I chose to write my case study on the Soufriere Hills volcano which is located on the island of Montserrat. I have always been fascinated by volcanic eruptions and wanted to learn more about the physical processes that cause such explosions to occur. The Soufrière Hills volcano is a complex stratovolcano which formed at the crossing of the Atlantic tectonic plate and the Caribbean plate with several lava domes forming its summit. In French, Soufrière translates to sulphur outlet. Soufrière Hills forms the northern portion of the miniature sized Island of Montserrat in the British Lesser Antilles. After a long period of dormancy, it became active again in 1995 as a new lava dome was built and has continued to erupt since. Due to its large scale eruptions, more than half of Montserrat has been left uninhabitable. The capital city of Plymouth was destroyed and caused widespread evacuations throughout the region. Nearly two-thirds of the population abandoned the island. The physical processes that caused the disaster involve the andesitic nature of the volcano, periods of lava dome growth, and dome collapse which resulted in pyroclastic flows, ash venting, and explosive eruptions. The island of Montserrat is built almost entirely of volcanic rocks. In size it is sixteen kilometers in length from north to south and ten kilometers in width from east to west. The island consists of andesitic lavas produced by dome-forming eruptions. The South Soufriere Hills are composed of basaltic-andesite rocks. Pyroclastic flows and fragments of volcanic rock ejected by explosions are the most significant hazards. Pyroclastic flows consist of fragments of hot lava and volcanic ash which move at high speeds of over sixty miles per hour or one hundred kilometers per hour. These explosions are intense and can cause a great deal of destruction and even death to those near it. Fragments of rock that are dispersed around the vicinity of the volcano can cause injury to humans as well as extensive property damage.

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About half of the island of Montserrat, specifically the volcanic region, is now a designated exclusion zone. The volcano still remains active although it has not erupted since 2010. Although the tourism industry on the island was ruined during the aftermath of the natural disaster, it has recently experienced growth due to the popularity of the volcano site. The most recent eruption occurred in February of 2010 due to a collapse of the lava dome.  Two explosions and numerous pyroclastic flows caused extensive damage to buildings. Since this eruption, there has been only ash venting and fumaroles. Today the Soufriere Hills volcanic activity sits at a low hazard level of two with falling rocks and frequent earthquakes. An observatory for volcanic activity was built to better monitor the site. There was construction of new roads as well as a new airport. The island people have even started to return to Montserrat with the decrease in volcanic activity.


  1. I find this case to be particularly interesting as I had not heard of this volcano before. What does surprise me is that even though there has only been a 7 year gap in activity people are already returning and that there is an investment again in infrastructure. I get it that people have no choice sometimes about where to live, but if they had left in the first place, why would you come back, knowing its very likely to erupt again. I guess this just demonstrates what a complex world we live in.

    Michael Mumenthaler

  2. I think that this is a really cool summary on a volcanic eruption! Particularly because the Soufriere Hills volcano is located on an Island that I have never heard of before. You did a great job on being informative in your study and describing everything so clearly. It’s crazy how half the island is an exclusive zone and how it used to be such a big tourist site but now it isn’t as much, since the volcano is so active and has had quite some eruptions. It’s also heartbreaking that the capital city of Plymouth was destroyed and caused so many evacuations but it is a good thing that now the island people are starting to return because it is a lot safer than it had been before!

    Celine Chassagneux

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