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CASE STUDY: Soufriere Hills eruption, Montserrat,

After lying dormant for centuries, the volcano began to erupt:

  • early activity included ash emissions, steam explosions & numerous eq's - the steam & ash reaching heights of over 2,500m
  • volcano entered quieter period for a while
  • March 1996 - again produced a huge ash cloud, aswell as dome growth & small pyroclastic flows
  • early 1997 - continued dome growth with small explosions & ballistic projectiles
  • climax occured on 25 June - large explosions within the volcano resulted in extensive pyroclastic flows (holding 4-5million m cubed of material)
  • most of this material flowed down northern flank - damaging houses & causing death of the inhabitants
  • only small amount of island was considered safe to live on
  • the capital Plymouth, was eventually buried under 10m of ash & mud
  • airport & docking facilities destroyed
  • southern part of island rendered uninhabitable

Since 1997 - volcano has been relatively quiet with only minor activity

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During & after the eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano, as Montserrat was still a dependent territory, the British had to provide/assist in the following:

  • setting up of exclusion zones
  • evacuation of 7,000 of the islands 11,000 inhabitants to neighbouring islands such as Antigua or resettlement in the UKand then finacial help with resettlement
  • resettlement of some of the population from the volcanic south to the 'safer' north of the island  
  • setting up temporary shelters in the north
  • re-establishment of air & sea links with the island
  • building of new permanent housing
  • moving the capital from Plymouth to Salem
  • providing farming areas for those resettled in the north
  • setting up Monserrat Volcano Observatory to monitor the volcano's activity- today this is run under contract by the British Geological Society 
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UK government spent over £100 mill in assisting migration & restoring services, agriculture & employment on the island

By early 21st century - number of new homes had been built, although many inhabitants were still living in temporary accomodation

Other features of the islands redevelopment include:

  • attempts to restore some of the tourism lost during the eruption
  • the return of some of the refugee's from the UK & elsewhere
  • construction of a new airport - cost £11 mill, opened in 2005
  • development of port facilities at Little Bay
  • construction of a new football pitch - mainly funded by FIFA
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CASE STUDY: Mt Etna, Siciliy


  • Mt Etna towers above the second largest city in Sicily - Catania
  • has one of worlds longest documented records of eruptions- dating back to 1500 BC
  • the stratovolcano (truncated by several small caldera's) was constructed over an older shield volcano
  • most prominant feature is the Valle del Bove - a 5-10km horseshoe shaped caldera or depression open to the East
    • this was created when the volcano experienced a catastrophic collapse during an eruption - generating enormous landslide
  • Persistent explosive eruptions (sometimes with minor lava emissions) take place from one or more of the 3 prominent summit craters
    • there are a number of vents on the side of the volcano from which lava emerges 
    • cinder cones are often constructed over the vents of lava flows on the lower flanks 
    • Lava flows have reached the sea over a broad area on the south-east flank of Mt Etna
  • Although it can be destructive, volcano is not regarded as particularly dangerous
  • thousands live on its slopes & in surrounding areas - working the fertile volcanic soils
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Towards the end of 1991- lava began to pour from vents high on the eastern flank in the 'Valle del Bove' - advancing on the settlement of Zafferana

A series of protective measures were put in place:

  • a large earth barrier was constructed across the end of the Val Calanna, at the southern end of the Valle del Bove - several 10's of metres high/more than 400m long
    • Held back lava for several months (aim was to slow lava temporarily while other protective measures were put in place)
  • during spring of 1992 - accumulation of lava began to spill over the barrier and travelled down into the valley towards Zafferana - Smaller barriers erected across valley were quickly overwhelmed by advancing lava
  • decided to cut off the flow by blocking the primary feeder channel - first attempted by dropping concrete blocks from helicopters through the roof of the upper lava tube
  • May 1992 - engineers blasted openings in the lava tube - attempted to encourage a new direction of flow away from Zafferana. This was successful
  • eruption ended 10 months later in early 1993

Although propably the most successful attempt at changing the course of a volcanic eruption at the time - there remains doubts as to whether the flow would have even reached Zafferana anyway


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