Reconstruction of the 2014 eruption sequence of Ontake Volcano from recorded images and interviews
© Oikawa et al. 2016
Received: 9 December 2015
Accepted: 29 April 2016
Published: 14 May 2016
A phreatic eruption at Mount Ontake (3067 m) on September 27, 2014, led to 64 casualties, including missing people. In this paper, we clarify the eruption sequence of the 2014 eruption from recorded images (photographs and videos obtained by climbers) and interviews with mountain guides and workers in mountain huts. The onset of eruption was sudden, without any clear precursory surface phenomena (such as ground rumbling or strong smell of sulfide). Our data indicate that the eruption sequence can be divided into three phases. Phase 1: The eruption started with dry pyroclastic density currents (PDCs) caused by ash column collapse. The PDCs flowed down 2.5 km SW and 2 km NW from the craters. In addition, PDCs moved horizontally by approximately 1.5 km toward N and E beyond summit ridges. The temperature of PDCs at the summit area partially exceeded 100 °C, and an analysis of interview results suggested that the temperature of PDCs was mostly in the range of 30–100 °C. At the summit area, there were violent falling ballistic rocks. Phase 2: When the outflow of PDCs stopped, the altitude of the eruption column increased; tephra with muddy rain started to fall; and ambient air temperature decreased. Falling ballistic rocks were almost absent during this phase. Phase 3: Finally, muddy hot water flowed out from the craters. These models reconstructed from observations are consistent with the phreatic eruption models and typical eruption sequences recorded at similar volcanoes.
Non-juvenile eruptions, often referred to as phreatic or hydrothermal eruptions, represent one of the most common explosive eruption types on Earth. Phreatic eruptions, which are violent and dramatic events, result in the rapid ejection of boiling water, steam, mud, and rock fragments from source craters (Morgan et al. 2009). Phreatic eruptions pose a significant hazard to areas in proximity of the erupting crater and occasionally lead to larger-scale deadly density currents (e.g., Yamamoto et al. 1999; Fujinawa et al. 2006). Low-temperature pyroclastic flows (pyroclastic density currents) accompanying phreatic eruptions have been reported in Japan, Tongariro (New Zealand), and La Soufriere (Guadeloupe) (e.g., Fujinawa et al. 2008; Lube et al. 2014; Miura et al. 2012; Nakamura and Glicken 1988; Sheridan 1980; Yamamoto et al. 1999). Low-temperature pyroclastic density currents accompanying phreatic eruptions are steam driven and usually laterally directed by the phreatic explosion (Lube et al. 2014). It has also been hypothesized that those pyroclastic density currents are produced by collapse of the phreatic non-buoyant plume (Yamamoto et al. 1999). However, occurrence of these flows has itself not been well observed. On August 6, 2012, a volcano erupted at Te Maari, Tongariro in New Zealand (Breard et al. 2014; Fitzgerald et al. 2014; Lube et al. 2014); however, the eruption was only indirectly observed because it occurred at night. The actual timing and origin of the pyroclastic flows accompanying phreatic eruption occurrence in a series of eruptions thus remain unclear. On September 27, 2014, there was an eruption of Ontake Volcano (Ontake-san, Mount Ontake); 64 people were dead or missing. This was a phreatic eruption accompanied by pyroclastic density currents (PDCs) (Nakano et al. 2014; Oikawa et al. 2015; Yamamoto 2014). Over 150 climbers were near the craters at the summit area at the start of the eruption, which increased the damage caused by the event. This is unlike the Te Maari 2012 nocturnal eruption (e.g., Lube et al. 2014). There were numerous eyewitnesses to the eruption, as well as recorded images, videos, and photographs. In this study, we reconstructed the sequence of the September 27, 2014 eruption on the basis of the recorded videos and photographs and via interviews with survivors of the eruption. An eruption model was then built from the reconstructed eruption sequence.
