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Pelée

Photo of this volcano
  • France
  • West Indies
  • Stratovolcano
  • 1932 CE
  • Country
  • Volcanic Region
  • Primary Volcano Type
  • Last Known Eruption
  • 14.809°N
  • 61.165°W

  • 1394 m
    4573 ft

  • 360120
  • Latitude
  • Longitude

  • Summit
    Elevation

  • Volcano
    Number
Most Recent Weekly Report: 24 March-30 March 2021 Citation IconCite this Report

L'Observatoire Volcanologique et Sismologique de Martinique (OVSM) reported that seismicity at Pelée increased during 19-26 March. The seismic network recorded at least 55 high-frequency volcano-tectonic earthquakes with magnitudes less than or equal to 1, located at depths between 1.7 km below sea level and 1 km above sea level. The Alert Level remained at Yellow (the second lowest level on a four-color scale).

Source: L'Observatoire Volcanologique et Sismologique de Martinique (OVSM)


Most Recent Bulletin Report: July 2021 (BGVN 46:07) Citation IconCite this Report

Elevated seismicity since December 2020; vegetation damaged by carbon dioxide degassing

Mount Pelée is a stratovolcano that forms the north end of the French island of Martinique, along the Lesser Antilles subduction zone. There have been at least four eruptions over the past 250 years: phreatic eruptions in 1792 and 1851, and more recently, magmatic eruptions that built lava domes during 1902-1905 and 1929-1932. Fumaroles at the summit in the area of those lava domes were active until 1970, but not since then. There are thermal springs on the upper and lower flanks of the volcano, most notably at the Rivière Chaude, Rivière Claire, Rivière Picodo and Rivière Mitan, as well as a few hydrothermal submarine springs on the Caribbean Sea coast to the southwest (figure 1). Information for this report was provided by the Volcanological and Seismological Observatory of Martinique (OVSM), Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), with contributions from F.R. Fontaine (IPGP, OVSM), J-C. Komorowski (IPGP), J. Corbeau (IPGP, OVSM), A. Burtin (IPGP), F. Jadelus (IPGP, OVSM), D. Melezan (IPGP, OVSM), C. Vidal (IPGP, OVSM), B. Zimmermann (IPGP, OVSM), J.M. Lavenaire (IPGP, OVSM), J.-G. Gabriel (IPGP, OVSM), J.-M. Saurel (IPGP), A. Lemarchand (IPGP), R. Grandin (IPGP), J.-B. de Chabalier (IPGP), F. Beauducel (IPGP), S. Moune (IPGP, OVSG), E. Chilun-Eusebe (IPGP, OVSG), V. Robert, R. Moretti (IPGP, OVSG), G. Boudon (IPGP), G. Carazzo (IPGP), A. Michaud-Dubuy (IPGP), and S. Tait (OMP).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 1. Map of Mount Pelée showing the monitoring networks in Martinique. Courtesy of OVSM – IPGP.

Seismicity since 1980 and the installation of monitoring networks (figures 1 and 2) has typically been low. A few volcano-tectonic (VT) earthquakes were observed between 1 January 2015 and 1 April 2019, with a mean of two and a standard deviation of six earthquakes per month. Increased volcanic seismicity was recorded starting in April 2019 located 4-5 km below the summit (figure 3). A stronger increase was recorded between 2-15 December 2020 with 316 VT earthquakes during this period.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 2. The seismic network of the OVSM - IPGP used for monitoring Mount Pelée. Broad-band three component seismic stations are in blue, short-period one component seismometers are in black, and temporary seismic nodes are in red. Courtesy of IPGP.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 3. Graphs showing the daily number of volcano-tectonic (VT) earthquakes (top) recorded and the cumulated number of VT earthquakes (bottom) from 1 January 2019 to 14 January 2021 at Mount Pelée. The VT earthquakes were derived from the manual catalog of OVSM – IPGP. Courtesy of IPGP.

In addition to the shallow VT events, a few deep VT earthquakes (~15 km below sea level) were recorded below the volcano in April-May 2019 (5) and November 2019 (1); this type of seismicity was not observed between January 2014 and March 2019. New tremor-type signals were recorded on 8 and 9 November 2020 (figure 4). Eight long-period (LP) earthquakes were detected in December 2020 during the stronger increase in volcanic seismic activity. Seismic activity typically occurred in swarms lasting up to a few days and has fluctuated since 4 December 2020, but remained significantly higher than base level (table 1 and figure 5). Despite the ongoing unrest, the seismic energy released has remained low and no volcanic earthquakes have been felt.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 4. Spectrograms (a and b) of volcanic tremor at Mount Pelée recorded by a seismic station (MLM) of the OVSM - IPGP from 8-9 November 2020. (c) Cumulated number of long-period events detected within the volcanic tremor signal. Courtesy of IPGP.

