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Report on Soufriere Hills (United Kingdom) — January 2002

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 27, no. 1 (January 2002)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Soufriere Hills (United Kingdom) Small-scale dome collapses and pyroclastic flows through February 2002

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2002. Report on Soufriere Hills (United Kingdom) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 27:1. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200201-360050.

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)


The Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) reported that during 17 August 2001 through at least 1 February 2002 at Soufriere Hills, a new lava dome continued to grow within the scar produced from the 29 July 2001 partial dome collapse (BGVN 26:07). Activity generally increased at Soufriere Hills during mid-September through November 2001, and remained at a high level through at least 1 February 2002 (table 38).

Table 38. Seismic and SO2-flux data from Soufriere Hills during 17 August 2001 to 1 February 2002. Courtesy of MVO.

Date Rockfall Long-period / Rockfall Long-period Hybrid Volcano-tectonic SO2 flux (metric tons/day)
17 Aug-24 Aug 2001 189 1 36 149 0 Not Reported
24 Aug-31 Aug 2001 200 1 6 19 11 25 Aug: 68; 28 Aug: 151
31 Aug-07 Sep 2001 218 2 31 8 4 31 Aug: 242; 01 Sep: 86
07 Sep-14 Sep 2001 228 0 28 65 1 13 Sep: 543
14 Sep-21 Sep 2001 211 4 36 522 3 avg 200-2000
21 Sep-28 Sep 2001 297 7 16 326 12 100-600; avg 250
28 Sep-05 Oct 2001 202 2 26 451 0 01 Oct: 418
05 Oct-12 Oct 2001 285 7 34 20 1 10 Oct: 388
12 Oct-19 Oct 2001 207 2 6 9 1 18 Oct: 320
19 Oct-26 Oct 2001 208 2 3 46 0 22 Oct: 574; 23 Oct: 48424 Oct: 292; 25 Oct: 200
26 Oct-02 Nov 2001 284 -- 8 46 2 77-385; avg 233; 26 Oct: 611
02 Nov-09 Nov 2001 314 8 5 174 4 05 Nov: 134
09 Nov-16 Nov 2001 149 4 20 116 2 13 Nov: 521; 15 Nov: 450
16 Nov-23 Nov 2001 251 45 115 413 -- 19 Nov: 140; 20 Nov: 119
23 Nov-30 Nov 2001 435 82 145 193 -- <100 avg
30 Nov-07 Dec 2001 363 37 58 128 -- Not Reported
07 Dec-14 Dec 2001 551 97 95 80 -- 11 Dec: 158
14 Dec-21 Dec 2001 858 42 57 25 -- 19 Dec: 181
21 Dec-28 Dec 2001 1012 45 75 75 -- 27 Dec: 851
28 Dec-04 Jan 2002 911 69 103 21 -- 250-1000, avg 457
04 Jan-11 Jan 2002 939 81 87 24 -- 08 Jan: 898; 10 Jan: 1122
11 Jan-18 Jan 2002 741 29 52 7 -- Not Reported
18 Jan-25 Jan 2002 471 68 70 9 -- 22 Jan: 700
25 Jan-01 Feb 2002 610 67 140 8 -- Not Reported

Throughout the report period, the new dome produced pyroclastic flows and rockfalls that traveled E to the upper and middle reaches of the Tar River Valley. Small-scale lava dome collapses generated pyroclastic flows almost continuously, with flows entering the sea on 4, 5, and 14 October, 2 and 28 December 2001, and 5 and 12 January 2002. Dense ash plumes associated with sea entry and ash venting from the summit generally drifted W and reached up to 3.0 km altitude (table 39). During mid-October ash clouds drifted to the W and NW and occasionally deposited small amounts of ash on inhabited areas to the N of the island. A new event began on 28 December at 1330 that produced a large area of dense ash observed on satellite imagery below ~3 km a.s.l. Incandescence was observed at the dome on 3 September, during 2-9 and 16-23 November, and on the E and W sides of dome on 26 and 27 December. Mudflows occurred in the Belham Valley on several days during periods of torrential rainfall.

Table 39. Summary of ash emissions at Soufriere Hills seen on satellite imagery during 26 August 2001- 5 February 2002. Courtesy of Washington VAAC.

