Articles | Volume 7, issue 4
23 Jul 2007
23 Jul 2007

Seismic characterization of pyroclastic flow activity at Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat, 8 January 2007

S. De Angelis, V. Bass, V. Hards, and G. Ryan

Abstract. A partial dome collapse with concurrent pyroclastic flow (PF) activity occurred at Soufrière Hills Volcano (SHV), Montserrat on 8 January 2007. Pyroclastic density currents were observed to propagate from the Northwest and West sectors of the summit dome into the heads of Tyres Ghaut and Gages Valley, respectively. Between 10:00 and 10:15 UTC pyroclastic flows entered Tyres Ghaut and from there descended into the Belham Valley reaching a distance of about 5 km from the source. Pyroclastic flow activity on the Northwest and West side of the edifice continued at high levels over the following 1.5 h, although run-out distances of individual flows did not exceed 1.5 km. Subsequent observations showed that material had been removed from the lower Northwest side of the dome leaving an amphitheatre-like structure cutting through the old crater rim. The seismic waves excited by the propagation of pyroclastic flows were recorded by the Montserrat Volcano Observatory's network of broadband seismometers. The seismic records show the onset of a continuous signal before 09:30 UTC with gradually increasing amplitudes and spectral energy in the 1–8 Hz band. The signal rapidly increased in amplitude and a characteristic spindle-shaped waveform with broadband energy (1–25 Hz) was observed accompanying large PF that descended along the slopes of the volcano. The main phase was followed by a sequence of individual seismic pulses which correlated well with visual observations of PF. PF are a major hazard at SHV and pose significant risk for the population living in the proximity of the volcano. They can occur with little or no warning and have the potential to reach inhabited areas to the Northwest. The study of the seismic activity associated with the generation and propagation of pyroclastic flows can help to identify characteristic precursory seismic sequences providing valuable information to improve the understanding of the hazards posed by the SHV and to allow better warning to be given to the authorities.