Active Volcanoes In The Caribbean

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Hurricane season in the Caribbean runs June through November, and Caribbean nationals are conditioned to expect tropical storms and hurricanes which can become natural disasters. Volcanoes also occur in the Caribbean region but thankfully not on an annual basis as they are often more disruptive than hurricanes. They cause more significant damage, like Montserrat’s Soufrière Hills volcanic eruption in July 1995, which buried the capital city of Plymouth. The Saint Vincent volcano, La Soufrière, is now erupting (April 2021) and has displaced over 20,000 people and caused significant property damage to the island’s northern side. Montserrat and Saint Vincent, both part of the Lesser Antilles, now have areas once populated that are uninhabitable.

This has me thinking about the other active volcanoes in the Caribbean region. To be exact, there are over 1500 active volcanoes worldwide and 19 live volcanoes in the Caribbean, deemed likely to erupt again. Thus this post provides information on the four main types of volcanoes, the name and location of active volcanoes in the Caribbean, and insight into the hazards that result from a volcano eruption.

Note: If you would like to contribute to the Saint Vincent volcano relief effort, donate via the website set up by Saint Vincent & The Grenadines government: HelpStVincent.com.

View of La Soufrière volcano erupting in Saint Vincent on April 9th 2021. Photo Credit: © UWI Seismic Research Centre. View of La Soufrière volcano erupting in Saint Vincent on April 9th, 2021. Photo Credit: © UWI Seismic Research Centre.

Four Main Types of Volcanoes

A volcano is an opening in the earth’s crust that allows magma, hot ash, and gases to escape. Volcanoes can be above or below the ground and range in size from small hills to large mountains.   There are over twenty different types of volcano formations, including caldera, complex, compound, cone, crater rows, explosion crater, fissure vent, lava cone, lava dome, maar, pyroclastic cone, pyroclastic shield, shield, shield volcano, stratovolcano, subglacial, submarine, tuff cone, tuff ring, tuya, volcanic field, and volcanic remnant.

Of the volcanic formations, there are four main ones including shield volcano, stratovolcano, lava dome, and caldera. They form when the magma on the earth’s surface erupts as lava. Some of the factors that distinguish these different types of volcanoes are the stickiness, viscosity, composition and the gas amount in the magma formed when it reaches the earth’s surface.

Shield Volcano

The shield volcano forms when runny low viscosity lava triggers the development of gentle slopes. Shield volcanoes are mainly formed during the flow of basaltic fluid and are considered the largest and most active volcanoes globally. They are known to move more than 9 km (5.5 miles) above sea level, especially around the Hawaiian island, making them a deadly force.

Stratovolcano

Stratovolcano volcanoes are cone-shaped and usually have steeper sides. Their formation is from sticky lava that is thick and doesn’t flow easily. As a result, it forms steep sides due to the build-up around the volcano vent. Common in the Caribbean, stratovolcano volcanoes release explosive eruptions due to the gas build-up in their magma, with the lava flows from them being highly viscous.

Lava Dome

The Lava dome is a type of volcano with a lesser fluid viscous lava. As a result, it hardly flows away from its vent when it comes from underneath the ground. The lava will typically pile up on top of the volcano mountain vent to form a vast dome-shaped mass substance.

Caldera

The Caldera volcano usually stores magma beneath the earth’s crust on a special lava chamber. When a large explosive eruption occurs, the magma chamber’s roof naturally collapses, forming a bowl or depression on the earth’s surface with very steep walls.

View of the Montserrat Soufrière Hills volcano from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Photo Credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey. View of the Montserrat Soufrière Hills volcano from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Photo Credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey.

Note: If you would like to contribute to the Saint Vincent volcano relief effort, donate via the website set up by Saint Vincent & The Grenadines government: HelpStVincent.com.

Active Volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean

Most of the active volcanoes in the Caribbean are in the Eastern Caribbean, and the majority of them, as detailed below, are stratovolcanos. Only the Soufriere Volcanic Center in Saint Lucia is a caldera volcano. Also, the only active submarine volcano in the Eastern Caribbean is the Kick ’em Jenny volcano, located just 6.2 miles north of Grenada.

My research hasn’t uncovered the definitive origin of the name Kick ’em Jenny, but it is linked to a  small nearby island called Diamond Rock, also sometimes referred to as Diamond Islet. Speculation is that Kick ’em Jenny may be connected to the rough waters, or it might be a version of the French phrase cay que gene, which means the turbulent cay(shoal). Others suggest it might connect to kicking a  donkey name Jenny. Whatever the origin, Kick ’em Jenny is one of the most unique names for a volcano in the Caribbean.

As for the other volcano names, five of the volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean have Soufriere in their name. Soufriere is a French term that means Sulphur, which is naturally formed on the earth’s surface by volcanic gases in most volcanic locations, and people often extracted it. In simpler terms, a Soufriere is a place where there is a natural deposit of Sulphur, often due to volcanic activity.

