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Report on Soufriere Hills (United Kingdom) — October 1995

Soufriere Hills

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 20, no. 10 (October 1995)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Soufriere Hills (United Kingdom) Small ash explosions continue; three new vents form; September dome grows

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1995. Report on Soufriere Hills (United Kingdom) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 20:10. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199510-360050

Soufriere Hills

United Kingdom

16.72°N, 62.18°W; summit elev. 915 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The observatory was moved on 1 October from the Vue Pointe Hotel to Eifel House on Bishop View Road in Old Towne. A phreatic eruption that day deposited ash across a large area, including the capital city of Plymouth. This eruption was followed by a volcano-tectonic (VT) earthquake swarm, with 70 events located beneath the volcano at depths of 1-6 km. Two of the earthquakes, at 2257 and 2319, had magnitudes of ~2.5 and were felt at the observatory; several were felt in the Long Ground area. After about 0500 on 2 October, the number of located earthquakes dropped to ~5/day. Two episodes of low-amplitude broadband tremor recorded during 1-3 October were related to steam emission. Electronic tiltmeter and EDM observations during that time revealed no significant deformation.

EDM measurements at Tar River completed on 3-4 October continued to show a shortening trend, signaling minor inflation. Shallow VT (12 located events) and long-period (2 events) seismicity continued. Moderate levels of seismicity prevailed during 4-8 October, with 30-40 shallow (< 6 km depth) VT earthquakes each day, rare felt events (M 2-2.5), and a few long-period events. No deformation was detected by electronic tiltmeter.

An explosion around 2355 on 5 October caused heavy ashfall in Plymouth and in the SW part of the island. On 5 October the government announced that over the next two days they would evacuate Plymouth's home for elderly people and the hospital, sending residents to the N part of the island.

Two eruption signals were recorded at 0235 and 0347 on 8 October, and the EDM line at Tar River continued to show minor inflation. Seismicity began decreasing on 8-9 October, when 24 earthquakes were located beneath the volcano, with a few in the Centre Hills area. A small eruption at 1356 on 9 October generated light ashfall in Amersham and Upper Gages. Vent 2 was emitting a small amount of steam again during 7-9 October. Several episodes of broadband tremor may have been caused by increased steam emission. There were only 6 located earthquakes during 9-10 October, but several episodes of broadband tremor. Another minor eruption around 0012 on 10 October caused light ashfall in Plymouth. Visual helicopter inspection of the crater revealed significant steam emission and an increase in the size of the 25 September dome (20:9).

Formation of Vent 5 on 11 October. An ash eruption at 0021 on 11 October came from a new vent on the Tar River side of the Castle Peak dome, and damaged the EDM reflector at Tar River. A small earthquake swarm accompanied this vent formation. There were two more small ash eruptions later that day at 1540 and 1700. Although no significant changes to the dome were noted, steaming continued from its top; Vent 1 was also steaming, and appeared to be larger and deeper. Scientists noted that steam emissions from the crater had generally increased.

Three more ash eruptions occurred on 12 October, at 0901, 0955, and 1114. Continuous steam emission came from several areas in the crater and Vent 5. Two episodes of broadband tremor during 12-13 October were attributed to increased steam emission. Seismicity was low, with only 22 events during 11-13 October. No deformation was detected following this latest series of explosions.

Formation of Vent 6 on 14 October. An eruption at 0708 on 14 October created another vent on the NE flank of Castle Peak dome, generated a significant amount of ash, and ejected blocks as far as the edge of Long Ground, ~1 km E of the vent. A pilot reported that the plume may have reached ~2 km altitude. Another eruption at 1058 caused no reported ashfall. Two gas venting episodes at 2200 and 2345 on the 14th were associated with a small earthquake swarm and broadband tremor episodes. Vent 2 again emitted moderate amounts of steam, accompanied by a loud roaring sound, and Vent 5 continued to emit small amounts of steam. Seismicity decreased from 18 events on 13-14 October to five events accompanied by broadband tremor on 15-16 October.

Seismicity increased again on 16-17 October with 22 events clustered in two areas: one beneath the volcano and the other just E of Windy Hill. Steam-and-ash eruptions were recorded by the seismic network at 1757 and 2245 on 16 October, and at 1150 and 1522 on the 17th. There were also several episodes of broadband tremor and ~30 minutes of low-frequency harmonic tremor starting around 0414 on 17 October. Later that morning an aerial inspection of the crater showed no significant changes and little steaming. During a second flight at 1145, a large mudflow originating within the crater moat beyond Vent 2 was seen running rapidly down the Hot River and reaching the sea. This was probably the largest mudflow (in terms of volume of material) since the current activity began.

During 17-18 October there were 12 scattered earthquakes, several periods of broadband tremor, and some intermediate-frequency tremor. Ash eruptions were recorded at 1739 on the 17th and at 0530 on the 18th. The dome area continued to emit steam, but did not increase in size.

