Three Sisters is one of three potentially active volcanic centers that lie close to rapidly growing communities and resort areas in Central Oregon. Two types of volcanoes exist in the Three Sisters region and each poses distinct hazards to people and property. South Sister, Middle Sister, and Broken Top, major composite volcanoes clustered near the center of the region, have erupted repeatedly over tens of thousands of years and may erupt explosively in the future. In contrast, mafic volcanoes, which range from small cinder cones to large shield volcanoes like North Sister and Belknap Crater, are typically short-lived (weeks to centuries) and erupt less explosively than do composite volcanoes. Hundreds of mafic volcanoes scattered through the Three Sisters region are part of a much longer zone along the High Cascades of Oregon in which birth of new mafic volcanoes is possible. This report describes the types of hazardous events that can occur in the Three Sisters region and the accompanying volcano-hazard-zonation map outlines areas that could be at risk from such events. 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. This report is intended to aid scientists, government officials, and citizens as they work together to reduce the risk from volcano hazards through public education and emergency-response planning.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Volcano hazards in the Three Sisters region, Oregon
U.S. Geological Survey
Cascades Volcano Observatory, Volcano Science Center