Rockfalls at Augustine Volcano, Alaska: The Influence of Eruption Precursors and Seasonal Factors on Occurrence Patterns 1997-2009

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eruption precursor, rockfall, rockfall trigger, steaming, freeze-thaw weathering

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Rockfalls have been recorded in seismic data at Augustine Volcano from 1997 to the present. Typical events last about 30 s and have frequencies > 4 Hz on stations within 5 km of the summit. Many rockfalls are well recorded on summit seismic stations, suggesting that they originate from the steep summit dome. Typical background years such as 2003 or 2004 had several dozen events in the summer and fall (June to November) that were strong enough to trigger an automatic event detection system. For example, 17 rockfalls were recorded in 2003; mostly in late summer when air temperatures were warm and rainfall rates were highest, and 28 events were recorded in 2004, also in late summer. In 2005, about eight months before the onset of the eruption of Augustine in January 2006, there was a significant increase in the number of rockfalls detected. This increase of surface rockfall activity occurred at nearly the same time as precursory earthquake activity increased beneath Augustine. Overall there were more than 340 rockfalls in 2005, consisting of both short (less than 30 s) and long (greater than 30 s) duration events. The high rate of rockfalls in 2005 constitutes a new class of precursory signal that needs to be incorporated into long-term monitoring strategies at Augustine and elsewhere. During the eruption, numerous rockfalls continued to occur, and block-and-ash flows dominated the seismic records when the volcano began a phase of dome growth and collapse. The high rates of rockfalls continued after the eruption ended, due the new unstable lava dome and adjacent tephra at the summit. As of 2009 the rockfall rates are still high, but are declining steadily.

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Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, v. 211-212, p. 61-75