BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A University at Buffalo scientist who is an
expert in volcanic mudflows will travel to Nicaragua on Saturday to
evaluate the possible causes of last weekend's devastating mudflow
that occurred with the catastrophic collapse of Casita volcano and
killed thousands of people in several villages.
Michael F. Sheridan, Ph.D., professor and chair of the UB
Department of Geology who holds the largest grant in the U.S. to
study volcanic mudslides, says scientists have much to learn from
the tragedies in Nicaragua and Honduras so that other populations
do not suffer the same terrible fate.
"The mudflow in Nicaragua is the worst volcanic disaster of this
decade," said Sheridan.
Just more than a week ago, he presented research at the
Geological Society of America annual meeting in Toronto that
described how computers are being used to interpret satellite data
to predict the likely sources, sizes and paths of volcanic mudflows
so that populations at risk can be informed and safely
Using a mathematical model, the research also projected the
potential devastation that would occur in a key industrial town
near Colima volcano in Mexico if extremely fast-moving volcanic
mudflows are unleashed when the volcano reaches the climactic stage
of its eruption cycle, which is expected during the next decade.
The largest mudflow the researchers calculated from Colima would
involve a wall of water and debris 200 feet high.
"We have an ideal research program to incorporate data from
Casita volcano with our findings on Mexican volcanoes so that we
can understand better what causes these huge mudflows," he
In Sheridan's estimation, mudflows are the volcanic phenomena
posing the greatest danger to populations. In 1985, a volcanic
mudslide in Colombia killed 26,000 people.
"My goal in going to Casita volcano is to find out what
triggered this catastrophic collapse of the volcano," he said.
Initial reports from Nicaragua have indicated that it was
Hurricane Mitch that caused the terrible mudflows on Casita
volcano, but Sheridan noted that other possible contributing
factors, including the decompression of a geothermal system on
Casita, cannot be ruled out.
"And this week, Cerro Negro, an adjacent volcano, has also begun
to erupt," he said. "We need to explore the connection with this
adjacent erupting volcano."
Sheridan plans to do fieldwork on Casita, checking to see if the
material that came out of Casita was hot, which would mean that a
geothermal system was involved.
"This is a unique opportunity to study a major collapse of a
volcano before the evidence is removed or changed by geologic
agents," said Sheridan.
After gathering the field data, Sheridan plans to use remotely
sensed data to test his assumption that satellite information can
provide a kind of "geologic X-ray" to identify soft spots at the
surface of a volcano, particularly those areas that are susceptible
to a catastrophic collapse.
Funding for Sheridan's expedition comes from the National
EDITOR'S NOTES: Michael Sheridan leaves for Nicaragua on the
morning of Saturday, Nov. 7. He can be reached this evening at his
home at 716-655-3904. The research presented by Sheridan on Oct. 29
at the annual meeting of the Geologic Society of America is
described in news releases available on the University at Buffalo
Office of News Services Web site. The URLs for the news releases