Geology of Ontake Volcano
Ontake Volcano (the highest peak of which is Kengamine: 3067 m a.s.l.) is located on the boundary of Gifu and Nagano Prefectures in central Japan. Lavas and volcaniclastic deposits of the Ontake Volcano have built a huge stratovolcano of up to ~80 km3 (Kobayashi and Matsumoto 1994). The volcano consists of older (0.78–0.39 Ma) and younger (after ca. 0.1 Ma) Ontake Volcanoes (Kioka et al. 1998; Matsumoto and Kobayashi 1995, 1999; Takeuchi et al. 1998; Yamada and Kobayashi 1988). The frequency of magmatic and phreatic eruptions in the Holocene is 0.3 times/ky and 2 times/ky, respectively (Oikawa et al. 2014, 2015). However, no historical records of eruptions of Ontake Volcano before the 1979 phreatic eruption have yet been discovered (Oikawa 2008). From historical records, we know that fumarolic activity in Jigoku-dani has been recognized within the summit area since the middle of the eighteenth century (Oikawa 2008).
In 1991 and 2007, there were small emissions of volcanic ash (micro-eruptions) from a fumarole in Hatchotarumi (Fig. 1), which is also one of the 1979 eruption vents (e.g., JMA 1991; Nakamichi et al. 2009). The tephra volume of each eruption was less than 1 × 102 m3.
Outline of the 2014 eruption
The day of the eruption was sunny, with weak wind, and, as noted, the phreatic eruption was accompanied by PDCs (Nakano et al. 2014; Oikawa et al. 2014, 2015; Yamamoto 2014). This eruption formed small pyroclastic cones in Jigoku-dani (Fig. 2a, b; Nakano et al. 2014; Oikawa et al. 2015). However, these cones were eroded by rainfall during typhoons No. 18 and 19 on October 5–6 and 13–14, 2014 (Oikawa et al. 2015). The height of the eruption plume reached approximately 7.8 km above the crater at around 12:10–12:20, September 27, 2014, based on a radar echo analysis (Sato et al. 2016). However, after 17:40, the eruption plume height decreased to less than 2 km above the craters. The plume and resultant ash fall were directed east by a westerly wind and resulted in an ash fall mainly to the east (The Joint Research Team for Ash Fall in Ontake 2014 Eruption 2015). The ash fall was mostly terminated before the morning of September 28 (Fukuyama and Hiramatsu 2015; Tajima et al. 2014). However, the outflow of gray muddy water (likely hot spring water) from the craters in Jigoku-dani started after the eruption on September 27, 2014 (Kishimoto et al. 2014; Nakano et al. 2014; Oikawa et al. 2014, 2015) and continued till July 2015. The tephra volume from the 2014 eruption was 0.7–1.2 × 106 m3 (Maeno et al. 2016).
Fifty-eight people were killed during this eruption, with still five missing (as of November 2015). The main cause of death of 56 individuals, according to the news (October 27, 2014, and August 2, 2015, Asahi Shimbun), was injury inflicted by ballistic rocks. One person was reportedly killed by inhalation burns, and another person was killed by unknown causes.
Images were arranged in a time series, according to the time information of exchangeable image file format (exif) for digital photographs and to the time stamp of videos. However, time recording by a digital camera for exif information is not always accurate. The clock of digital cameras is often not adjusted to the correct time by the user. We therefore arranged the images using the following procedure. First, a group of photographs that had been calibrated with accurate clocks (such as GPS clocks) were arranged along a time axis. Next, on the basis of the similarity of shape and height of the plume, photographs with inaccurate time data were located at the correct time. Finally, photographs taken with the same camera were arranged along the time axis according to the photographing interval obtained from exif information.
Videos (recorded from the east side of the crater) published by the mass media (specifically the broadcaster NHK), videos recorded by the Chubu Regional Bureau, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism from the south side of the crater, and videos recoded by climbers from the north and southeast side of the crater were used. Each of the recording positions, except for that of the Chubu Regional Bureau, is shown in Fig. 3. The Chubu Regional Bureau’s recording position was at Takigoshi, approximately 6 km SSW from the summit.
