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The Volcano

Filling the southern half of Montserrat, the Soufrière Hills (French "Sulphur" Hills) is a stratovolcano composed of alternating layers of hardened lava, solidified ash, and rocks from earlier eruptions. After a long period of dormancy, it became active in 1995, and has continued to erupt ever since. A series of major eruptions from this volcano eventually destroyed our capital city, Plymouth. Its eruptions have rendered more than half of Montserrat uninhabitable and caused widespread evacuations: about two thirds of the population left the island. Seismic activity had occurred in 1897–1898, 1933–1937, and again in 1966–1967, but the eruption that began on July 18, 1995, was the first since the 17th century.

When pyroclastic flows and mudflows began occurring regularly, Plymouth was evacuated, and a few weeks later a pyroclastic flow covered the city in several meters of debris. A large eruption on June 25, 1997, resulted in the deaths of nineteen people. The island's airport was directly in the path of the main pyroclastic flow and was completely destroyed. The tourist industry was also destroyed. However, it is now regenerating.

The most devastating eruption of the Soufrière Hills Volcano was on Monday, July 28, 2008, without any precursory activity. At this time, Pyroclastic flow lobes reached Plymouth. A small part of the eastern side of the lava dome collapsed, generating a pyroclastic flow in Tar River Valley. Several large explosions were registered. The height of the ash column was estimated at 12 kilometers (40,000 feet) above sea level.

The volcano has become one of the most closely monitored volcanoes in the world since its eruption began, with the Montserrat Volcano Observatory taking detailed measurements and reporting on its activity to the government and population of Montserrat. The observatory is operated by the British Geological Survey under contract to the government of Montserrat.


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