Rainfall-Induced Volcanic Activity on Montserrat

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Dome-forming volcanic eruptions cyclically extrude bodies of lava over several months, which then become gravitationally unstable and collapse, generating pyroclastic flows. On 29 July 2001 extreme rainfall over Montserrat coincided with a major collapse of the Soufrière Hills lava dome. We present rainfall and seismic records that demonstrate, for the first time, a relationship between intense rainfall and lava dome collapse, with associated pyroclastic flow generation. After seven months of little rain and a period of sustained dome growth, the onset of intense rain was followed within hours by dome collapse and pyroclastic flows. The large-scale weather system responsible for the rain was identifiable in satellite images and predicted by meteorological forecasts issued 60 hours prior to the volcanic activity. It is suggested that weather prediction of intense rainfall be incorporated with existing geophysical and geochemical measurements to improve warnings of these hazardous events.

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Geophysical Research Letters, v. 29, issue 13, art. 1644