We interviewed four mountain hut workers at the summit area of Mt. Ontake, three mountain guides, and a photographer. In addition, published interview articles in various sources (such as newspapers and books) (e.g., Yama-to-keikoku 2014) were also used. Interviews were carried face-to-face. Care was taken to ensure that any bias would be minimized. Witnesses recounted their experience of the eruption chronologically. Our questions were simple and intended only to confirm facts. The matching of multiple testimonies did not produce any conflicting accounts.
With these data, we reconstructed the eruption sequence from 11:52 until 18:00 on September 27, during which period the main eruption phenomenon of the 2014 eruption occurred.
Results and discussion
The eruption of September 27 can be divided into three phases: Phase 1, from 11:52 (JST) to around 12:15; Phase 2, from around 12:15–16:00; and Phase 3 after around 16:00.
Phase 1: 11:52:30–ca. 12:15, September 27, 2014
According to the testimonies of workers in the mountain huts (2, 11, 12, and 13 in Fig. 3), the onset of eruption was sudden, without any clear precursory surface phenomena, such as ground rumbling, strong seismic motion, and strong smell of sulfide. The images with time information suggest that the eruption began suddenly at ca. 11:52:30. The interviewees reported no perceptive sound at the start of the eruption, and only a small infrasound, from a small tremor of windows and doors of mountain huts, was observed (3 in Fig. 3).
According to the interviews (8, 11, 12, 13 in Fig. 3), when the climbers at the summit were covered by the PDCs, visibility deteriorated significantly to <1 m. The temperature in the PDCs was higher than of surrounding air. The PDCs were dry, with humidity lower than the dew point, and did not contain liquid water. One person in Hatchotarumi (13 in Fig. 3), which is approximately 500 m east of the craters in Jigoku-dani, did not suffer skin burns, but chocolate kept in his backpack melted and his hair was partly damaged and discolored. Although vegetation was spread across the area that the PDCs covered, the leaves of Pinus pumila between Marishiten-san and Kangamine were only discolored to brown. During this phase, the volcanic block-sized rock fragments (with a maximum diameter of 74 cm) showered densely on the summit area and Hatchotarumi. Rock fragments of 20–30 cm diameter fell approximately 1.3 km away from the craters (Oikawa et al. 2015). However, based on our preliminary field survey, the density of volcanic block-sized rocks is high (one/m2 or more) within a distance of about 700 m from the 2014 craters.
Phase 1 is divided into three sub-phases: Phase 1a from 11:52:30 to around 11:53, Phase 1b from around 11:53 to around 12:00, and Phase 1c from around 12:00 to 12:15. The division into phases 1a and 1b is based on differences in crater activity and on the expanding area of PDCs. The division into phases 1b and 1c is based on the presence of a short eruption pause.
Phase 1a (11:52:30 to around 11:53)
Phase 1b (around 11:53 to around 12:00)
At around 11:53, subsequent to the opening of craters in Jigoku-dani, the crater under Okunoin, at approximately 2800 m a.s.l. (b in Fig. 1, Fig. 4a), began to erupt. Before the eruption, neither prominent fumaroles nor crater topography existed at this new crater location. The activity of this sub-phase continued in the other craters in Jigoku-dani. The area covered by PDCs increased during this sub-phase eruption (Figs. 4, 6). A video recorded (e.g., Shinano Mainichi Shimbun 2014) near Marishiten-san (about 1.5 km north of the craters: 1 in Fig. 3) by a climber suggested occurrence of column-collapse-type PDC in this sub-phase; the eruption column that rose to an altitude of approximately 3500 m a.s.l. collapsed, and PDCs occurred. The PDCs flowed down the slopes on the southwest (to Jigoku-dani), northwest (to Shin-tani), north (to Ichi-no-ike and Ni-no-ike), and northeast side (Figs. 4b, c, 6). The front of the southwest PDC stopped at 11:59:40 at a point 2.5 km away from the crater (Yamamoto 2014). According to the interviews (8, 11, 10, and 13 in Fig. 3), numerous ballistics of lapilli and volcanic block-sized rocks started to fall during this sub-phase in an area within approximately 1 km to the north (Kengamine and Ichinoike peaks) and to the west (Hatchotarumi) of the craters of Jigoku-dani.