Table 1. Monthly numbers of volcanic earthquakes recorded at Mount Pelée by the OVSM – IPGP during December 2020-June 2021. Courtesy of IPGP.

Month Volcano-tectonic Long-period Hybrid Tremor
Dec 2020 342 8 3 3
Jan 2021 162 5 2 3
Feb 2021 109 1 1 2
Mar 2021 120 0 0 1
Apr 2021 533 0 13 0
May 2021 199 0 0 0
Jun 2021 97 0 1 0
Figure (see Caption) Figure 5. Map of Mount Pelée with N-S (right) and E-W (bottom) cross-sections showing the position and depth of hypocenters of the seismic events in April 2021. Only earthquakes that could be located are shown. Courtesy of IPGP.

Due to the increased seismicity, OVSM - IPGP raised the Volcanic Alert Level (VAL) to Yellow (the second level on a four-color scale) on 4 December 2020. A zone of damaged, browned, and dead vegetation was observed at the end of December 2020 on the southwest flank between the upper Rivière Claire and the Rivière Chaude, above their confluence. A field expedition on 8 February 2021 by OVSM - IPGP investigators, with the support of the Emergency and Fire Department (STIS) and the civil protection helicopter, confirmed that the vegetation damage was associated with elevated levels of diffuse passive soil degassing of carbon dioxide from the ground. There were no visible fumaroles. This area is less than 200 m from the Rivière Claire where the presence of hydrogen sulfide has been reported in scientific literature for several years, in the vicinity of thermal springs.

Ground fractures in the center of the most deteriorated vegetation zone were 20-60 cm wide, 2-3 m deep, and several tens of meters long. Although some fractures had formed in the past, the clearest ones linked to the damaged vegetation may have formed recently. No fumarolic, water vapor, or gas emissions were visible and there was no thermal anomaly associated with these fractures. There was no evidence of significant fluid movements at depth recorded by the deformation network, or any changes in temperature or pH of the water at the regularly monitored sites. These observations are interpreted as reflecting increased activity of the hydrothermal system.

Information Contacts: Université de Paris, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), CNRS, F-75005 Paris, France (URL: http://www.ipgp.fr/); Observatoire Volcanologique et Sismologique de la Martinique (OVSM), Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, 97250, Fonds Saint Denis, France (URL: http://www.ipgp.fr/fr/ovsm/actualites-communiques-publics-de-lovsm, https://doi.org/10.18715/MARTINIQUE.OVSM, real-time location of seismic events are available at ws.ipgp.fr/fdsnws/event/1/ and https://renass.unistra.fr/fr/zones/les-antilles/); Observatoire Volcanologique et Sismologique de la Guadeloupe (OVSG), Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, 97113, Gourbeyre, France (URL: https://www.ipgp.fr/fr/ovsg/observatoire-volcanologique-sismologique-de-guadeloupe); Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées (OMP), 31400 Toulouse, France (URL: https://www.omp.eu/).

Weekly Reports - Index


2021: January | March


24 March-30 March 2021 Citation IconCite this Report

L'Observatoire Volcanologique et Sismologique de Martinique (OVSM) reported that seismicity at Pelée increased during 19-26 March. The seismic network recorded at least 55 high-frequency volcano-tectonic earthquakes with magnitudes less than or equal to 1, located at depths between 1.7 km below sea level and 1 km above sea level. The Alert Level remained at Yellow (the second lowest level on a four-color scale).

Source: L'Observatoire Volcanologique et Sismologique de Martinique (OVSM)


13 January-19 January 2021 Citation IconCite this Report

L'Observatoire Volcanologique et Sismologique de Martinique (OVSM) reported that seismicity at Pelée remained at significant levels during 8-15 January, though had slightly decreased compared to the previous week. The seismic network recorded at least 22 high-frequency, volcano-tectonic earthquakes with magnitudes less than 1, located at shallow depths between 600 and 1,000 m above sea level. Two low-frequency, long-period earthquakes were also noted. The Alert Level remained at Yellow (the second lowest level on a four-color scale).

Source: L'Observatoire Volcanologique et Sismologique de Martinique (OVSM)


6 January-12 January 2021 Citation IconCite this Report

L'Observatoire Volcanologique et Sismologique de Martinique (OVSM) reported that seismicity related to volcanism has typically remained low at Pelée since 1980, when monitoring instrumentation was first installed, with a few dozen earthquakes recorded per year. Swarms were recorded in 1980, 1985-1986, 2007, and 2014, though the latter two swarms were associated with tectonic events. Volcanic seismicity appeared in April 2019 centered 4-5 km below the summit and deeper (more than 10 km below sea level). In addition, tremor-type signals were recorded during 8-9 November 2020, possibly signifying a reactivation of the hydrothermal system. The seismic data recorded since April 2019 represented an increase above baseline levels recorded during 1 January 2015 to April 2019. As a result of this activity OVSM raised the Alert Level to Yellow (the second lowest level on a four-color scale) on 4 December 2020.

