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Natural Debris Dams and Debris-Dam Lakes
This site contains information that will help students to realize that in addition to the direct risk from debris flows and debris avalanches, voluminous deposition of volcanic material in valleys commonly forms unstable natural dams by blocking preexisting drainages and that if the size and structural integrity of the blockage is insufficient to hold back the reservoir that will form, catastrophic failure of the dam will result. Such a hazardous situation may persist for months, years, or decades following an eruption. An example is given of Mount St. Helens, where the debris avalanche raised the level of Spirit Lake 64 meters and dammed its natural outlet even higher and lakes formed in the tributaries of Coldwater and Castle Creeks. In addition, the site has links to publications and reports documenting historical landslide dams from around the world.
Intended for grade levels:
  • Middle (6-8)
  • High (9-12)
Type of resource:
  • Portal:
    • Government
  • Geological Sciences:
    • Geology
  • Hydrology
  • Natural hazards
Technical requirements:
No specific technical requirements, just a browser required
Cost / Copyright:
No cost
The maps, graphics, images, and text found on our website, unless stated otherwise, are within the Public Domain. You may download and use them. Credit back to the USGS/Cascades Volcano Observatory is appreciated. If any material is referenced , Image courtesy of ... or Information courtesy of ..., etc., then please contact that source for permission for use.
DLESE Catalog ID: DLESE-000-000-006-085
Educational standards:
  • National Science Education Standards (NSES):
    • 5-8:
      • D - Earth and space science:
        • Structure of the earth system
      • F - Science in personal / social perspectives:
        • Natural hazards
    • 9-12:
      • D - Earth and space science:
        • Energy in the earth system
        • Origin and evolution of the earth system
      • F - Science in personal / social perspectives:
        • Natural and human-induced hazards
Related resources:
This resource is part of 'Cascades Volcano Observatory'
Resource contact / Creator / Publisher:
Publisher: United States Geological Survey Cascades Volcano Observatory