Can A La Soufrière Eruption Trigger A Tsunami?

With the ongoing effusive eruption at the La Soufrière Volcano in St. Vincent, a common question has been if the eruption becomes explosive, is there a risk of a tsunami?

Tsunamis are no stranger to the Eastern Caribbean – whether the event was triggered within the Caribbean region, for far across the Atlantic. Volcanically-triggered tsunamis are also not unheard of in our area as well. However, according to Professor and Geologist at the UWI SRC, Richard Robertson, the threat of a tsunami, at this time, is very unlikely.

Volcanic tsunamigenesis is generally due to a large mass entering a body of water (a lake, sea, or ocean) and displacing a significant volume of water. In volcanic eruptions, large parts of a volcano can fail – either because of the explosive eruption or a large volume of loose material falling into the water.

Professor Robertson explained that this scenario concerning La Soufrière is “very unlikely.” He went on to give some regional context, “Of course, all of the volcanoes in the region has had some kind of that activity – what is called flank collapse. It is possible in the realm of any volcano.”

Scheme of tsunami generation by a volcanic eruption and flank collapse (UNESCO).
Scheme of tsunami generation by a volcanic eruption and flank collapse (UNESCO).

However, he reiterated, “Right now, we don’t think, the fact that we have a small dome, and it is not beginning to get to the stage where it is pushing too hard on the crater wall, we don’t think a flank collapse is likely. Therefore, the possibility of a tsunami is not very high.”

Driving the point home, Robertson concluded, “It is one of the many things we look at as future possibilities. It can happen, but we don’t think it is something that will happen now.”

Official information will originate from St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Emergency Management Organization and the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center.

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