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Report on Soufriere Hills (United Kingdom) — April 2000

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 25, no. 4 (April 2000)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Soufriere Hills (United Kingdom) Dome growth continues through May; Vulcanian eruption 20 March

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2000. Report on Soufriere Hills (United Kingdom) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 25:4. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200004-360050.

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)

Volcanism at Soufriere Hills volcano between 5 February and 26 May 2000 consisted of tremor, continuous dome growth, dome collapses, several pyroclastic flows, and a Vulcanian eruption.

Dome growth that began in November 1999 (BGVN 25:01) continued this report period with growth concentrated in the NE and E portion of the dome through February 2000. On 7 March a switch in the focus of dome growth was marked by a small swarm of earthquakes recorded from 1530 to 1730. The swarm consisted of a mixture of volcano-tectonic, long-period, and hybrid earthquakes with a total of 25 recorded events. Between 2342 on 7 March and 0349 on 8 March a second swarm of different types of earthquakes occurred. The appearance of spiny material in the summit area on 7 March suggested that some growth occurred to the W of the new dome towards Gages wall. Further observations on 9 and 10 March showed a large spine, ~30 m high in the S part of the new dome.

A magmatic explosion occurred at 1530 on 20 March, which was the largest event of this report period. According to MVO, a series of pyroclastic-flow signals started shortly after 1530. These were probably triggered by heavy rainfall and gradually built up in size. Between 1800 and 1900, there were several large pulses of activity with each pulse successively larger. At about 1915, a very large pyroclastic flow traveled out across the sea. This was followed by at least one, and probably more, vulcanian explosions from the volcano's summit. Lightning was seen, and near-continuous thunder was heard during this eruption. Satellite imagery suggested that the ash cloud reached over 9 km and mostly traveled E and SE. However, all of Montserrat received some light ashfall as part of the ash cloud spread to the N. Reports of ashfall in Guadeloupe and Antigua were also received. The following night, heavy rain washed away most of the ash in Montserrat. Observations of the lava dome after the explosion showed that virtually all of the new dome, growing since November 1999, had collapsed and some of the interior of the old dome had been eroded.

On 24 March observations of the scar confirmed that a new spine of lava had been extruded over the vent area. In addition, excellent views of the lava dome on 31 March showed blocky growth in the base of the scar with abundant steaming from around the dome. The new dome was estimated to be 150 m wide and about 100 m high; three small spiny lobes could be seen on top of the new growth. By 20 April the dome's volume was estimated to be 12 to 15 million m3. The average growth rate was 5-6 m3/s, which was higher than the rate in December and July (above ~3 m3/s: BGVN 25:01). Two areas of active growth were noted; one on the dome's S side, and another on its E side. The highest point on the new lava dome was measured at 848 m above sea level, which means the new lava dome had a total height of ~120 m.

Between 28 April and 5 May there was a significant increase in both hybrid and long-period earthquakes. About half of the long-period earthquakes recorded immediately preceded rockfalls, and visual observations confirmed that these events comprised powerful, vertical ash emissions immediately prior to the start of the rockfall. The nature of the seismicity indicated increased levels of pressure within the upper conduit and lava dome. The main dome growth area was on the dome's NE flank. The increased activity culminated on 6 May when there was a moderate collapse of several million m3 of rock from the dome's NE flank. The pyroclastic flows generated from the collapse traveled down Tar River Valley and the longest flows just reached the sea. Observations on 12 May revealed refilling of the small scar created by the 6 May collapse. As of 26 May growth was concentrated in the dome's NE side, with indications that it may move towards the SE. Also, between 19 and 26 May a continuous, low-level ash plume visible in GOES 8 imagery emanated from the volcano.

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.mvomrat.com/).