Discharge of pyroclastic flows into the sea during the 1996-1998 eruptions of the Soufrière Hills volcano, Montserrat

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Explosive eruptions of the Soufrière Hills volcano on the island of Montserrat in the West Indies generated pyroclastic flows that reached the sea on the east and southwest coasts between November 1995 and July 1998. Discharge of the flows produced two pyroclastic deltas off of the Tar and White River valleys. A marine geological survey was conducted in July 1998 to study the submarine extensions of both deltas. Detailed profiles of depth and sub-bottom structure were obtained using a CHIRP II/bubble pulser system. These profiles were compared with pre-eruption bathymetric data in order to identify areas of recent deposition and erosion. Deposition off the Tar and White River valleys was thickest nearest the coastline and deltas, and extended into deeper water up to 5 km from shore. The total volume of submarine pyroclastic deposits as of July 1998 was 73×106 m3 DRE. Submarine pyroclastic deposits off the Tar River valley made up more than two-thirds of the total volume (55×106 m3 DRE) and covered an area of approximately 5.0 km2, which included the delta. The volume of submarine pyroclastic deposits in the White River area (18×106 m3 DRE) is probably underestimated due to the lack of precise pre-eruption bathymetric data in areas greater than 2 km from shore. Growth of pyroclastic deltas at the mouths of the Tar and White River valleys continued to the edge of the submarine shelf where there was a steep break in slope. In the Tar River area pyroclastic material was distributed down the steep shelf break and into deeper water at least a few kilometers from shore. The material spread out radially, forming a submarine fan, where distribution was primarily controlled by bathymetry and slope. © Springer-Verlag 2004.

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Bulletin of Volcanology