The formation of a lava dome involves fractionation of the lava into core and clastic components. We show that for three separate, successive andesitic lava domes that grew at Soufrière Hills volcano, Montserrat, between 1999 and 2007, the volumetric proportion of the lava converted to talus or pyroclastic flow deposits was 50%–90% of the lava extruded. Currently, only 8% of the total magma extruded during the 1995–2007 eruption remains as core lava. The equivalent representation in the geological record will probably be even lower. Most of the lava extruded at the surface flowed no further than 150–300 m from the vent before disaggregation, resulting in a lava core whose shape tends to a cylinder. Moderate to high extrusion rates at the Soufrière Hills domes may have contributed to the large clastic fraction observed. Creating talus dissipates much of the energy that would otherwise be stored in the core lava of domes. The extreme hazards from large pyroclastic flows and blasts posed by wholesale collapse of a lava dome depend largely on the size of the lava core, and hence on the aggregate history of the partitioning process, not on the size of the dome.

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