The peak of Kengamine was covered by PDCs during this sub-phase. At the peak of Kengamine, where the largest number of people (33 persons) died, it is estimated that the ejected rocks started to fall at around 11:53:35 (Fig. 6). Analysis of images suggests that on the slopes between Ichi-no-ike and Ni-no-ike, impact craters were formed by ejected rocks that started to fall at around 11:53:30–11:53:40 (Fig. 6). According to the interviews (8, 11, and 12 in Fig. 3), Kengamine was engulfed by PDCs within 1–2 min of the commencement of the eruption, and the ejected rocks started to fall at the same time. According to image analysis, the peak of Kengamine was covered by an ash cloud from around 11:53:35, approximately 1 min after the start of eruption.
Phase 1c (around 12:00–12:15)
The active craters in this phase formed in Jigoku-dani (a in Fig. 1), near Okunoin (b in Fig. 1). The starting time of eruption at the craters on the west side of Ichi-no-ike (c in Fig. 1) is unknown. According to the images, the craters on the west side of Ichi-no-ike were not active during the previous sub-phase, but became active before 13:00 on September 27. However, these craters started erupting during this third sub-phase.
PDCs did not cover Nyonindo and Marishiten-san, but volcanic ash fall began at around 12:05, according to interviews (4 in Fig. 3, Yama-to-keikoku 2014). Ash fall occurred in the form of dry aggregated ash with no moisture.
Phase 2: ca. 12:15–ca. 16:00 (JST), September 27, 2014
Pyroclastic fall in this phase mainly consisted of muddy aggregated ash or lapilli. Muddy rain with pyroclastic fall was also observed in an ash fall area approximately 11 km to the east of the craters (Fig. 8b). Some interviewees (2 and 8 in Fig. 3) suggested that the ejection of rocks ended at around 12:40 at the summit area. On the other hand, according to the news video (NHK news on September 27, 15:00), ejection of volcanic block-sized rocks from the Jigoku-dani craters continued until at least 14:00 in Jigoku-dani. However, eyewitness accounts and image analysis suggest that the number of ballistic rocks falling in the summit area and Hatchotarumi reduced significantly during this phase. Ash fall weakened gradually and had mostly ended by the morning of September 28 (Fukuyama and Hiramatsu 2015; Tajima et al. 2014).
Phase 3: after ca. 16:00 (JST), September 27, 2014
After the muddy water outflow, the plume lost its momentum. According to radar echo observations (Sato et al. 2016), the plume column height decreased approximately 2 h after the muddy water outflow started.
Temperature of PDCs
The overall PDC temperature at the summit area was estimated to have been mostly in the range of 30–100 °C, locally exceeding 100 °C. We obtained the following information about the temperature of the PDCs at the summit area and Hatchotarumi. Based on eyewitness accounts (6, 8, 11, 12, and 13 in Fig. 3) from climbers and hut workers, people who were caught in the PDC felt hot air, but the temperature was not high enough to damage the plants in the area. The ignition temperature of leaves and bark of conifers is 430–460 °C (e.g., Iwakawa 1985). According to a report by news media, one person died because of inhalation burns and some people suffered light burns. However, people caught in the PDCs and those who suffered burns were a minority. Humans do not experience burns at atmospheric temperatures <100 °C at a relative humidity of 5–10 %, or at temperatures <50 °C at a relative humidity of 100 % (e.g., Ito 2015). In addition, materials such as raincoats and backpacks made of nylon did not melt in the PDCs. However, chocolate kept in the backpack of a person in Hatchotarumi melted, and a part of his hair was discolored. The melting temperature of typical chocolate is approximately 30 °C and that of the discolored part of hair is >100 °C in hot air (e.g., Yamashita et al. 2012). The estimated temperature of the PDCs accompanying the eruption was higher than or equal to that of the 2012 eruption of Te Maari Volcano (100–64 °C in proximal, 51–58 °C in distal: Efford et al. 2014), and lower than that of the 1900 eruption of Adatara Volcano (over 100 °C, under 400 °C: Fujinawa et al. 2006).
