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

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Abstract

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.

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Ancillary