Assessment of Tsunamis from Volcanic Sources - Forecasting and
Preparedness for the Caribbean Region
from presentation at the 2004 National Science Foundation Tsunami
Workshop in San Juan, Puerto Rico , and from recent paper published
in the Journal of Tsunami Hazards, Volume 22, Number 2. 2004
Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, volcanic
island flank failures and underwater slides have generated numerous
destructive tsunamis in the Caribbean region. Convergent, compressional
and collisional tectonic activity caused primarily from the eastward
movement of the Caribbean Plate in relation to the North American
and South American Plates, is responsible for zones of subduction
in the region, the formation of island arcs and the evolution
of particular volcanic centers on the overlying plate. The inter-plate
tectonic interaction and deformation along these marginal boundaries
result in moderate seismic and volcanic events that can generate
tsunamis by a number of different mechanisms.
The active geo-dynamic processes have
created the Lesser Antilles, an arc of small islands with volcanoes
characterized by both effusive and explosive activity. Eruption
mechanisms of these Caribbean volcanoes are complex and often
anomalous. Collapses of lava domes often precede major eruptions,
which may vary in intensity from Strombolian to Plinian. Locally
catastrophic, short-period tsunami-like waves can be generated
directly by lateral, direct or channelized volcanic blast episodes,
or in combination with collateral air pressure perturbations,
nuess ardentes, pyroclastic flows, lahars, or cascading debris
avalanches. Submarine volcanic caldera collapses can also generate
local destructive tsunami waves.
Volcanoes of the Eastern
Caribbean Island Arc (modified web graphic of West Indies University)
Volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean
Region have unstable flanks. Destructive local tsunamis may be
generated from aerial and submarine volcanic edifice mass edifice
flank failures, which may be triggered by volcanic episodes,
lava dome collapses, or simply by gravitational instabilities.
The present report evaluates volcanic mechanisms, resulting flank
failure processes and their potential for tsunami generation.
More specifically, the report evaluates recent volcanic eruption
mechanisms of the Soufriere Hills volcano on Montserrat, of Mt.
Pelée on Martinique, of Soufriere on St. Vincent and of
the Kick'em Jenny underwater volcano near Grenada and provides
an overall risk assessment of tsunami generation from volcanic
sources in the Caribbean region.
Assessment of Future
Risks of Tsunamis from Volcanic Sources in the Caribbean Region
- Forecasting and Preparedness
historic record indicates that Caribbean volcanoes pose a serious
threat for several islands in the region (Robertson1992, 1995).
The1902 eruptions of Mt Pelée on Martinique and of La
Soufrière on St Vincent, and the more recent eruptions
of Soufriere Hills on Montserrat, and of Kick'em Jenny in Grenada
increased awareness that tsunamis generated from volcanic sources
represent an additional hazard that needs to be addressed individually
for each of the region's active volcanoes. Fortunately - and
in contrast to the unpredictability of tsunamis of seismic origin
- tsunamis generated form volcanic sources can be forecasted
for the Caribbean region and appropriate measures can be taken.
Preparedness for the tsunami hazard should include the monitoring
of precursory eruptive processes as ongoing presently (Sigurdsson
1981; Shepherd and Aspinall 1982; Shepherd 1989) but, additionally,
studies of geomorphologies and flank instabilities of each individual
volcano and the mapping of risk areas that can contribute to
massive volcanic edifice failures with or without a volcanic
triggering event and thus in the generation of destructive
The 1976 eruption
of La Soufrière on St Vincent island (Photograph by Richard
Already, as a result of greater awareness
and concerns about the threat of volcanic hazards in the Caribbean
region, several scientific organizations have already established
monitoring stations on several islands. For example, following
the devastating 1902 eruption of La Soufrière volcano
on St. Vincent Island, a surveillance program was initiated.
