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This paper describes ash-venting activity at Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat that was precursory to the onset of three phases of lava extrusion in 2005, 2008 and 2009, and similar ash venting that occurred during the fifth phase of lava extrusion.

We describe in detail a style of mild, tephra-generating activity termed ash venting and its associated tephra products. The nature of the seismicity associated with ash venting is compared with that of explosive activity. All explosive events, from small explosions to large Vulcanian explosions, have impulsive, low-frequency onsets. These are absent in ash-venting events, which have subtle, emergent onsets.

Microscope and grain-size analyses show that ash-venting events and large Vulcanian explosions generate tephra that is similar in grain size (in medial and distal regions), although phreatic events in 2005 were finer grained. Ash-venting products are either composed of fine-grained, variably altered pre-existing material or juvenile material. There is a general correlation between the length of the pause and the length of the period of precursory activity prior to lava extrusion following it. Syn-extrusive ash venting is frequently associated with short-term increases in extrusion rate and is considered to be related to shear-induced fragmentation at the conduit margin.

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