The 2018 unrest phase at La Soufrière of Guadeloupe (French West Indies) andesitic volcano: Scrutiny of a failed but prodromal phreatic eruption

Abstract : After 25 years of gradual increase, volcanic unrest at La Soufrière of Guadeloupe reached its highest seismic energy level on 27 April 2018, with the largest felt volcano-tectonic (VT) earthquake (ML 4.1 or MW 3.7) recorded since the 1976–1977 phreatic eruptive crisis. This event marked the onset of a seismic swarm (180 events, 2 felt) occurring after three previous swarms on 3–6 January (70 events), 1 st February (30 events, 1 felt) and 16–17 April (140 events, 1 felt). Many events were hybrid VTs with long-period codas, located 2–4 km below the volcano summit and clustered within 2 km along a regional NW-SE fault cross-cutting La Soufrière. Elastic energy release increased with each swarm whereas inter-event time shortened. At the same time, summit fractures continued to open and thermal anomalies to extend. Summit fumarolic activity increased significantly until 20 April, with a maximum temperature of 111.4 °C and gas exit velocity of 80 m/s, before declining to ~95 °C and ~33 m/s on 25 April. Gas compositions revealed increasing C/S and CO2/CH4 ratios and indicate hydrothermal P-T conditions that reached the critical point of pure water. Repeated MultiGAS analysis of fumarolic plumes showed increased CO2/H2S ratios and SO2 contents associated with the reactivation of degassing fractures (T = 93 °C, H2S/SO2 ≈ 1). While no direct evidence of upward magma migration was detected, we attribute the above phenomena to an increased supply of deep magmatic fluids that heated and pressurized the La Soufrière hydrothermal system, triggering seismogenic hydro-fracturing, and probable changes in deep hydraulic properties (permeability) and drainage pathways, which ultimately allowed the fumarolic fluxes to lower. Although this magmatic fluid injection was modulated by the hydrothermal system, the unprecedented seismic energy release and the critical point conditions of hydrothermal fluids suggest that the 2018 sequence of events can be regarded as a failed phreatic eruption. Should a similar sequence repeat, we warn that phreatic explosive activity could result from disruption of the shallow hydrothermal system that is currently responsible for 3–9 mm/y of nearly radial horizontal displacements within 1 km from the dome. Another potential hazard is partial collapse of the dome's SW flank, already affected by basal spreading above a detachment surface inherited from past collapses. Finally, the increased magmatic fluid supply evidenced by geochemical indicators in 2018 is compatible with magma replenishment of the 6–7 km deep crustal reservoir feeding La Soufrière and, therefore, with a potential evolution of the volcano's activity towards magmatic conditions.
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Roberto Moretti, Jean-Christophe Komorowski, Guillaume Ucciani, Séverine Moune, David Jessop, et al.. The 2018 unrest phase at La Soufrière of Guadeloupe (French West Indies) andesitic volcano: Scrutiny of a failed but prodromal phreatic eruption. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, Elsevier, 2020, 393, pp.106769. ⟨10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2020.106769⟩. ⟨insu-02440761⟩

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