While one could easily outpace the eruption and growth of a lava dome, some extreme hazards do exist as the result of lava domes. When lava domes are growth rapidly and becoming unstable they will often collapse and spawn large and deadly pyroclastic density currents. In fact, pyroclastic flows due to lava dome collapse have been responsible for many of the largest volcanic disasters in history including, for example, the 1902 destruction of St. Pierre on the island of Martinique. On May 8, 1902 the large and growing lava dome at Mount Pelée collapsed sending a large flow into the capital city of St. Pierre, killing all but two of the citizens.
This was scientists’ first experience with pyroclastic density currents, and while many lessons were learned that day, and have been learned since, people continue to be at risk from lava dome collapse spawned PDCs. Those especially at risk are scientists working near or on the volcano, and local community members whose homes could potentially be build on the flanks of an active volcano. It is imperative that we continue to try to understand lava dome dynamics so that we can better understand and work to mitigate the risk posed to people by lava dome collapse.
Francis, P., Oppenheimer, C. 2004. Volcanoes. 2nd Ed. Oxford University Press, New York.