Seismicity remained above background levels during 18 December 2020-1 January 2021, with at least 14 volcano-tectonic earthquakes detected with magnitudes less than or equal to 1. Scientists did not observe fumarolic activity during an overflight on 29 December 2020. The number of high-frequency, volcano-tectonic earthquakes (M 1 or less) totaled 65 during 1-8 January. A significant number (249) of long-period earthquakes in a volcanic tremor-type signal were distributed over two periods, 0000-0200 on 3 January and between 2100 on 3 January and 0200 on 4 January. Two isolated, low-frequency, long-period signals were also recorded. The data suggested ongoing perturbation of the hydrothermal system.

Source: L'Observatoire Volcanologique et Sismologique de Martinique (OVSM)


Bulletin Reports - Index

Reports are organized chronologically and indexed below by Month/Year (Publication Volume:Number), and include a one-line summary. Click on the index link or scroll down to read the reports.

05/1986 (SEAN 11:05) Seismicity in 1929 crater

07/2021 (BGVN 46:07) Elevated seismicity since December 2020; vegetation damaged by carbon dioxide degassing




Information is preliminary and subject to change. All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


May 1986 (SEAN 11:05) Citation IconCite this Report

Seismicity in 1929 crater

Seismicity began on 11 December 1985, the first recorded since a well-implemented volcano monitoring network was installed in 1978. A constant low level of seismicity has been observed since December, totaling 30 events as of 4 June. Two 3-component stations were established for a month, helping to locate the shocks, at a constant depth of 1-1.5 km below the 1929 crater. Magnitudes were weak, all less than 2, and only a few were recorded at the Morne des Cadets observatory, 9 km SW of the epicentral area.

The seismic network is composed of five seismometers within 5 km of the summit. Seismic signals noted before the recent activity were attributed to surface phenomena such as rockfalls or local landslides.

Information Contacts: N. Girardin and A. Hirn, IPGP, France; G. Boudon and J.P. Viode, Observatoire Volcanologique de la Montagne Pelée, Martinique.


July 2021 (BGVN 46:07) Citation IconCite this Report

Elevated seismicity since December 2020; vegetation damaged by carbon dioxide degassing

Mount Pelée is a stratovolcano that forms the north end of the French island of Martinique, along the Lesser Antilles subduction zone. There have been at least four eruptions over the past 250 years: phreatic eruptions in 1792 and 1851, and more recently, magmatic eruptions that built lava domes during 1902-1905 and 1929-1932. Fumaroles at the summit in the area of those lava domes were active until 1970, but not since then. There are thermal springs on the upper and lower flanks of the volcano, most notably at the Rivière Chaude, Rivière Claire, Rivière Picodo and Rivière Mitan, as well as a few hydrothermal submarine springs on the Caribbean Sea coast to the southwest (figure 1). Information for this report was provided by the Volcanological and Seismological Observatory of Martinique (OVSM), Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), with contributions from F.R. Fontaine (IPGP, OVSM), J-C. Komorowski (IPGP), J. Corbeau (IPGP, OVSM), A. Burtin (IPGP), F. Jadelus (IPGP, OVSM), D. Melezan (IPGP, OVSM), C. Vidal (IPGP, OVSM), B. Zimmermann (IPGP, OVSM), J.M. Lavenaire (IPGP, OVSM), J.-G. Gabriel (IPGP, OVSM), J.-M. Saurel (IPGP), A. Lemarchand (IPGP), R. Grandin (IPGP), J.-B. de Chabalier (IPGP), F. Beauducel (IPGP), S. Moune (IPGP, OVSG), E. Chilun-Eusebe (IPGP, OVSG), V. Robert, R. Moretti (IPGP, OVSG), G. Boudon (IPGP), G. Carazzo (IPGP), A. Michaud-Dubuy (IPGP), and S. Tait (OMP).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 1. Map of Mount Pelée showing the monitoring networks in Martinique. Courtesy of OVSM – IPGP.

Seismicity since 1980 and the installation of monitoring networks (figures 1 and 2) has typically been low. A few volcano-tectonic (VT) earthquakes were observed between 1 January 2015 and 1 April 2019, with a mean of two and a standard deviation of six earthquakes per month. Increased volcanic seismicity was recorded starting in April 2019 located 4-5 km below the summit (figure 3). A stronger increase was recorded between 2-15 December 2020 with 316 VT earthquakes during this period.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 2. The seismic network of the OVSM - IPGP used for monitoring Mount Pelée. Broad-band three component seismic stations are in blue, short-period one component seismometers are in black, and temporary seismic nodes are in red. Courtesy of IPGP.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 3. Graphs showing the daily number of volcano-tectonic (VT) earthquakes (top) recorded and the cumulated number of VT earthquakes (bottom) from 1 January 2019 to 14 January 2021 at Mount Pelée. The VT earthquakes were derived from the manual catalog of OVSM – IPGP. Courtesy of IPGP.

