Episodes of cyclic Vulcanian explosive activity with fountain collapse at Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat

T. H. Druitt, S. R. Young, B. Baptie, C. Bonadonna, E. S. Calder, A. B. Clarke, P. D. Cole, C. L. Harford, R. A. Herd, R. Luckett, G. Ryan, B. Voight

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229 Scopus citations


In 1997 Soufriére Hills Volcano on Montserrat produced 88 Vulcanian explosions: 13 between 4 and 12 August and 75 between 22 September and 21 October. Each episode was preceded by a large dome collapse that decompressed the conduit and led to the conditions for explosive fragmentation. The explosions, which occurred at intervals of 2.5 to 63 hours, with a mean of 10 hours, were transient events, with an initial high-intensity phase lasting a few tens of seconds and a lower-intensity, waning phase lasting 1 to 3 hours. In all but one explosion, fountain collapse during the first 10-20 seconds generated pyroclastic surges that swept out to 1-2 km before lofting, as well as high-concentration pumiceous pyroclastic flows that travelled up to 6 km down all major drainages around the dome. Buoyant plumes ascended 3-15 km into the atmosphere, where they spread out as umbrella clouds. Most umbrella clouds were blown to the north or NW by high-level (8-18 km) winds, whereas the lower, waning plumes were dispersed to the west or NW by low-level (<5 km) winds. Exit velocities measured from videos ranged from 40 to 140 ms-1 and ballistic blocks were thrown as far as 1.7 km from the dome. Each explosion discharged on average 3 x 105m3 of magma, about one-third forming fallout and two-thirds forming pyroclastic flows and surges, and emptied the conduit to a depth of 0.5-2 km or more. Two overlapping components were distinguished in the explosion seismic signals: a low-frequency (c. 1 Hz) one due to the explosion itself, and a high-frequency (2 Hz) one due to fountain collapse, ballistic impact and pyroclastic flow. In many explosions a delay between the explosion onset and start of the pyroclastic flow signal (typically 10-20 seconds) recorded the time necessary for ballistics and the collapsing fountain to hit the ground. The explosions in August were accompanied by cyclic patterns of seismicity and edifice deformation due to repeated pressurization of the upper conduit. The angular, tabular forms of many fallout pumices show that they preserve vesicularities and shapes acquired upon fragmentation, and suggest that the explosions were driven by brittle fragmentation of overpressured magmatic foam with at least 55 vol% bubbles present in the upper conduit prior to each event.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-306
Number of pages26
JournalGeological Society Memoir
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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