DOWNFLOW code and LIDAR technology for lava flow analysis and hazard assessment at Mount Etna

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Massimiliano Favalli
Simone Tarquini
Alessandro Fornaciai


The use of a lava-flow simulation (DOWNFLOW) probabilistic code and airborne light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology are combined to analyze the emplacement of compound lava flow fields at Mount Etna (Sicily, Italy). The goal was to assess the hazard posed by lava flows. The LIDAR-derived time series acquired during the 2006 Mount Etna eruption records the changing topography of an active lava-flow field. These short-time-interval, high-resolution topographic surveys provide a detailed quantitative picture of the topographic changes. The results highlight how the flow field evolves as a number of narrow (5-15 m wide) disjointed flow units that are fed simultaneously by uneven lava pulses that advance within formed channels. These flow units have widely ranging advance velocities (3-90 m/h). Overflows, bifurcations and braiding are also clearly displayed. In such a complex scenario, the suitability of deterministic codes for lava-flow simulation can be hampered by the fundamental difficulty of measuring the flow parameters (e.g. the lava discharge rate, or the lava viscosity of a single flow unit). However, the DOWNFLOW probabilistic code approaches this point statistically and needs no direct knowledge of flow parameters. DOWNFLOW intrinsically accounts for complexities and perturbations of lava flows by randomly varying the pre-eruption topography. This DOWNFLOW code is systematically applied here over Mount Etna, to derive a lava-flow hazard map based on: (i) the topography of the volcano; (ii) the probability density function for vent opening; and (iii) a law for the expected lava-flow length for all of the computational vents considered. Changes in the hazard due to the recent morphological evolution of Mount Etna have also been addressed.

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Favalli M, Tarquini S, Fornaciai A. DOWNFLOW code and LIDAR technology for lava flow analysis and hazard assessment at Mount Etna. Ann. Geophys. [Internet]. 2011Dec.16 [cited 2024Mar.1];54(5). Available from:

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