted to the summit and flanks of Fugendake. The latest activity during 1990-95 formed a lava dome at the summit, accompanied by pyroclastic flows that caused fatalities and damaged populated areas near Shimabara City.

Information Contacts: S. Nakada, Kyushu Univ; JMA.