Abstract

Pyroclastic flows entering the sea may cause tsunamis at coastal volcanoes worldwide, but geophysically monitored field occurrences are rare. We document the process of tsunami generation during a prolonged gigantic collapse of the Soufrière Hills volcano lava dome on Montserrat on 12–13 July 2003. Tsunamis were initiated by large-volume pyroclastic flows entering the ocean. We reconstruct the collapse from seismic records and report unique and remarkable borehole dilatometer observations, which recorded clearly the passage of wave packets at periods of 250–500 s over several hours. Strain signals are consistent in period and amplitude with water loading from passing tsunamis; each wave packet can be correlated with individual pyroclastic flow packages recorded by seismic data, proving that multiple tsunamis were initiated by pyroclastic flows. Any volcano within a few kilometers of water and capable of generating hot pyroclastic flows or cold debris flows with volumes greater than 5 × 106 m3 may generate significant and possibly damaging tsunamis during future eruptions.

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