Eruption model from eruption sequence
The 2014 eruption was a phreatic one in origin as it did not contain evidence of juvenile magmatism (e.g., Minami et al. 2015). One of the dominant mechanisms of a phreatic eruption involves sudden decompression of superheated water, followed by an explosion because of the generation of a large amount of steam (flash steam) (e.g., Browne and Lawless 2001; Hedenquist and Henley 1985; Mayer et al. 2015; Thiery and Mercury 2009; Yamamoto et al. 1999). In engineering, similar explosive phenomena are referred to as BLEVE (boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion) (Abbasi and Abbasi 2007). An eruption model can be inferred from the reconstructed eruption sequence as follows: (1) Considering that new craters formed, the early eruption column contained a large amount of tephra (rock fragments and altered clay). The density of the eruption column was therefore high and PDCs occurred by a collapse of the eruption column under its own weight (Phase 1). According to Yamamoto et al. (1999) and Yamamoto (2014), PDCs occur during phreatic eruptions when the rock/hot water ratio is large. Yamamoto (2014) suggested that this occurs during the early phases of new crater formation. PDCs during the phreatic eruptions in 1888 at Bandai, in 1900 at Adatara, and in 2012 at Te Maari occurred at the time of formation or expansion of a crater (Fujinawa et al. 2006; Breard et al. 2014; Yamamoto et al. 1999). The sequence of the 2014 eruption is consistent with this theory. (2) During Phase 1, the temperature of PDCs with an ash cloud was 30–100 °C; the water contained in the PDCs was in the vapor state (flash steam). (3) Thereafter, the temperature of the plume decreased by the effect of adiabatic expansion as the eruption column rose. As a result, the internal temperature of the plume decreased to the dew point temperature to precipitate muddy rain. (4) Finally, muddy hot water, which did not transform to flash steam, overflowed from the craters. Considering the process of liquid water flashing to steam (e.g., Hedenquist and Henley 1985; Mayer et al. 2015) and the conditions of PDCs that result from a phreatic eruption (e.g., Yamamoto et al. 1999), our observations suggest that this model is consistent with the proposed sequence of events at Ontake.
We clarified the eruption sequence of the 2014 eruption of Ontake Volcano eruption from recorded images (such as photographs and videos obtained by climbers) and interviews with mountain guides and workers in mountain huts. The eruption sequence on September 27, 2014, is divided into three phases: Phase 1 (PDC flow phase), Phase 2 (pyroclastic fall with muddy rain), and Phase 3 (muddy water overflowing from the craters). It should be noted that no ground rumbling, strong seismic motion, or strong smell of sulfide was perceived before the eruption. The PDC temperature at the summit area is estimated to have been 30–100 °C, locally exceeding 100 °C. We constructed an eruption model from the reconstructed eruption sequence to describe the physics of the eruption. Our model reconstructed by these observations is consistent with the phreatic eruption models and typical eruption sequences of similar volcanoes. As in the case of the 2014 Ontake eruption, similar sequences can therefore be commonly expected to occur in other phreatic eruptions.
TO carried out image collection, interviews, and analyses of the collected data and drafted the manuscript. MY, SN, FM, JK, TS, YT, and YS conducted interviews and helped in the drafting of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
We thank S Mukai, K Yanagisawa, T Kotani, R Ishiyama, Y Kodera, S Tamura, F Kaito, and S Ogawa for providing valuable information and images regarding their experiences during the eruption. Some photographs and videos were used in the analysis were provided by the Nippon Television Network Co. TO boarded a helicopter of Chunichi Shimbun on September 28, 2014, to take aerial photographs. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and Prof. Koshun Yamaoka for editorial help. This study was supported by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (No. 2690002) from MEXT Japan.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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