Formation of Vent 7 on 18 October. The 31 earthquakes during 18-19 October were clustered beneath the volcano. Several broadband tremor episodes and one period of low-frequency tremor were also detected. An eruption at 1621 on the 18th was associated with the formation of a new vent within the moat area of English's Crater, just SW of Vent 1. Another eruption was recorded at 2207 on the 18th. An explosive event around 1516 on 19 October generated a mudflow down the Hot River. During 19-20 October there were 28 earthquakes located; the events were scattered throughout S Montserrat, with some clustered beneath Soufriere Hills and St. Georges Hill.

There were 15 VT earthquakes on 20-21 October concentrated around the Long Ground/Soufriere Hills area. Several eruption episodes on 21 October resulted in ashfall that affected villages in the E. Ash fell at the airport for the first time, closing it briefly. No deformation was detected at the Tar River EDM or Long Ground tilt stations. Helicopter observations revealed that Vent 1 had extended E and was responsible for the previous ashfall. There was a small mud flow down the Tar River.

An average of 35 earthquakes/day occurred during 21-23 October. They were scattered throughout S Montserrat with some concentrations in the Long Ground-Tar River area and beneath the volcano. Some broadband tremor was also recorded. Visual observation of English's Crater both from helicopter and Tar River on 22 October revealed light steam emission from vents 2 and 5. When observed on the morning of 23 October, the September dome continued to steam, and was covered with sulfur deposits; it may also have grown since last observed on 20 October. Only one other small area SE of the dome was steaming. An eruption at 1337 on 23 October produced ash deposits within the summit crater and at Tar River. Steam emission increased after this eruption.

Seismicity decreased following this eruption to 10-14 events/day through 29 October, except for 22 events on the 27th. Locations were mainly beneath the volcano, although some were centered in the Windy Hill area and other parts of S Montserrat. An eruption at 1325 on 25 October caused ashfall in the Tar River area. Eruption signals were again recorded at 2314, 2321, and 2347 on 25 October, and at 0447 on the 26th; no ashfall was reported. Several episodes of low-amplitude broadband tremor were recorded during 25-26 October. EDM measurements at Tar River on 26 October indicated a continuation of the minor inflation observed during the past several weeks.

A steam-and-ash eruption at 1317 on 27 October from Vent 1 was followed by more than 30 minutes of low-frequency tremor. Eruption signals were recorded at 0855 and 2018 on 28 October, but no ashfall was reported. Steam emission from Vent 2 was observed that afternoon. Eruptions occurred again at 0326 and 0857 on the 29th, both followed by broadband tremor. An ash-and-steam plume was seen from the observatory following the 0857 event. Steam was seen coming from Vent 1 during a helicopter flight, but no major changes were noted.

Seismicity increased on 29-30 October to 55 events; most were clustered in a region just W of Windy Hill, with some scattered in the Centre Hills and Soufriere Hills areas. Eruption signals were recorded at 2110 on the 29th, and at 0244 and 1310 on the 30th. Two small long-period events were recorded after the first eruption. Ash from the first two of these eruptions was observed in English's Crater by helicopter. The third eruption, witnessed by scientists at the Tar River EDM site, produced a high column that caused ashfall over a wide area. This ashfall was the most significant since 21 August, and was accompanied by a density current of ash in the Gages valley. The morning of 31 October visual observations revealed a significant increase in Vent 1's size, but the 25 September dome appeared unchanged.

Seismicity decreased again the next day to 23 events, but they were located in clusters in the Tar River-Long Ground area and W of Windy Hill. There were also four long-period events and several episodes of broadband tremor. One eruption at 1118 on 31 October had no reported associated ashfall. EDM measurements at Tar River again showed a slight shortening, associated with continued slow inflation of the upper part of the volcanic edifice.

Only 14 seismic events were recorded during 31 October-1 November; most were located beneath the volcano with a few in the Windy Hill and Fox's Bay area. There were three long-period events and several episodes of broadband tremor. A small eruption at 1129 on 1 November caused ashfall within the summit crater.

Geological Summary. The complex, dominantly andesitic Soufrière Hills volcano occupies the southern half of the island of Montserrat. The summit area consists primarily of a series of lava domes emplaced along an ESE-trending zone. The volcano is flanked by Pleistocene complexes to the north and south. English's Crater, a 1-km-wide crater breached widely to the east by edifice collapse, was formed about 2000 years ago as a result of the youngest of several collapse events producing submarine debris-avalanche deposits. Block-and-ash flow and surge deposits associated with dome growth predominate in flank deposits, including those from an eruption that likely preceded the 1632 CE settlement of the island, allowing cultivation on recently devegetated land to near the summit. Non-eruptive seismic swarms occurred at 30-year intervals in the 20th century, but no historical eruptions were recorded until 1995. Long-term small-to-moderate ash eruptions beginning in that year were later accompanied by lava-dome growth and pyroclastic flows that forced evacuation of the southern half of the island and ultimately destroyed the capital city of Plymouth, causing major social and economic disruption.

Information Contacts: Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO), Olde Towne.