In 1952, a Seismic Research Unit was established on the island
and a sustained program of volcano monitoring was undertaken
(Fiske and Shepherd. 1990). Similarly, following the 1995 eruption
of the Soufriere Hills volcano on the island of Montserrat, a
monitoring program was established. Additionally, the Universities
of Puerto Rico and of the West Indies have undertaken extensive
monitoring functions and programs. Present volcano monitoring
operations include routine measurements of geological, geophysical
and geochemical parameters and assessments of precursory-to-an-eruption
phenomena. With some small additional effort, these existing
volcano monitoring programs in the Caribbean region can easily
assess future risks for the collateral tsunami hazard, develop
micro-zonation maps of potential tsunami hazard sites along the
coast and help establish programs of tsunami preparedness for
the public. The following sections summarize briefly the importance
of monitoring some of the precursory-to-an-eruption phenomena
as they relate to potential tsunami generation.
Micro-earthquake Activity: Routine monitoring of a volcano's micro-earthquake
activity helps forecast eruptions (Hirn et al1987). For example,
before a major eruption occurs on Soufriere Hills on the island
of Montserrat, the increasing pressure within the volcano generates
a flurry of micro-earthquakes, which are indicative of magma
movement. When this activity peaks and the focus of micro earthquakes
becomes shallower, it becomes evident that the pressure within
the volcano has reached a critical phase and that a fairly imminent
eruption can be expected. Such monitoring is presently in effect
for several islands with active volcanoes.
Monitoring Lava Dome
Formation and Rate of Growth: Measuring
the swelling of the volcano with tilt meters and other geodetic
and photogrammetric means may also indicate if there is intrusion
by a lava dome, the dome's rate of growth, and its potential
for collapse. Mature lava domes, which grow slowly, are usually
non-explosive. Similarly non-explosive are post eruption lava
domes, such as the felsic lava dome known as the Tower of Pelée
- extruded in the waning stages of the 1902 eruption of Mt. Pelée
Example of a lava
dome development at Mount St. Helens prior to the explosive 1983
eruption (USGS graphic)
However, younger, fast growing, pre-eruption extruded domes that
contain lava which has not been completely degassed, may explode
or collapse. The eruption and explosion of Mt. St. Helens in
the State of Washington were preceded by the rapid development
of a lava dome over a three-year period from 1980 to 1983. Also,
a lava dome formed rapidly on the Soufriere Hills volcano's crater
on Montserrat Island over a two-month period prior to the major
eruption of 26 December 1997. The dome formation served as a
natural warning for the residents of Plymouth to evacuate, thus
there was no losses of life. Stations on several Caribbean islands
with active volcanoes, routinely monitor lava dome formation
and rates of growth.
Evaluation of Potential
Lava Dome Collapses: The periodic
explosion or gravitational collapses of the viscous masses of
lava domes can sometimes generate deadly pyroclastic flows that
can reach the sea and generate tsunami waves. Lava dome collapses
were associated with the 1902 eruption and nuée ardente
of Mt. Pelée on Martinique, the 1902 eruption of Soufriere
on St. Vincent Island and the 1997, 1999 and 2003 eruptions,
pyroclastic flows and debris avalanches of Soufriere Hills on
Monteserrat Island the latter generating significant tsunami
waves along the southwestern coast of the island.
In view of the above, it is important
to monitor changes of lava domes and their potential for collapses.
Furthermore, since lava dome collapses, particularly near a volcanic
summit may be followed by violent eruptions, pyroclastic flows
and debris avalanches, the expected path of destruction and potential
flank failure sites can be determined by careful evaluation of
the local topography and geomorphology. Based on such assessments,
coastal areas subject to the tsunami hazard could be identified,
microzonation maps can be drawn and appropriate warning signs
be posted for the protection of the public.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
Historical tsunami events from volcanic sources
in the Caribbean Region have been under-reported as the immensity
of destruction from volcanic events has overshadowed them. Small
scale flank failures are quite common for most of the active
volcanoes in the Caribbean. Such volcanic sources have the potential
of generating destructive local waves in confined bodies of water
and in the near field environment of an open coast. Local tsunamis
can also be generated by gravity-induced flank failures, even
in the absence of eruptive triggering events. Heavy rains and
earth tides appear to play a significant role in small scale
flank failures of unstable volcanic slopes.