Below is a listing of the active Caribbean volcanoes.  The information is primarily sourced from the Volcanoes of the World database connected to the Global Volcanism Program, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

CountryVolcano NameVolcano TypeElevationLast Major Eruption
DominicaGrand Soufrière HillsStratovolcano???Unknown
DominicaMorne AnglaisStratovolcano3,683 ftc. 10,000 years ago
DominicaMorne Aux Diables aka Devil’s PeakStratovolcano2,825 ftUnknown
DominicaMorne Trois Piton/MicotrinStratovolcano4,551 ft920 CE
DominicaMorne Watt aka Watt Mountain /Valley of DesolationStratovolcano4,017 ftJuly 1997
DominicaMorne DiablotinsStratovolcano4,747 ft30,000 years ago
DominicaPlat Pays Volcanic ComplexStratovolcano3,080 ft1270 AD
GrenadaKick ’em JennySubmarine volcano−607 ftJuly 2015
GrenadaMount Saint CatherineStratovolcano2,760 ftUnknown
GrenadaRonde/Caille?????????
GuadeloupeLa Grande SoufrièreStratovolcano4,813 ft1971
MartiniqueMount PeléeStratovolcano4,531 ft1929 to 1932
MontserratSoufriere HillsStratovolcano3,440 ftJuly 1997
NevisNevis PeakStratovolcano3,232 ftUnknown
SabaMount SceneryStratovolcano2,910 ft1640
Saint KittsMount LiamuigaStratovolcano3,793 ft160 CE ± 200 years
Saint LuciaQualibou aka Sourfriere Volcanic CenterCaldera2,549 ft1766
Saint VincentLa SoufrièreStratovolcano4,049 ftApril 2021
Sint EustatiusThe QuillStratovolcano1,972 ft250 CE ± 150 years

Sulphur Springs Park in Saint Lucia, The Caribbean's only drive-in volcano. Photo Credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey. Partial view of the Sulphur Springs Park in Saint Lucia, The Caribbean’s only drive-in volcano. Photo Credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey.

Largest Volcanic Eruptions in the Caribbean

Thankfully, most of the active volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean have been dormant during the last 300 years. But important to note that the largest volcanic eruption in the Caribbean occurred in 1902 on Mount Pelée on the island of Martinique. The Mount Pelée eruption was a catastrophe in that over 30,000 people lost their lives, and it destroyed the city of St. Pierre, along with major agricultural areas. The Mount Pelée eruption led to an economic loss of approximately US$1 billion.

More personal to me is the Montserrat Soufriere Hills volcano eruption starting in July 1995 which buried the capital of Plymouth under volcano ash and caused economic damage over US$500 million. During a further eruption in July 1997, nineteen people who had stayed behind in an evacuated area lost their lives. Now, more than half of Montserrat is uninhabitable, including areas where my family use to live. Thus, more than two-thirds of the population, which at its peak was between 13,000 and 15,000, have left Montserrat. Being a British Overseas Territory, most migrated to the United Kingdom who granted Montserratians full British citizenship in 2002. So there are more Montserratians outside of Montserrat than actually on the island, which now just has a population of 5,000.

Holding a picture of Plymouth in Montserrat now buried under volcanic ash and mud. Photo Credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey. Holding a picture of Plymouth in Montserrat now buried under volcanic ash and mud. Photo Credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey.

The primary reason for the reduced loss of life is improved technology and research facilities like the Seismic Research Centre of the University of the West Indies (UWISRC).  UWISRC has an extensive Seismograph Network monitoring all the active volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean and they provide plenty of notice for evacuations. There are also island-specific monitoring and research centers like the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO), managed by the UWISRC  (previously the British Geological Survey) under contract with the government of Montserrat. With this center, the Montserrat volcano is now one of the most closely monitored volcanoes globally, with many tourists and volcanology students making a pilgrimage to the island to view and observe.

With the La Soufriѐre currently erupting on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent, there has been significant damage to the landscape and properties on the island’s northern side. Thankfully, there has been no loss of life. This, in part, is due to the four-person team of senior scientists and technicians from the MVO and UWISRC. They are on the island monitoring and advising the government.

It should be noted that La Soufriѐre on the mainland of Saint Vincent & The Grenadines has had five other significant explosive eruptions in the modern era, including ones in 1718, 1812, 1814, 1902/03, and 1979.   Each of these eruptions resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in economic damage. As for the loss of life, the 1812 eruption resulted in 80 deaths and the 1902 eruption resulted in 1,600 deaths.

Montserrat: View Montserrat Volcano Observatory with helicopter. Photo Credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey. View of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory with the helicopter used to observe the Soufriere Hills volcano activity. Photo Credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey.