Date Altitude (km) Direction Size
26 Aug 2001 ~2.1 SW 28 km long, 9 km wide
05 Sep 2001 ~1 W 160 km long, 28 km wide
07 Sep 2001 ~summit level S --
16 Sep 2001 ~summit level -- --
21 Sep 2001 <1 WNW --
22 Sep 2001 <1.2 WNW 115 km long
24 Sep 2001 ~1.5 W --
25 Sep 2001 ~1.5 W --
26 Sep 2001 ~1.5 WSW --
30 Sep 2001 <3.0 W --
03 Oct 2001 ~summit level WSW --
04 Oct 2001 <1.5 W 36 km long, 23 km wide
04 Oct 2001 <2.4 WNW 28 km wide
05 Oct 2001 <1.5 -- --
06 Oct 2001 <1.8 W 168 km long, 17 km wide
07 Oct 2001 <1.8 -- --
10 Oct 2001 ~1.8 vertically, possibly E --
11 Oct 2001 <1.8 W --
11 Oct 2001 >2.1 NW --
12 Oct 2001 <1.8 W --
14 Oct 2001 ~1.8 -- --
26 Oct 2001 <2.1 W --
07 Nov 2001 <1.8 NW 32 km long, 7 km wide
07 Nov 2001 <6.0 ENE --
17 Nov 2001 <5.2 NE --
18 Nov 2001 <3.0 NE 42 km long, 11 km wide
03 Dec 2001 ~2.4 W --
08 Dec 2001 ~1.8 W 139 km long
13 Dec 2001 ~4.0 WSW 60 km long, 13 km wide
14 Dec 2001 -- WSW --
21 Dec 2001 <2.4 W 28 km long, 7 km wide
27 Dec 2001 2.1-3.0 SSE 22 km wide
27 Dec 2001 <3.0 SW --
28 Dec 2001 <3.0 WNW 47 km long, 11 km wide
29 Dec 2001 ~3.0 WNW 70 km wide
29 Dec 2001 <3.0 W 129 km long, 16 km wide
01 Jan 2002 <1.5 W 133 km long, 10-24 km wide
02 Jan 2002 <1.5 WNW 125 km long, 10 km wide
05 Jan 2002 <2.4 W --
08 Jan 2002 ~1.5, bursts to 2.4 W 140 km long
11 Jan 2002 -- W 41 km long, 9 km wide
12 Jan 2002 <3.0 WNW --
13 Jan 2002 <2.4 W 149 km long
29 Jan 2002 ~2.4 W --
05 Feb 2002 2.4-3.0 W --
05 Feb 2002 1.5 NW 23 km wide
05 Feb 2002 3.0 W 17 km wide

The daytime entry zone (DTEZ), closed after 4 July when two small pyroclastic flows passed down the W flank of the volcano in the Amersham area, reopened on 29 August. However, the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) warned that activity could still increase quite suddenly, with a dangerous situation developing very quickly. Ash masks were to be worn in ashy conditions, and the Belham Valley was to be avoided during and after heavy rainfall due to the possibility of mudflows. The DTEZ was closed again during 4-11 October due to increased activity.

Morphology of the new lava dome. Observations during August 2001 revealed that the new dome appeared to be growing rapidly and had steep sides and a rugged summit area. During mid-September, MVO reported that the volume of the dome was estimated to be approximately 12 x 106 m3, indicating an average growth rate of ~2.6 m3 per second since the partial dome collapse on 29 July.

On 31 October and 1 November observations revealed that the active lava dome had grown substantially and appeared to switch growth direction from the NE to the E, where a massive, near-vertical headwall had developed. Observations from a helicopter on 8 November revealed that a shallow, circular depression was located over the summit area of the dome, with ash vigorously venting from it. The lava dome's highest point during mid-November was measured on 9 November at 876 m elevation.

During mid-November, lava-dome growth shifted from the E to the W, and the summit area was crowned by spines with an average elevation of 940 m. An elevation of 968 meters was measured on one spine, although one other stood higher. By the end of November, MVO reported these elevations: the dome complex consisting of the stagnant E lobe (870 m), an inactive central lobe (930 m), and the active W lobe (960 m on 27 November). The W lobe had produced several small spines, which collapsed and were replaced by new spines.

Observations of the lava dome on 16 December revealed that although it had not increased noticeably in height, it had increased in volume since November. The top of the dome had developed a broadly rounded and blocky appearance. Most of the growth appeared to occur on the W side of the dome, but rockfalls and small pyroclastic flows also occurred on the E and S flanks.

