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Report on Soufriere Hills (United Kingdom) — May 1999

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 24, no. 5 (May 1999)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Soufriere Hills (United Kingdom) Sporadic explosive eruptions and pyroclastic flows during January-March

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1999. Report on Soufriere Hills (United Kingdom) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 24:5. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199905-360050.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


Soufriere Hills

United Kingdom

16.72°N, 62.18°W; summit elev. 915 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


January, February, and March were characterized by sporadic low-intensity events and little seismic activity. In early- to mid-January (7, 13, 14, 15, and 16) there was a series of small explosive eruptions, some generating substantial ash clouds. These events were followed by episodes of ash venting and correlated with seismic tremors. There were occasional small-volume pyroclastic flows (mostly generated by dome collapse, but some perhaps due to fountain collapse during earlier eruptions). Several pyroclastic-flow signals (for example, 7 January) had low-frequency precursors and observers heard associated booming noises in the S of the island. Subsequent vigorous ash venting suggested that the collapses came from violent degassing of the dome. SO2 levels generally decreased during January, although they remained elevated. Ash samples were coarse with lithic and crystal fragments up to 6 mm in size in the Richmond Hills and St. Georges area; those from the dome-collapse pyroclastic flows were very fine-grained.

At the end of January the observatory conducted an extensive photographic and theodolite survey at 12 sites; they also used a GPS-equipped helicopter. The information was used to produce a detailed dome map. The researchers gauged the dome's volume at 76.8 x 106 m3 and measured its highest point (at the top of the White River Valley) at 977 m. Also noted was a deep split in the dome from the 3 July 1998 collapse and subsequent events. The N part of the split comprised two-thirds of the total dome volume (including the three main buttresses above Gages, the N flank, and the Tar River). The scar cuts 100 m into the older English's Crater and has removed a minimum of 5.4 x 106 m3 of old rock.

February activity consisted of a short period of ash venting and pyroclastic flows, and two small mudflows. There was reduced deformation, and the SO2 flux continued to decline.

Activity in March was dominated by 23 small explosive and ash-venting episodes on 1, 7, 12, 26, and 30 March. The largest produced a 7-km-tall ash cloud, ashfall as far as Salem and Runaway Ghaut, lightning, and pyroclastic flows reaching the Tar River delta. Deformation rates decreased, gas emissions were moderate, and SO2 fluxes dropped. Seismicity was dominated by signals from ash venting. Events had impulsive origins with gradual declines in amplitude toward the signal's end.

Geologic Background. 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), Mongo Hill, Montserrat, West Indies (URL: http://www.mvo.ms/).