Pyroclastic flow from
the 2003 eruption of Soufriere Hills volcano on Montserrat, reaching
the sea. ("Copyright Montserrat Volcano Observatory/Government
of Montserrat and British Geological Survey; photo used by permission
of the Director, MVO")
Tsunami or tsunami-like waves can
be generated by a variety of volcanic mechanisms, pyroclastic
flows, debris avalanches, and volcanic edifice mass failures
and by aerial or submarine landslides. Impulsively generated
waves from such complex source mechanisms behave non-linearly
and change significantly away from the source, with varying near
and far field effects and terminal run up heights. However the
wave periods are short and range from 1-4 minutes at most. The
heights of these waves attenuate rapidly with distance because
of relatively smaller source dimensions and shorter wave periods
and do not pose a significant danger at great distances from
the source. Caribbean volcanoes and their associated flank failures
can be forecasted with careful monitoring and programs of preparedness
need to be established.
At the present time. the Soufriere Hills volcano on the island
of Montserrat poses the greater threat of local tsunami generation
in the Eastern Caribbean Region. Its eruptive activity in the
last decade, the rapid rates of lava dome formations and growth
and the associated collapses and eruptive style, indicate ongoing
active volcanic processes that will continue for many years.
Tsunamis can be expected in the near future from both pyroclastic
flows reaching the sea and by flank collapses.
The historic record supports that
Mt. Pelée on the island of Martinique will continue to
pose a threat for a repeat of a Vulcanian-Plinian episode in
the future. When this will happen is not known. However, given
the sophistication of present monitoring programs, any future
activity of the volcano will be properly forecasted and cautionary
measures will be taken. Local tsunamis may be expected around
the island by flank failures of unstable slopes, even in the
absence of a triggering volcanic event.
Also, The historic record supports
that the stratovolcano "La Soufrière" on the
island of St. Vincent poses a very significant threat for renewed
activity in the future. Given the fact that there is a lake at
the summit, there is also a potential danger that even an eruption
of moderate activity may cause a breach on the crater's rim and
trigger a dangerous lahar which may be destructive and may even
generate a local tsunami if it reaches the sea. Also the instability
of La Soufrière flanks pose a threat of failures and of
local tsunami generation even in the absence of a volcanic
eruption. Heavy rains, gravitational forces and earth tides may
be significant triggering factors.
Kick them Jenny volcano will continue
to rise towards the surface and eventually will form an island
volcano. It is possible that its present rate of growth may be
slowed down by cone collapses and subsidence. The dimensions
of the volcano and the style of expected eruptions and intensities
limit the size of tsunamis that can be generated from future
events. A large violent eruption of the Kick'em Jenny volcano
at the present depth of the summit, can be expected to generate
waves with a probable maximum runup of about 3 meters in Northern
Crenada and the Grenadines, and as much as 1-2 meters along the
west coast of the Barbados, Trinidad, and St. Vincent. The wave
heights along the nearest coastline of northern Bonaire and Venezuela
may be up to 1 meter at the most. When the volcano breaks through
the surface of the sea, the probable maximum runup of a tsunami
from a major eruption could be as much as 4 meters on Northern
Grenada and as much as 2 meters along the west coast of the Barbados,
Trinidad, and St. Vincent.
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2 - Recent Tsunamis of Volcanic Origin in the Islands of the
Lesser Antilles - Volcanic Mechanisms of Tsunami Generation
PART 3 - Tsunami
Generation from Volcanic Sources
5 - Factors Contributing to Volcanic Explosivity, Structural
Flank Instabilities, Mass Edifice Failures, Debris Avanlanches
and Tsunami Generation in the Caribbean Region
PART 6 - Volcanically-Induced
Tsunami Generation in the Lesser Antilles Islands (Montserrat,
Martinique, St. Vincent and Grenada)
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