The Soufriere Hills volcano is an active complex stratovolcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. It was dormant for many years, but returned to activity in 1995 with a series of eruptions that forced the evacuation of 2/3rds of the entire island. The volcano has been continuously erupting, and has now destroyed about half the surface of the island, including the airport.
Soufriere Hills is a typical subduction volcano, created by the subduction of the Atlantic Plate underneath the Caribbean Plate. The largely andesitic volcano takes up the southern half of the island of Montserrat, rising to an elevation of 1050 meters. The summit area consists of a series of lava domes. One of the largest is English crater, measuring about 1 km across, which formed about 4,000 years ago when the summit collapsed. Previous to the 1995 eruption, Soufriere Hills was largely silent; there was an eruption in the 17th century that produced the Castle Peak lava dome.
And so, the eruption that began on July 18, 1995 was the first to hit the volcano since the 17th century. But then it started to erupt regularly with pyroclastic flows and mudflows. An eruption on June 25 killed 19 people, and completely destroyed the island’s airport. Needless to say, the island’s tourist industry was completely wiped out, and most of the inhabitants were evacuated away from the island.
Soufriere Hills is continuing to erupt regularly. A devastating eruption occurred on July 2008 without any warning, shooting out pyroclastic flows that reached the capital city of Plymouth. An ash column rose up into the air to an altitude of 12 km.
We have written many articles about volcanoes for Universe Today. Here’s an article about Mount Pelee that killed 30,000 people on the island of Martinique, and here’s an article about other famous volcanoes.
We have also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast about Earth, as part of our tour through the Solar System – Episode 51: Earth.