12 April 2011

Soufriere Hills Volcano: 15 Years On Conference

Posted by Jessica Ball

If you’re wondering where I’ve been for the past week or so, the answer is attending the recent Soufriere Hills Volcano: 15 Years On conference, held from April 4-8 on the Island of Montserrat. (I gave a talk, which hopefully goes a little way toward justifying a trip to a Caribbean island in the last weeks of the semester!) The conference was fantastic, and I learned ┬áso much about lava dome eruptions (in addition to my own research) that I’ll probably be slotting whole chunks of new material into my dissertation.

The conference, a joint venture between the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, IAVCEI, and a number of on-island sponsors, was held this year for the 15th anniversary of the beginning of the Soufriere Hills eruption. Since then, the eruption has changed the landscape of Montserrat drastically, displacing people from the southern 2/3 of the island and forcing those remaining to move to the north. The conference topics ranged from pyroclastic flows and processes to magma chamber dynamics to modelling volcanic processes to the societal impacts of an eruption on a small island, and many of the leading names in volcanology were present. Here are just a few samples of talks that were held during the conference:

  • Cole, Paul – Relatively large volume, pumice-poor Vulcanian explosions at Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat
  • Pallister, John – Preventing international volcanic disasters and advancing science diplomacy – Recent examples from Columbia (Huila), Chile (Chaiten) and Indonesia (Merapi)
  • Joseph, Pat – Application of geothermal monitoring for volcanic surveillance in the Lesser Antilles
  • Wardman, Johnny – Quantifying the vulnerability of high voltage transmission systems to volcanic ash fall hazards
  • Donovan, Amy – Reflexive volcanology: Montserrat’s contribution to global volcanic risk management
  • Macfarlane, David – Ground-based radar measurements at Soufriere Hills Volcano
  • Voight, Barry – The SEA-CALIPSO active-source seismic experiment finds magma chamber and crustal structure under Soufriere Hills Volcano
  • Barnes, Vernie – Fifteen Years Under The Volcano: Montserratian Adolescents, Their Identity, Behaviour and Contexts

My own contribution was a summary of the work I’ve been doing to figure out the hydrothermal system at the Santiaguito lava dome complex, and the general effects of hydrothermal activity on dome stability. I don’t actually remember giving the talk (my brain switches to autopilot when I have to present things to large groups of people), but I got some really helpful feedback afterward, and it was great getting to discuss my research with the other scientists present – most of whom have vastly more experience than I.

We didn’t spend all our time in talks, though – because if you’ve got a bunch of volcanologists on a volcanic island, they’re going to want to go stomp around the volcano. At the moment, Soufriere Hills is showing a pretty low level of activity (rockfalls, degassing and some very small pyroclastic flows), so it’s reasonably safe to visit some of the newest deposits. That was one field trip; there was also a boat tour around the west side of the island to Plymouth, a visit to the Belham River Valley (and its lahar deposits) and a tour through some of the older volcanic rocks on the island (the Silver and Centre Hills).

I’ll post more photos from those field trip locations later this week, but here are some highlights for you:

Buffalo, Duke and Marquette University scientists admiring the Soufriere Hills lava dome from the roof of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.

Steel drum band (including MVO staff!) performing on the opening night of the conference.

Wednesday field trip to look at recent pyroclastic deposits near Trant's Bay.

Paul Cole (Director of the MVO) points out friction marks on a boulder in the February 2010 pyroclastic deposits.

Best view of the dome all week! The large crater to the left side was formed in the February 2010 dome collapse.

Sunset and moonrise from the steps of the Montserrat Cultural Centre, which hosted the indoor parts of the conference.