Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 73, Issue 3, pp 207–222 | Cite as

The weathering and element fluxes from active volcanoes to the oceans: a Montserrat case study

  • Morgan T. JonesEmail author
  • Deborah J. Hembury
  • Martin R. Palmer
  • Bill Tonge
  • W. George Darling
  • Susan C. Loughlin
Research Article


The eruptions of the Soufrière Hills volcano on Montserrat (Lesser Antilles) from 1995 to present have draped parts of the island in fresh volcaniclastic deposits. Volcanic islands such as Montserrat are an important component of global weathering fluxes, due to high relief and runoff and high chemical and physical weathering rates of fresh volcaniclastic material. We examine the impact of the recent volcanism on the geochemistry of pre-existing hydrological systems and demonstrate that the initial chemical weathering yield of fresh volcanic material is higher than that from older deposits within the Lesser Antilles arc. The silicate weathering may have consumed 1.3% of the early CO2 emissions from the Soufrière Hills volcano. In contrast, extinct volcanic edifices such as the Centre Hills in central Montserrat are a net sink for atmospheric CO2 due to continued elevated weathering rates relative to continental silicate rock weathering. The role of an arc volcano as a source or sink for atmospheric CO2 is therefore critically dependent on the stage it occupies in its life cycle, changing from a net source to a net sink as the eruptive activity wanes. While the onset of the eruption has had a profound effect on the groundwater around the Soufrière Hills center, the geochemistry of springs in the Centre Hills 5 km to the north appear unaffected by the recent volcanism. This has implications for the potential risk, or lack thereof, of contamination of potable water supplies for the island’s inhabitants.


Soufrière Hills volcano Montserrat Silicate weathering CO2 sequestration Hydrology Geochemistry 



This work was funded by the National Environment Research Council (NERC). The authors would like to thank the staff of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory for their valuable assistance during excursions into the exclusion zone, particularly Nico Fournier, Thomas Christopher, and Racquel Tappy Syers. Reuel Lee and Mervin Tuitt of the Montserrat Water Authority are thanked for their able assistance in sample collection. Many thanks are due to Johan Varekamp and Jérôme Gaillardet for constructive reviews and to Pierre Delmelle for handling this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Morgan T. Jones
    • 1
    • 5
    Email author
  • Deborah J. Hembury
    • 1
  • Martin R. Palmer
    • 1
  • Bill Tonge
    • 2
  • W. George Darling
    • 3
  • Susan C. Loughlin
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Ocean and Earth ScienceUniversity of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre, European WaySouthamptonUK
  2. 2.Montserrat Water AuthorityDavy HillWest Indies
  3. 3.British Geological Survey, Maclean BuildingWallingfordUK
  4. 4.British Geological SurveyEdinburghUK
  5. 5.LMTG, UMR CNRS 5563Université Paul-Sabatier, Observatoire Midi-PyrénéesToulouseFrance

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