In addition to the shallow VT events, a few deep VT earthquakes (~15 km below sea level) were recorded below the volcano in April-May 2019 (5) and November 2019 (1); this type of seismicity was not observed between January 2014 and March 2019. New tremor-type signals were recorded on 8 and 9 November 2020 (figure 4). Eight long-period (LP) earthquakes were detected in December 2020 during the stronger increase in volcanic seismic activity. Seismic activity typically occurred in swarms lasting up to a few days and has fluctuated since 4 December 2020, but remained significantly higher than base level (table 1 and figure 5). Despite the ongoing unrest, the seismic energy released has remained low and no volcanic earthquakes have been felt.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 4. Spectrograms (a and b) of volcanic tremor at Mount Pelée recorded by a seismic station (MLM) of the OVSM - IPGP from 8-9 November 2020. (c) Cumulated number of long-period events detected within the volcanic tremor signal. Courtesy of IPGP.

Table 1. Monthly numbers of volcanic earthquakes recorded at Mount Pelée by the OVSM – IPGP during December 2020-June 2021. Courtesy of IPGP.

Month Volcano-tectonic Long-period Hybrid Tremor
Dec 2020 342 8 3 3
Jan 2021 162 5 2 3
Feb 2021 109 1 1 2
Mar 2021 120 0 0 1
Apr 2021 533 0 13 0
May 2021 199 0 0 0
Jun 2021 97 0 1 0
Figure (see Caption) Figure 5. Map of Mount Pelée with N-S (right) and E-W (bottom) cross-sections showing the position and depth of hypocenters of the seismic events in April 2021. Only earthquakes that could be located are shown. Courtesy of IPGP.

Due to the increased seismicity, OVSM - IPGP raised the Volcanic Alert Level (VAL) to Yellow (the second level on a four-color scale) on 4 December 2020. A zone of damaged, browned, and dead vegetation was observed at the end of December 2020 on the southwest flank between the upper Rivière Claire and the Rivière Chaude, above their confluence. A field expedition on 8 February 2021 by OVSM - IPGP investigators, with the support of the Emergency and Fire Department (STIS) and the civil protection helicopter, confirmed that the vegetation damage was associated with elevated levels of diffuse passive soil degassing of carbon dioxide from the ground. There were no visible fumaroles. This area is less than 200 m from the Rivière Claire where the presence of hydrogen sulfide has been reported in scientific literature for several years, in the vicinity of thermal springs.

Ground fractures in the center of the most deteriorated vegetation zone were 20-60 cm wide, 2-3 m deep, and several tens of meters long. Although some fractures had formed in the past, the clearest ones linked to the damaged vegetation may have formed recently. No fumarolic, water vapor, or gas emissions were visible and there was no thermal anomaly associated with these fractures. There was no evidence of significant fluid movements at depth recorded by the deformation network, or any changes in temperature or pH of the water at the regularly monitored sites. These observations are interpreted as reflecting increased activity of the hydrothermal system.

Information Contacts: Université de Paris, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), CNRS, F-75005 Paris, France (URL: http://www.ipgp.fr/); Observatoire Volcanologique et Sismologique de la Martinique (OVSM), Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, 97250, Fonds Saint Denis, France (URL: http://www.ipgp.fr/fr/ovsm/actualites-communiques-publics-de-lovsm, https://doi.org/10.18715/MARTINIQUE.OVSM, real-time location of seismic events are available at ws.ipgp.fr/fdsnws/event/1/ and https://renass.unistra.fr/fr/zones/les-antilles/); Observatoire Volcanologique et Sismologique de la Guadeloupe (OVSG), Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, 97113, Gourbeyre, France (URL: https://www.ipgp.fr/fr/ovsg/observatoire-volcanologique-sismologique-de-guadeloupe); Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées (OMP), 31400 Toulouse, France (URL: https://www.omp.eu/).

This compilation of synonyms and subsidiary features may not be comprehensive. Features are organized into four major categories: Cones, Craters, Domes, and Thermal Features. Synonyms of features appear indented below the primary name. In some cases additional feature type, elevation, or location details are provided.

Eruptive History

There is data available for 54 Holocene eruptive periods.

