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Report on Soufriere St. Vincent (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) — 7 April-13 April 2021

Soufriere St. Vincent

Smithsonian / US Geological Survey Weekly Volcanic Activity Report,
7 April-13 April 2021
Managing Editor: Sally Kuhn Sennert

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2021. Report on Soufriere St. Vincent (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines). In: Sennert, S K (ed.), Weekly Volcanic Activity Report, 7 April-13 April 2021. Smithsonian Institution and US Geological Survey.

Weekly Report (7 April-13 April 2021)

Soufriere St. Vincent

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

13.33°N, 61.18°W; summit elev. 1220 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre (UWI-SRC) and National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) reported that the effusive eruption at Soufrière St. Vincent (often simply referred to as “La Soufriere”) became explosive on 9 April after a period of increased seismicity, gas emission, and rapid dome growth. Earthquake swarms were recorded during 22-25 March and 5 April, signifying a change in the eruption pattern. Small earthquakes associated with dome growth were recorded on 7 April. Episodes of tremor indicating movement of magma and fluids close to the surface began at 0300 on 8 April and were again recorded at 0530, 0800, 1015, and 1300, slowly increasing in magnitude. Five long-period earthquakes and two brief swarms of VT events occurred in between the tremor episodes; ash venting occurred with the last episode. Sulfur dioxide emissions were identified in satellite data, and clouds of steam and gas were visible from the Belmont Observatory. Later that evening, incandescent material over the vent area was visible in webcam images, and views from the observatory indicated that the dome had grown significantly. The Alert Level was raised to Red at around 1830, and the Prime Minister issued an evacuation order for the Red Zone at the N part of the island, affecting 16,000-20,000 people.

An explosive eruption began at 0840 on 9 April when an ash plume rose to 8 km (27,900 ft) a.s.l. and drifted mainly ENE. Ash fell across the island, affecting communities including Chateaubelair and Petite Bordel, the observatory, Belmont and surrounding areas at the S end of the island, and forcing the closure of the Argyle International Airport (20 km S). NEMO stated that evacuations in the Orange and Red zones were impeded by significant ashfall and poor visibility, but by the evening most residents had been evacuated. A second period of vigorous ash venting began at 1445 and initially rose about 4 km (13,100 ft) a.s.l. Lightning was visible in the rising plume. Successive explosions and ash pulses fed the plume for hours and it rose to 16 km (52,000 ft) a.s.l. A third explosive series began at 1835. Ash venting occurred through the night, causing ashfall across St. Vincent and reaching Barbados, about 165 km E, significantly impacting residents on that island.

Periods of banded tremor began at 0330 on 10 April, lasting for periods of 20-30 minutes with 1-3-hour gaps. The tremor episodes were associated with explosive activity and stronger pulses of ash emissions to higher altitudes; ash plumes rose to 10.6-16 km (35,000-52,000 ft) a.s.l. throughout the day. The Washington VAAC stated that ash plumes during 9-10 April had drifted as far as 1,200 km ESE and about 3,000 km ENE. The Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) in Barbados also closed.

Ashfall continued to be widespread on 10 April; deposit thickness varied from less than 1 mm in Colonaire (~12.5 km SSE) to 10-15 mm in Rabacca (~7.4 km SSE). Scientists reported darkness at the observatory at 1617; video showed intense and continuous ashfall. Satellite data confirmed that explosions had excavated the 2020-2021 lava dome and parts of the 1979 dome, leaving a large crater.

Overnight during 10-11 April ash again fell island-wide, and also in the Grenadines (to the SSW), Barbados, and Saint Lucia (50 km NNE). Explosions early on 11 April were followed by widespread power and water outages on the island as reported by NEMO, and some houses had collapsed under the significant ashfall. Beginning around midday the periods between episodes of high-amplitude tremor lengthened from 1.5-4 hours to 5-8 hours. The VAAC reported that through the day ash plumes rose 12.2-16 km (40,000-52,000 ft) a.s.l. and continued to drift long distances to the ENE, E, and SE. A large explosion at 0415 on 12 April produced an ash plume that rose to 12.8 km (42,000 ft) a.s.l. Pyroclastic flows descended several valleys on the S and W flanks, reaching the coast at Morne Ronde (4.3 km W), Larikai (3.5 km WNW), and Trois Loupes Bay (3.5 km NW). Damage to vegetation was extensive along the W coast, stretching from Larikai Bay to Turner Bay. The pattern of seismicity again changed; high-amplitude tremor episodes ceased, but two low-amplitude and one high-amplitude episode were recorded during 0600-1700. Explosivity or notable ash venting coincided with the episodes; the spacing between explosive events increased.

A series of Vulcanian explosions began at 0630 on 13 April and lasted about 30 minutes. The VAAC stated that a dense ash plume rose to 11 km (35,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted E and SE, as well as N and NE. Pyroclastic flows traveled about 6 km WSW, reached the ocean at Wallibou Bay, and extended past the coastline over the sea. Scientists observed the western coastline later in the day and noted that pyroclastic flows had descended all valleys from Larikai (W) to Wallibou, a stretch about 5 km long. Lahar deposits were observed in the Sandy Bay area. The VAAC noted that at 1850 a new ash emission rose to 7.6 km (25,000 ft) a.s.l. and was associated with a thermal anomaly. UWI-SRC stated that a large explosion was recorded around 2300. Pyroclastic flows overnight were channeled to the E into the Rabacca River drainage. The Montserrat Volcano Observatory stated that a sulfur odor and minor ashfall from Soufrière St. Vincent was observed on their island (390 km NNW).

Daily satellite-based measurements of SO2 were notable beginning on 9 April. Though the initial explosion at 0840 showed relatively minor SO2 emissions, stronger, continuous ash and SO2 emissions began later on 9 April (at 1445) and continued into the next day, transitioning into discrete explosive events that continued a least through 14 April. Satellite data showed about 0.4 teragrams (Tg) of SO2 in the plume on 10 April, with some stratospheric injection. Simon Carn noted that this makes the La Soufriere eruption the largest tropical SO2 emission since the 2011 Nabro eruption, and the largest in the Caribbean since satellite measurements began in 1979. The SO2 plume initially fanned out to the NE, E, and SE across the Atlantic Ocean. Measurements during 11-13 April showed similar results of 0.4-0.6 Tg SO2 depending on altitude. The eastern edge of the gas plume reached about 4,700 km to the W coast of Africa by 12 April, and another 2,000 km inland to Mali and Niger on 13 April.

Geological Summary. Soufrière St. Vincent is the northernmost and youngest volcano on St. Vincent Island. The NE rim of the 1.6-km wide summit crater is cut by a crater formed in 1812. The crater itself lies on the SW margin of a larger 2.2-km-wide caldera, which is breached widely to the SW as a result of slope failure. Frequent explosive eruptions after about 4,300 years ago produced pyroclastic deposits of the Yellow Tephra Formation, which cover much of the island. The first historical eruption took place in 1718; it and the 1812 eruption produced major explosions. Much of the northern end of the island was devastated by a major eruption in 1902 that coincided with the catastrophic Mont Pelée eruption on Martinique. A lava dome was emplaced in the summit crater in 1971 during a strictly effusive eruption, forming an island within a lake that filled the crater. A series of explosive eruptions in 1979 destroyed the 1971 dome and ejected the lake; a new dome was then built.

Sources: University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre (UWI-SRC), National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Simon Carn, Reuters, UN News Centre, Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO), ReliefWeb, Capella Space, Nation News, Caribbean Handbook on Risk Information Management