Observations on 10 January revealed that the summit dome had increased in volume considerably during the previous several weeks and that it was broad with several spines projecting upward. The highest spine reached 1,015 m elevation on 12 January. A large lobe was again active on the upper E flank of the dome, just below the summit level. The W side of the dome appeared to have been inactive for some time, judging from the general weathered appearance and deposits of sulphur. Survey measurements also indicated that the saddle area between the NE and central buttresses lowered by about 20 m during the previous weeks due to rockfall and pyroclastic-flow activity.

On 21 January the dome was crowned by a large 40- to 50-m tall spine inclined steeply upwards towards the E. Although the number of rockfalls gradually decreased over the previous 3 weeks, their size and duration significantly increased during 18-25 January. Rockfalls during that interval yielded seismic signals whose total energy rates exceeded those seen during the previous few months.

Activity of the new lava dome. Lava-dome collapses consisting of 10-15% of the dome's volume occurred on the N side of the dome on 4 and 5 October. On 14 October, after a day of torrential rainfall, several million cubic meters of unconsolidated talus was destabilized on the SE flank of the pre-July 29 dome. Seismic data suggested that the event began at about 1715, peaked at 2245, and ended at about 2300. Ash from the event fell in residential areas on Montserrat to the NW.

On the morning of 16 October a collapse occurred on the S flank of the dome complex, producing numerous pyroclastic flows that traveled W down the White River and reached about two-thirds of the distance to the sea. This collapse involved a substantial amount of unconsolidated talus flanking the pre-July 29 dome; but the actual volume was unknown because clouds prevented observation of the summit region. Small pyroclastic flows also occurred on 2, 4, and 6 December in the upper reaches of White River, originating from the old dome material closest to Chances Peak.

On 31 October and 1 November several small pyroclastic flows were generated by material avalanching off the E flank of the dome. By mid-November, activity had shifted to be mainly concentrated on the W side of the active area. On 2 December pyroclastic flows again originated in several places along the E face of the new lava dome.

A large pyroclastic flow occurred on the night of 14 November; it traveled E and reached the lower parts of the Tar River Valley, stopping a few hundred meters short of the delta. During 1330-1500 on 28 December, several million cubic meters of volcanic material collapsed down the volcano's NE flank, generating a dense W-drifting ash plume that deposited up to a centimeter of ash in the vicinity of Plymouth (~4 km W of the summit).

Seismicity. Weak banded tremor, which indicates rapid magma ascent, began in the early hours of 14 August and continued to strengthen through 22 August. Bands of tremor continued at irregular intervals through mid-November, appearing with periodicities generally ranging between 10 and 27 hours. During these banded-tremor events, rockfall activity and ash venting increased. On 26 August, a particularly vigorous period of ash venting lasted for ~1 hour and sent W-drifting ash up to ~2 km above the volcano. A weak swarm of volcano-tectonic earthquakes (less than M 1) occurred during 29-31 August. During mid-September the bands of tremor occurred about every 13 hours and were slightly more intense when compared with those of the previous week. In addition, the number and strength of hybrid events associated with these tremor episodes increased, which is a pattern consistent with the moderate rate of dome-growth and periods of vigorous degassing.

Continuous low-amplitude tremor was accompanied by increased rockfall activity during 12-14 September. Ash clouds produced from rockfalls rose slightly above the summit and were visible in satellite imagery. Rockfall signals were intense on 9 and 10 November, but then declined significantly and remained low after 12 November. A swarm of hybrid and long-period earthquakes began on 14 November and reached a peak on 21 November, before declining slightly, although the swarm continued to be moderately energetic through the end of the month. An M 3.6 earthquake located just off the NW coast of Montserrat occurred on 29 November at 1248 and was felt throughout the island.

Rockfalls continued through December, and many were preceded by a few seconds of long-period earthquakes. Continuous, weak tremor recorded on 13 December was associated with ash venting, and produced columns that rose to at least 4 km. Periods of intense cyclical rockfalls occurred on 27 December and coincided with weak swarms of hybrid earthquakes. These hybrids were too small to trigger the seismic-event-detection system, and are therefore not included in the count of hybrid earthquakes given in table 39.

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/); Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC), Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB), NOAA/NESDIS E/SP23, NOAA Science Center Room 401, 5200 Auth Road, Camp Springs, MD 20746, USA (URL: http://www.ospo.noaa.gov/Products/atmosphere/vaac/).