Start Date Stop Date Eruption Certainty VEI Evidence Activity Area or Unit
1929 Sep 16 1932 Dec 1 ± 30 days Confirmed 3 Historical Observations
1902 Apr 23 1905 Oct 5 Confirmed 4 Historical Observations Rivière Blanche and summit crater
1851 Aug 5 1852 Feb 1 ± 30 days Confirmed 2 Historical Observations Upper Rivière Claire valley (900 m elevation)
1792 Jan 22 1792 Apr (?) Confirmed 1 Historical Observations Upper Rivière Claire valley
1635 (in or before) Unknown Confirmed   Historical Observations Tephra layer NRP3
1460 ± 20 years Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected) Tephra layer NRP2
1370 (?) Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected) Tephra layer NRP1
1340 ± 50 years Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (corrected) Tephra layer P1
1260 ± 20 years Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected) NRC2 tephra
1190 (?) Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
0910 (?) Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
0890 ± 100 years Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (corrected) NRC1 tephra
0720 (?) Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
0650 (?) Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
0450 (?) Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
0350 ± 75 years Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (corrected) Tephra layer P2
0300 (?) Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
0220 ± 75 years Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected) NMP tephra
0130 (?) Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
0050 (?) Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
0010 ± 50 years Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (corrected) Tephra layer P3
0200 BCE (?) Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
0300 BCE ± 100 years Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (corrected)
0440 BCE (?) Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
0590 BCE ± 200 years Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (corrected) Tephra layers NAB2 and P4
0600 BCE (?) Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
0620 BCE (?) Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
0730 BCE (?) Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
0890 BCE ± 50 years Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (corrected) Tephra layer NAB1
1390 BCE ± 150 years Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (corrected) Tephra layer NRS3
2100 BCE ± 200 years Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (corrected) Tephra layer NRS2
2280 BCE (?) Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
2360 BCE (?) Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
2430 BCE (?) Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
2460 BCE ± 100 years Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (corrected) Tephra layer NRS1
2660 BCE ± 200 years Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (corrected) Tephra layer P5
3020 BCE (?) Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
3120 BCE ± 200 years Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (corrected) NPM tephra
3250 BCE (?) Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
3290 BCE (?) Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
3430 BCE ± 75 years Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (corrected) Tephra layer P6
3500 BCE ± 200 years Unknown Confirmed 4 Tephrochronology
3820 BCE (?) Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
3930 BCE ± 100 years Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (corrected) Tephra layer NMR
4510 BCE ± 500 years Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (corrected)
5500 BCE ± 200 years Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (corrected)
5800 BCE (?) Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected)
6220 BCE ± 200 years Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (corrected) Vent slightly south of present summit
6450 BCE (?) Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected) Vent slightly south of present summit
6610 BCE ± 150 years Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (corrected) Tephra layer P8
7050 BCE ± 1000 years Unknown Confirmed   Uranium-series ESE flank (Sans Nom lava dome)
7320 BCE ± 1730 years Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (corrected)
7750 BCE ± 500 years Unknown Confirmed   Uranium-series ESE flank (Aileron lava dome)
8210 BCE ± 200 years Unknown Confirmed 4 Radiocarbon (corrected) Tephra layer P9
Deformation History

There is no Deformation History data available for Pelée.

Emission History

There is no Emissions History data available for Pelée.

Photo Gallery

Mont Pelee, seen here from the south, has a complex summit morphology. The eastern rim of the summit crater, the 1-km-wide Caldeira de l'Etang Sec, forms the notch just to the right of the summit. This crater cuts an edifice that was constructed within a larger horseshoe-shaped caldera, breached to the SW. It was formed during the Pleistocene as a result of a massive volcanic landslide. Two historical lava domes largely fill the Caldeira de l'Etang Sec. The 1929 lava dome forms the summit; the 1902 lava dome is out of sight behind it.

Copyrighted photo by Katia and Maurice Krafft, 1981.
Mount Pelee, the most renowned volcano of the West Indies, towers above the city of St. Pierre, which it destroyed during a major eruption in 1902. Pelee is the most active volcano of the Lesser Antilles, producing at least 20 major explosive eruptions during the past 5000 years. Extensive deposits of pyroclastic flows mantle the volcano. Its present summit consists of lava domes emplaced during eruptions in 1902 and 1929.

Copyrighted photo by Katia and Maurice Krafft, 1988.
The deceptively serene-looking Pelee volcano towers above the Caribbean city of St. Pierre, located only 7.5 km to its south. Nearly 30,000 people of St. Pierre and surrounding towns were killed by pyroclastic flows and surges from Mount Pelee in 1902. The long ridge extending SW from Pelee is the northern wall of a large horseshoe-shaped caldera created by a massive volcanic landslide during the Pleistocene. The modern Pelee volcano, capped by lava domes from the 1902 and 1929 eruptions, was constructed within this scarp.

Copyrighted photo by Katia and Maurice Krafft, 1988.
Ships line the harbor of St. Pierre before the catastrophic 1902 eruption. Prior to 1902, St. Pierre was one of the leading ports of the Carribean. At that time Mont Pelee was a forested volcano with a flat-topped summit. Residents and officials of St. Pierre, in the foreground 7.5 km south of the volcano, were not concerned that the volcano posed a threat to the city. Pelee had not erupted since 1851, and only minor phreatic eruptions had occurred then.

