St. Vincent Volcano Latest Images as Explosive Eruption Could Be Imminent

New images have emerged showing a period of heightened activity at a volcano on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent, with experts warning that an explosive eruption could be imminent.

On Thursday, scientists observed a significant increase in activity at the 3,864-foot-high La Soufriѐre volcano, prompting the government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to raise the volcanic alert level to "Red."

The latest observations indicate that an explosive phase of the eruption could begin with "very little warning," according to a statement posted to Facebook by the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and The University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre (UWI-SRC).

An ongoing effusive eruption has been taking place at the volcano since December, 2020, according to a UWI-SRC factsheet. Effusive eruptions are those in which magma, or molten rock, gently oozes out of the ground, producing lava flows and lava domes.

Explosive eruptions, on the other hand, tend to spew out ash high into the atmosphere, as well as throwing out larger pieces of rock.

"Seismic activity at La Soufrière, St. Vincent changed significantly today when the seismic station closest to the summit began recording low-level seismic tremors on April 8," a statement posted to Facebook by NEMO on Thursday said.

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"Six separate episodes, or bands, of tremors starting at 3 a.m. were recorded with intervals of about two and a half hours between them. The tremor episodes have slowly increased in magnitude. A tremor is a continuous seismic signal that is usually associated with the movement of magma to the surface."

This type of seismic activity has not been observed since the latest ongoing eruption started in December, 2020.

Scientists also detected five "long-period earthquakes" during the second and fourth band of tremors, which are usually associated with the movement of magma. In addition, they detected elevated and continuous periods of gas being emitted from the summit of the volcano, as well as significant increase in the height of the volcano's dome during the day.

A photograph taken by volcano seismologist Roderick Stewart at the Belmont Observatory early Friday morning clearly shows the glow from the dome. Further images captured by UWI-SRC show volcanic activity at the dome on Thursday evening.

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"The volcano has entered a heightened period of activity indicative of a fresh batch of magma either near to, or approaching the surface. The possibility for activity to move to an explosive phase has increased significantly. Given the current data it's not possible to say exactly what the time scale would be," the NEMO statement said.

On Thursday, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves issued an evacuation order for thousands of people living in the hazardous zone around the volcano.

UWI-SRC geologist and scientific team lead, Richard Robertson said in a statement posted to Facebook on Thursday: "We cannot give any clear warning that nothing can happen within the next 24-48 hours and we would not be surprised if there are explosions at the volcano during that period."

A Red level alert means the public is advised to urgently comply with any directives issued by NEMO.

Saint Vincent is the largest island in the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines chain, which together comprise a nation in the southern Caribbean. La Soufriѐre is the only "live"—meaning potentially active—volcano on the island of Saint Vincent.

Volcanic activity at La Soufriѐre volcano
An image showing volcanic activity at La Soufriѐre volcano on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent on Thursday, April 9. The University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre