Anatomy of a submarine pyroclastic flow and associated turbidity current: July 2003 dome collapse, Soufrière Hills volcano, Montserrat, West Indies



The 12 to 13 July 2003 andesite lava dome collapse at the Soufrière Hills volcano, Montserrat, provides the first opportunity to document comprehensively both the sub-aerial and submarine sequence of events for an eruption. Numerous pyroclastic flows entered the ocean during the collapse, depositing approximately 90% of the total material into the submarine environment. During peak collapse conditions, as the main flow penetrated the air–ocean interface, phreatic explosions were observed and a surge cloud decoupled from the main flow body to travel 2 to 3 km over the ocean surface before settling. The bulk of the flow was submerged and rapidly mixed with sea water forming a water-saturated mass flow. Efficient sorting and physical differentiation occurred within the flow before initial deposition at 500 m water depth. The coarsest components (∼60% of the total volume) were deposited proximally from a dense granular flow, while the finer components (∼40%) were efficiently elutriated into the overlying part of the flow, which evolved into a far-reaching turbidity current.