From the collection of Maurice and Katia Krafft.
Prior to the 1902 eruption, St. Pierre was the largest and most beautiful city of the Lesser Antilles. The forested slopes of the seemingly benign Mount Pelee provided a scenic backdrop to the thriving commercial center on the NW coast of Martinique. The last eruption a half-century earlier had been a modest one, and even after the first explosions began on April 23, there was little concern. No volcanological studies had been made, and official statements of reassurance kept most residents in the city until the devastating eruption of May 8.

From the collection of Maurice and Katia Krafft.
One of the most dramatic events following the devastating 1902 eruptions of Mount Pelee in Martinique was the growth of a towering spine on the summit lava dome. It began to rise above the dome on November 3, 1902. By May 31, 1903, the spine reached a height of 350 m above the dome, temporarily creating a 1617-m-high peak at the summit. It then slowly disintegrated and was gone by the end of the eruption. This March 11, 1903, photo shows the spine near its peak height, with a smoothly extruded eastern side.

Photo by A. Lacroix, 1903 (from the collection of Maurice and Katia Krafft).
Slow, piston-like extrusion of a solidified portion of a lava dome sometimes produces vertical lava spines that rise above the surface of the dome. The world's largest known spine rose to a maximum height of 350 m, more than twice that of the Washington Monument, at Mount Pelee on Martinique in 1903. Growth of the spine began in November 1902 and reached its maximum on May 31, 1903. It slowly disintegrated and was gone by the end of the eruption two years later. This photo was taken on March 15, 1903.

From the collection of Maurice and Katia Krafft.
A pyroclastic flow, similiar to the one that destroyed the city of St. Pierre on Martinique on May 8, 1902, sweeps down the flanks of Mount Pelee volcano on December 16, 1902. A towering column of ash and steam rises above the advancing pyroclastic flow, which was formed by collapse of gas-rich rocks on a growing lava dome in the summit crater. The May 8 pyroclastic flow was substantially larger than this one, and would have covered an area wider than the entire shoreline of this photo.

Photo by A. Lacroix, 1902 (from the collection of Maurice and Katia Krafft).
The devastated city of St. Pierre lies in ruins after a catastrophic eruption on 8 May 1902, in which pyroclastic flows and surges swept over the city, killing 28,000 people. The high-temperature pyroclastic surges devastated a 58 sq km area SW of the volcano and swept out to sea, capsizing all but two ships in the harbor. This March 1903 photo from the south shows Mount Pelee towering over the remnants of the city, capped by a dramatic lava spine that grew above the summit lava dome.

Photo by A. Lacroix, 1903 (from the collection of Maurice and Katia Krafft).
A pyroclastic flow produced by the collapse of a growing lava dome in the summit crater, sweeps down the SW flank of Mount Pelee on 1 January 1903. Small pyroclastic flows continued for 16 months following the catastrophic eruption of 8 May 1902, that destroyed St. Pierre. A second large pyroclastic flow, comparable in size to that of 8 May, devastated the SE flank on 30 August, killing an additional 1500 people. The frequency of pyroclastic flows diminished after September 1903, but they continued at longer intervals until October 1905.

Photo by Hayot, 1903 (from the collection of Maurice and Katia Krafft).
Mount Pelée towers above the city of St. Pierre (on the coast at the left), which the volcano destroyed during a catastrophic eruption in 1902. Pelée is the most active volcano of the Lesser Antilles arc, with more than 20 major eruptions during the past 5000 years. The modern volcano was constructed on the rim of a large SW-facing horseshoe-shaped caldera whose northern wall is the ridge in the shadow on the left horizon. This caldera formed as a result of slope failure of the paleo-Pelée volcano.

Photo by Richard Fiske, 1977 (Smithsonian Institution).
The summit of Pelée volcano rises immediately above scientists from the Mount Pelée volcano observatory and the Smithsonian Institution who are taking precision leveling measurements on the west flank. This procedure, sometimes referred to as "dry tilt," detects deformation of the volcano that often precedes an eruption by measuring the precise differences in elevation between two stadia rods placed on fixed points. This technique is part of monitoring efforts by the observatory to help detect future eruptions of this scenic, but deadly volcano.

Photo by Lee Siebert, 1977 (Smithsonian Institution).
This photo portrays an unusual combination of geology and history. The light-colored deposits in this outcrop south of St. Pierre are pyroclastic-flow deposits similar to those of eruptions that destroyed the city in 1902. The abundant large holes in the outcrop are not a volcanological phenomenon, but were produced by cannon balls blasted into the unconsolidated deposit during British-French wars for control of the island of Martinique.

