Volcanoes are hazards resulting from tectonic activity. Their primary and secondary effects are positive as well as negative. Responses change in the aftermath of an eruption.

For this key question you need to know about Montserrat volcanic eruption. An interactive guide to Montserrat eruption can be found here which you can use in addition to the information below.


Montserrrat is part of a volcanic island arc in the Caribbean, which has developed at a destructive plate boundary. The Atlantic Plate (oceanic crust) is being subducted under the Caribbean plate (continental crust) as it is more dense. As the Atlantic plate is forced into the mantle it melts creating new magma. This magma then combines with the sea water that has also been subducted making this new magma less dense. It then rises throught the Caribbean plate to form a volcano and a volcanic arc (Lesser Antilles volcanic arc).

In August 1995 the volcano started to erupt smothering Montserrat’s capital, Plymouth, in dense clouds of volcanic ash. Two years of ‘gentle’ eruptions then followed. In June 1997 the biggest eruption sent massive pyroclastic flows (mixture of volcanic fragments, ash, mud and toxic gases at temperature over 500C) flowing down the side of the Soufriere Hills at over 130km/h covering everything in their path.


  Primary Secondary Social

  • 23 people died
  • People had to be evacuated
  • Homes were destroyed and abandoned
  • People who stayed suffered very harsh conditions
  • Health problems were reported (due by volcanic ash contaning quartz that can then cause silicosis)
  • Ageing population as many young people have left the island


  • Infrastructure, including the airport, was destroyed
  • Montserrat’s economy was devastated
  • Tourism came to a halt
  • Montserrat forced to rely on UK
  • Processing of imported rice and assembly of electrical products declined
  • Unemployment rose as tourism industry declined


  • More than half Montserrat become uninhabitable.
  • Floods as valleys blocked with ash.
  • Pyroclastic flows
  • Floods as valleys blocked by ash
  • Forest fires caused by pyroclastic flows

Montserrat - eruption progress and impact


Short term responses:

  • August 1995, many residents were evacuated to the north of the island.
  • April 1996, Plymouth was evacuated and an exclusion zone was set up in the north of the island before the big eruption (saved many lives)
  • Many people left the island completely. By November 1997 Montserrat’s population had fallen from 12,000 to 3,500.
  • Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory, the British Government spent millions of pounds on aid – including temporary buildings and water purification.
  • Charities set up temporary schools, and sent emergency food for farm animals.

Long term responses:

  • Some people returned to the island. By 2010, the population had risen to nearly 5,000.
  • The island’s population structure changed. Many younger people left and didn’t return. Many older people either never left, or came back.
  • The British government spent over £200 million helping Montserrat to restore electricity and water, build a new harbour in the north of the island at Little Bay, a new airport and new roads.
  • The Montserrat Volcano Observatory was set up in 1996 to study the volcano and provide warnings for the future.
  • Little Bay is being developed as the new capital.


Volcanic eruptions can have both positive and negative impacts.

Positive Negative

  • New roads and a new airport built
  • Presence of the volcano resulted to an eventual increase in tourism
  • A volcanic observatory has been built to monitor the volcano
  • Services in the north of the island have been expanded as Little Bay is developed as the new capital
  • Many young people left the island forever
  • Ageing population
  • Unemployment rose due to declining industries
  • Montserrat had to rely heavily on the British government to rebuild country
  • Plymouth, original capital city, had to be abandoned
  • 23 people lost their lives


The Montserrat Volcano Observatory was set up in 1996 and they are monitoring the volcano through a number of methods.

  1. Checking changes in its shape using electronic tilt meters and GPS. A change in shape can indicate rising magma.
  2. Using seismometers to listen to the rumbing of the volcano as magma moves towards the surface.
  3. Creating a seismology network to collect information on earthquake activity.
  4. Measuring suplur dioxide

Monserrat Volcano Observatory