Three Sisters is one of three active volcanic centers that lie close to rapidly growing communities and resort areas in Central Oregon. The major composite volcanoes of this area are clustered near the center of the region and include South Sister, Middle Sister, and Broken Top. Additionally, hundreds of mafic volcanoes are scattered throughout the Three Sisters area. These range from small cinder cones to large shield volcanoes like North Sister and Belknap Crater. Hazardous events include landslides from the steep flanks of large volcanoes and floods, which need not be triggered by eruptions, as well as eruption-triggered events such as fallout of tephra (volcanic ash) and lava flows. A proximal hazard zone roughly 20 kilometers (12 miles) in diameter surrounding the Three Sisters and Broken Top could be affected within minutes of the onset of an eruption or large landslide. Distal hazard zones that follow river valleys downstream from the Three Sisters and Broken Top could be inundated by lahars (rapid flows of water-laden rock and mud) generated either by melting of snow and ice during eruptions or by large landslides. Slow-moving lava flows could issue from new mafic volcanoes almost anywhere within the region. Fallout of tephra from eruption clouds can affect areas hundreds of kilometers (miles) downwind, so eruptions at volcanoes elsewhere in the Cascade Range also contribute to volcano hazards in Central Oregon.
Scientists at the Cascades Volcano Observatory created a geographic information system (GIS) data set which depicts proximal and distal lahar hazard zones as well as a regional lava flow hazard zone for Three Sisters (USGS Open-File Report 99-437, Scott and others, 1999). The various distal lahar zones were constructed from LaharZ software using 20, 100, and 500 million cubic meter input flow volumes. Additionally, scientists used the depositional history of past events in the Three Sisters Region as well as experience and judgment derived from the study of volcanoes to help construct the regional hazard zone.
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Digital Data for Volcano Hazards of the Three Sisters Region, Oregon