Photo by Richard Fiske, 1977 (Smithsonian Institution).
Two lava domes fill much of the Caldiera de l'Etang Sec crater at the summit of Mount Pelee. The lava dome at the left, seen from the east rim of the crater, was formed during an eruption that began in 1929. The vegetated knob halfway down the right skyline is a lava dome from the 1902 eruption. The 1929 eruption was similiar to that of 1902, but smaller in scale. After explosive removal of part of the 1902 dome, growth of a new dome began in January 1930. Pyroclastic flows accompanied dome growth until the end of 1932.

Photo by William Melson, 1973 (Smithsonian Institution).
Mount Pelée towers above the city of St. Pierre in northern Martinique a century after the catastrophic eruption that destroyed the city in 1902. Pelée is the most active volcano of the Lesser Antilles arc, with more than 20 major eruptions during the past 5000 years. Lava domes formed during the 1902 eruption and one in 1929 form the present summit, which was constructed within a large scarp visible on the lower left horizon that formed when the volcano collapsed about 9000 years ago.

Photo by Lee Siebert, 2002 (Smithsonian Institution).
This prison cell in the city of St. Pierre housed one of the only two survivors of the 8 May 1902, eruption of Mount Pelée. Devastating pyroclastic flows and surges swept down the SW flank of the volcano early in the morning and destroyed the city, killing 28,000 people in the world's deadliest eruption of the 20th century.

Photo by Paul Kimberly, 2002 (Smithsonian Institution).
This view looks west from the 1902 lava dome within the summit crater of Mount Pelée. The area beyond the grassy knoll was part of the first portion of the ancestral volcano that underwent massive edifice collapse more than 100,000 years ago. This massive collapse produced a 25 cu km debris avalanche that swept into the Caribbean Sea up to 70 km from the coastline. Mount Pelée was subject to three major episodes of edifice collapse--the second took place about 25,000 years and the third about 9000 years ago.

Photo by Paul Kimberly, 2002 (Smithsonian Institution).
The steep-sided grassy knob in the right foreground is part of the Aileron lava dome, which formed during an eruption about 9700 years ago. This view looks to the SE towards the town of Morne Rouge (left-center), which was devastated by pyroclastic flows during the 1902 eruption. The Pleistocene Piton du Carbet volcano lies in the clouds on the right-center horizon.

Photo by Lee Siebert, 2002 (Smithsonian Institution).
The steep-sided lava dome at the left is Aileron, which was formed about 9700 years ago. The back side of the dome was cut by the latest of three major edifice-collapse events at Mount Pelée. The eastern rim of l'Etang Sec, the current summit crater, cuts horizontally across the photo at the upper right in front of the 1929 dome on the right horizon.

Photo by Lee Siebert, 2002 (Smithsonian Institution).
This view from the summit of Mount Pelée shows the eastern rim of l'Etang Sec, the current summit crater of Mount Pelée. The 1902 and 1920 lava domes fill much of this crater. The town with reddish roofs at the far right is Morne Rouge, affected by pyroclastic flows from the 1902 eruption.

Photo by Paul Kimberly, 2002 (Smithsonian Institution).
The 1929 lava dome forms the summit of Mount Pelée in this telephoto view from St. Pierre. The modern volcano was constructed within a scarp produced by collapse of the volcano about 9000 years ago. The irregularity on the right-hand flank is part of the eastern summit crater rim and the Aileron lava dome, which erupted about 9700 years ago.

Photo by Paul Kimberly, 2002 (Smithsonian Institution).
The 1902 lava dome fills much of the l'Etang Sec summit crater, as seen here from Morne Macouba, north of the summit. Following the catastrophic eruption on May 8, 1902, rapid growth of a summit lava dome began; it reached 350 m height by July 6. Intermittent explosive activity continued until October 31, 1903 and lava dome growth continued on a diminishing scale until October 5, 1905. The famous spine at one point rose to 1617 m, 220 m above the current summit (the 1929 lava dome), before it crumbled away.

Photo by Paul Kimberly, 2002 (Smithsonian Institution).
GVP Map Holdings

The maps shown below have been scanned from the GVP map archives and include the volcano on this page. Clicking on the small images will load the full 300 dpi map. Very small-scale maps (such as world maps) are not included. The maps database originated over 30 years ago, but was only recently updated and connected to our main database. We welcome users to tell us if they see incorrect information or other problems with the maps; please use the Contact GVP link at the bottom of the page to send us email.


