Meteorological monitoring of an active volcano: Implications for eruption prediction

Jenni Barclay, Jade E. Johnstone, Adrian J. Matthews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Rainfall data collected on and around the Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat, between 1998 and 2003 were analysed to assess the impact on primary volcanic activity, defined here as pyroclastic flows, dome collapses, and explosions. Fifteen such rainfall-triggered events were identified. If greater than 20 mm of rain fell on a particular day, the probability of a dome collapse occurring on that day increased by a factor of 6.3 to 9.2%, compared to a randomly chosen day. Similarly, the probability of observing pyroclastic flows and explosions on a day with >20 mm of rainfall increased by factors of 2.6 and 5.4, respectively. These statistically significant links increased as the rainfall threshold was increased. Seventy percent of these rainfall-induced dome collapse episodes occurred on the same calendar day (most within a few hours) as the onset of intense rainfall, but an extra 3 occurred one or two calendar days later. The state of the volcano was important, with the rainfall-volcanic activity link being strongest during periods of unstable dome growth and weakest during periods of no dome growth or after a recent major collapse. Over 50% of the heavy rain days were associated with large-scale weather systems that can potentially be forecast up to a few days ahead. However, the remaining heavy rain days wer associated with small-scale, essentially unpredictable weather systems. There was significant variability in the amount of rainfall recorded by different rain gauges, reflecting topographic variations around the volcano but also the inherent small-scale variability within an individual weather system. Hence, any monitoring/warning program is recommended to use a network, rather than just a single gauge. The seasonal cycle in rainfall was pronounced, with nearly all the heavy rain days occurring in the May-December wet season. Hence, the dome was at its most vulnerable at the beginning of the wet season after a period of uninterrupted growth. Interannual variability in the rainfall was related to tropical Pacific and Atlantic sea surface temperature anomalies, and holds out the prospect of some limited skill in volcanic hazard forecasts at even longer lead times.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-358
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2006

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