Generation of a debris avalanche and violent pyroclastic density current on 26 December (Boxing Day) 1997 at Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat

R.S.J. Sparks, E.S. Calder, J. Barclay, R.A. Herd, G.E. Norton, J.-C. Komorowski, R. Luckett, L.J. Ritchie, B. Voight, A.W. Woods

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Growth of an andesitic lava dome at Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat, beginning in November 1995, caused instability of a hydrothermally altered flank of the volcano. Catastrophic failure occurred on 26 December 1997, 14 months after the instability was first recognized. Two months before failure a dome lobe had extruded over the unstable area and by 25 December 1997 this had a volume of 113 x 10 m . At 03:01 (local time) the flank rocks and some dome talus failed and generated a debris avalanche (volume 46 x 10 m ). Between 35 and 45 x 10 m of the dome then collapsed, generating a violent pyroclastic density current that devastated 10 km of southern Montserrat. The failure of the flank and dome formed two adjacent bowl-shaped collapse depressions. The most intense activity lasted about 11.6 minutes. The hummocky debris avalanche deposit is composed of a mixture of domains of heterolithic breccia. The pyroclastic density current had an estimated peak velocity of 80-90 ms , and minimum flux of 10 kgs . The current was largely erosional on land with most deposition out at sea. Destructive effects included removal of houses, trees and large vehicles, and formation of a scoured surface blackened by a thin (3-4 mm) layer of tar. Two discrete depositional units formed from the pyroclastic density current, each with a lower coarse-grained layer and an upper fine-grained stratified layer. These deposits are overlain by an ashfall layer related to buoyant lofting of the current. Flank failure is attributed to loading of hydrothermally weakened rocks by the dome. The generation of the pyroclastic density current is attributed to failure and explosive disintegration of the dome, involving release and violent expansion of gases initially at high pore pressures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-434
Number of pages26
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2002


Dive into the research topics of 'Generation of a debris avalanche and violent pyroclastic density current on 26 December (Boxing Day) 1997 at Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this