Title: Barbados, Grenada, Lesser Antilles, Trinidad & Tobago, Venezuela
Publisher: DMA Aerospace Center
Country: W Indies
Year: 1989
Series: ONC
Map Type: Topographic
Scale: 1:1,000,000
Map of Barbados, Grenada, Lesser Antilles, Trinidad & Tobago, Venezuela

Title: 1-Saint Lucia (N)
Publisher: DOS
Country: Lesser Antilles
Year: 1988
Series: E803 (345)
Map Type: Topographic
Scale: 1:25,000
Map of 1-Saint Lucia (N)

Title: West Indies: The Making of America
Publisher: National Geographic Society
Country: W Indies
Year: 1987
Series: National Geographic
Map Type: Geographic
Scale: 1:4,395
Map of West Indies: The Making of America

Title: Bath of Gulf of Mexico & Caribbean Sea
Publisher: AAPG, Williams & Heintz Map Corp.
Country: US/ C.Am/ S.Am
Year: 1984
Map Type: Bathymetric
Scale: 1:3,289
Map of Bath of Gulf of Mexico & Caribbean Sea

Title: Bathymetry: E Caribbean
Publisher: Department of the Navy
Country: W Indies
Year: 1976
Series: Geophys Maps of Car
Map Type: Bathymetric
Scale: 1:1,000,000
Map of Bathymetry: E Caribbean

Title: Total Geomag Field Intensity: E Caribbean
Publisher: Department of the Navy
Country: W Indies
Year: 1976
Series: Geophys Maps of Car
Map Type: Unknown
Scale: 1:1,000,000
Map of Total Geomag Field Intensity: E Caribbean

Title: Structural Fabric: E Caribbean
Publisher: Department of the Navy
Country: W Indies
Year: 1976
Series: Geophys Maps of Car
Map Type: Geophysical (Structural)
Scale: 1:1,000,000
Map of Structural Fabric: E Caribbean

Title: Struc Contour Map of Deepest Acoustic Reflector
Publisher: Department of the Navy
Country: W Indies
Year: 1976
Series: Geophys Maps of Car
Map Type: Unknown
Scale: 1:1,000,000
Map of Struc Contour Map of Deepest Acoustic Reflector

Title: Sediment Thickness to Deepest Acoustic Reflector
Publisher: Department of the Navy
Country: W Indies
Year: 1976
Series: Geophys Maps of Car
Map Type: Unknown
Scale: 1:1,000,000
Map of Sediment Thickness to Deepest Acoustic Reflector

Title: Venezuela Basin: Sed Thickness to Top of Horizon A
Publisher: Department of the Navy
Country: W Indies
Year: 1976
Series: Geophys Maps of Car
Map Type: Unknown
Scale: 1:1,000,000
Map of Venezuela Basin: Sed Thickness to Top of Horizon A

Title: Venezuela Basin: Sed Thickness Top of A-Top of B
Publisher: Department of the Navy
Country: W Indies
Year: 1976
Series: Geophys Maps of Car
Map Type: Unknown
Scale: 1:1,000,000
Map of Venezuela Basin: Sed Thickness Top of A-Top of B

Title: (A) Track Control: E Caribbean
Publisher: Department of the Navy
Country: W Indies
Year: 1976
Series: Geophys Maps of Car
Map Type: Unknown
Scale: 1:1,000,000
Map of (A) Track Control: E Caribbean

Title: (B) Track Control: E Caribbean
Publisher: Department of the Navy
Country: W Indies
Year: 1976
Series: Geophys Maps of Car
Map Type: Unknown
Scale: 1:1,000,000
Map of (B) Track Control: E Caribbean

Title: (C) Track Control: E Caribbean
Publisher: Department of the Navy
Country: W Indies
Year: 1976
Series: Geophys Maps of Car
Map Type: Unknown
Scale: 1:1,000,000
Map of (C) Track Control: E Caribbean
Smithsonian Sample Collections Database

The following 34 samples associated with this volcano can be found in the Smithsonian's NMNH Department of Mineral Sciences collections, and may be availble for research (contact the Rock and Ore Collections Manager). Catalog number links will open a window with more information.

Catalog Number Sample Description Lava Source Collection Date
NMNH 102152 Hypersthene Dacite -- --
NMNH 102154 Dacite -- --
NMNH 111220 Breadcrust Volcanic Bomb -- --
NMNH 113056-1 Beach Sand -- --
NMNH 113056-10 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-11 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-12 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-13 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-14 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-15 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-16 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-17 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-18 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-2 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-3 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-4 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-5 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-6 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-7 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-8 Tephra -- --
NMNH 113056-9 Tephra -- --
NMNH 115748 Hypersthene Andesite -- --
NMNH 115749 Hypersthene Andesite -- --
NMNH 115750 Hypersthene Andesite -- --
NMNH 115751 Pumice -- --
NMNH 115752 Pumice -- --
NMNH 115753 Pumice -- --
NMNH 116782 Breadcrust Volcanic Bomb -- --
NMNH 74751 Volcanic Dust -- --
NMNH 74753 Volcanic Dust -- --
NMNH 74761 Volcanic Dust -- --
NMNH 76963 Volcanic Dust -- --
NMNH 88959 Hypersthene Andesite -- --
NMNH 88960 Hypersthene Andesite -- --
External Sites