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Montserrat Case Study
The island Montserrat once regarded as a tropical paradise in the Caribbean,
was devastated when, in 1995, its volcano, Chances Peak, erupted for the first
time in centuries.
Montserrat is located in the Caribbean islands and is part of the Lesser Antilles.
The island is South of Puerto Rico. It is a small island, roughly 40 square miles in
size, however it is gradually getting larger, as the solidified lava from Chances
Peak builds up on the south east coast and extends into the sea. The island's
capital, Plymouth is situated
on the west coast.
On 18th July 1995,
inhabitants were left stunned
as the volcano, Chances
Peak, which is in Soufriere
Hills, begun to erupt. This
came as a shock to so many
as the volcano was dormant.
Although the volcano began to erupt in 1995, the major eruptions didn't come
until 25th june1997, after the volcano had been active for just under 2 years.
This happened as a result of the island lying on a convergent plate boundary. The
North American plate was subducted under the Caribbean plate, as it is oceanic
and is therefore heavier and denser. Over time, magma has risen from the
mantle at this point, creating a chain of volcanic islands, known as an island arc.
One of these is Montserrat.
The friction at the subduction zone creates earthquakes, although the majority
are too weak to feel, so the inhabitants wouldn't be aware. The heat from the
friction causes the crust to melt and turn into magma. This magma builds up in
the mantle, creating a magma chamber under the crust. This is under immense
pressure, which will eventually cause a volcanic eruption. As Chances Peak is a
composite volcano, the thick, sticky lava called andestite can build up inside the
vent, in a dome until it becomes too heavy and the dome collapses, meaning the
next eruption will be powerful as the pressure will have to be great enough to
move the plug. This could explain the delay between eruptions. This caused
huge pyroclastic flows, which engulfed surrounding towns and villages. The
airport and dock were both destroyed, as was the capital, Plymouth. These
pyroclastic flows resulted in 19 deaths before the south of the island was
evacuated into the north, becoming an exclusion zone.
Furthermore, pyroclastic surges, which travel above the flows, killed much of
the vegetation, which resulted in food shortages for the whole island, and as the
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the dome collapsed, a huge ash cloud reaching up to 10km in height rose above
the island, resulting in blackout conditions as the sun was blocked. This made
rescue and evacuation more difficult as aircraft couldn't reach the island and
vision was impaired.
When the volcano erupted, the United States geological survey responded with
their volcano disaster assistance programme, which helped Britain to provide
the island and its inhabitants with an observatory and the means to predict any
future eruptions.…read more
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There was a large increase in unemployment as many businesses in the south
were destroyed, including those based in the capital. Some businesses which
survived the earthquake were shut down because they were not making profits
due to the population decline. This contributed to unemployment. Ash covered
farms and crops, depriving them of the oxygen they need to survive. Many
livestock lost their lives because they were suffocated by the ash.…read more
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Montserrat's inhabitants can prepare for an eruption by developing an
evacuation map. Furthermore, the chances of fatality from a pyroclastic flow can
be eliminated (it is currently 1 in 10) by enforcing the exclusion zone more strictly.
This map shows the current exclusion
zone, which is no admittance except from
The central zone is for residents only, with
a 24 hour rapid access plan in case of an