This paper presents numerical models of the Vulcanian explosions that occurred in 1997 at Soufrière Hills Volcano. Plume evolution and velocities were calculated for the well-documented and typical explosions of 6 and 7 August 1997, and these data and other observations were compared to transient, axisymmetric, multiphase flow simulations of coupled conduit evacuation and pyroclastic dispersal. Pre-explosion conduit conditions were estimated from Montserrat data, using a simple gas solubility law and assuming that conduit magma flow had stagnated with a constant overpressure prior to the explosions. Reference simulation input parameters include conduit diameter of 30 m, crater diameter of 300 m, meltwater content of 4.3±0.5°, grain sizes of 30, 2000 and 5000 μm, and conduit overpressure of l0MPa. The numerical simulations of the explosions resolved highly unsteady vent exit conditions such as velocity, pressure and mass flux, and the spatial and temporal dispersal of pyroclasts during the initial few minutes was investigated using one gas phase and two or three solid phases representing pyroclasts of different size. Our simulations produced transitional eruptive regime behaviour, dividing the erupted mass into a portion that generated a radial pyroclastic current fed by a collapsing column, and a convective portion that generated a buoyant plume. This behaviour generally mimicked the observed explosions. The movement of different particle sizes was tracked, with fine particles dominantly influencing the convective behaviour of the central plume and ash plume thermals generated above the pyroclastic currents. Simulated initial vent velocities ranged from 85 to 120ms-1, collapse heights ranged from 450 to 1370 m above the vent, initial pyroclastic current velocities ranged from 40 to 60 ms-1 with surge runouts to 1.8 km, drawdown depths in the conduit were a few hundred metres, and simulated pyroclastic current deposit temperatures ranged between 135 and 430°C. Subsets of these results are in reasonable agreement with observed and measured parameters of the 1997 explosions. The best match was intermediate between our reference simulation, which assumed no loss of volatiles from the conduit during rise from the magma reservoir and which appeared too energetic, and another simulation in which much volatile leakage was assumed. The results suggest that volatile depletion in the conduit was an important factor in influencing the dynamic behaviour of the Vulcanian explosions on Montserrat.
ASJC Scopus subject areas