What happens when volcanoes erupt – 11 Types of Volcanic Hazards

Volcanic eruptions are spectacular to watch from a distance but they are horrific to experience up close. Plus whereas recovery from a hurricane might take a few years, it could be decades if not centuries to recover from a volcano.  They are destructive and often result in loss of lives (humans and animals), destruction of property and landscape, and dislocation of entire communities. Whereas a severe hurricane might cause anywhere from 10-25% damage to property and landscape, volcanic eruptions like the one in Montserrat can cause 100% destruction to part of a country. And as much as the desire was there to rebuild Plymouth like after a hurricane, it simply did not make sense as the city was buried and the volcano could erupt again. In Saint Vincent, things may not be so clear-cut, but there are some major decisions ahead for the government and those who live in close proximity to La Soufrière volcano.

Saint Vincent investment in very high and high volcanic hazard zones. Photo Credit: © ODI. Saint Vincent investment in very high and high volcanic hazard zones. Photo Credit: © ODI.

Below are the eleven types of hazardous effects brought about by volcanic activities in the Eastern Caribbean.

Pyroclastic Flows

Pyroclastic flows form when a collapsed lava dome or column erupts, releasing a mixture of rock fragments, liquid ash, and gas down the mountains and valleys, which cause great havoc.

Pyroclastic Surges

Pyroclastic Surges form when turbulent gas clouds and debris flow on the earth’s surface at a fast rate. Although the formation of Pyroclastic Surges is similar to that of the pyroclastic flows, the effects are more devastating for the former.

Ballistic Projectiles

Ballistic projectiles occur, and rocks hurl as a result of a volcanic eruption. The solid minerals formed usually travel fast and far, covering 1.24 miles to 3.2 miles if the volcano is very explosive.

Lava Flows

Lava Flows are typically molten rock that pours down the volcano slope, causing destruction along its path, often leading to forest fires.

Ash Falls

This particular ash is thick and usually forms in large quantities during a volcanic eruption which can be very destructive. Ash falls are dangerous as it causes damage to vegetation, collapses rooftops, and malfunctions aircraft, cars, and even ship engines.

Aerial shot of part of the Sandy Bay village in Saint Vincent after volcanic eruption. Photo Credit: © Javid Collins, UWITV. Aerial shot of part of the Sandy Bay village in Saint Vincent after April 2021 volcanic eruption. Photo Credit: © Javid Collins, UWITV.

Lahars (mudflows)

Lahars are a mixture of rock fragments and volcanic water that flows down the volcano slopes and nearby valleys.

Volcanic Gases

When a volcanic eruption occurs, various gases such as Hydrogen Sulphide and Sulphur dioxide release into the atmosphere, which is highly toxic. These gases are typically near the hot springs of active volcanoes.

Lateral Blasts

This particular blast releases scorching gases that are horizontally blasted into the clouds at very high speeds during an eruption. Lateral Blast spans from ten to a hundred square kilometers within a couple of minutes, causing significant destruction along its path.

Debris Avalanches

The moving of soil and rock as a result of a mountain or slope sliding during a volcanic eruption leads to the formation of Debris Avalanches. The debris formed then rushes down from a volcanic mountain and into surrounding valleys, uprooting trees, buildings, bridges, and everything else in its path.

Lightning Strikes

During volcanic eruptions, lightning strikes may occur due to the friction between the rock fragments, ash, gas, and steam formed in the clouds above the blast.

Tsunamis

Tsunamis occur due to large earthquakes or submarine volcanic eruptions that form sea waves that mostly inundate coastal areas closer to the seashore.

Red blocks being released from the summit of the Soufriere Hills Volcano in Montserrat. Photo: © Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Red blocks being released from the summit of the Soufriere Hills Volcano in Montserrat. Photo: © Montserrat Volcano Observatory.

Caribbean volcanoes likely to erupt

It is difficult to predict exactly when each active volcano in the Caribbean will erupt again.  Some while active due to low-level volcanic seismic activity, have not had a major eruption for decades, even centuries.  This is why they need to be closely monitored with specialist equipment like seismometers to detect changes like small earthquakes, gas chemistry, and/or ground deformation, swelling of the mountain.

That said, with the eleven volcano hazards outlined above, we can only pray that volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean remain dormant as it is not just about islands like Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Montserrat, Nevis, Saba, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Sint Eustatius and Saint Vincent that have active volcanoes on their islands. It is also about the nearby islands to these live volcanic islands as they too can be affected by volcanic hazards such as spewing volcanic ash, earthquakes, and tsunamis.

Note: If you would like to contribute to the Saint Vincent volcano relief effort, donate via the website set up by Saint Vincent & The Grenadines government: HelpStVincent.com.

 

 

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Welcome to Caribbean & Co. founded by Ursula Petula Barzey who enjoys traveling the Caribbean in search of the best cultural and food adventures, places to stay and live/work opportunities. Launched in 2014, Caribbean & Co. has won five travel media awards.

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