This site has been put together by: Bob Thompson, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Durham, Durham, UK.  although my current (2010) main email address is


Steph Flude and Kat Haynes encouraged the concept and helped in many ways with its realisation.


In addition Richard Aspin, Peter Baxter, Peter Kokelaar, Graham Pearson, Ishwar Persad, Kate Popham, Amy Riches, Charlotte Speers and Jo Whitehouse helped immensely, by reading and commenting on parts/all of the writing.



I appreciate the policies of the following organisations in allowing their images to be used for educational purposes:


Montserrat Volcano Observatory, British Geological Survey, Canada Natural Resources, Volcanological Society of Japan, Stromboli Online, Google Earth:


in the USA: US Geological Survey, NASA, NOAA, EPA.


This statement applies to all BGS images: “Reproduced with the permission of the British Geological Survey © NERC. All rights Reserved"



I also thank the following people for their assistance and/or encouragement in the project: Ivan Browne, Paul Cole, Marie Edmonds, Stacey Edwards, Vicky Hards, Peter Kokelaar, Sue Loughlin, John Ludden, Fergus MacTaggart, Kathleen O'Donnell, Bennette Roach, Richie Robertson, Richard Roscoe, Dave Stevenson, Greg Scott, Melody Schroer, Rod Stewart, Micol Todesco.  In particular Vicky Hards used the cat-and-mouse analogy for the Soufrière Hills eruption during her time as MVO Director and I have found it to be an invaluable way of looking at the situation. I shall end with a quote from Vicky about this eruption: "In a game of cat and mouse, the cat always wins".






I wrote the following biographic notes at the request of a Montserrat resident and he then suggested that it would be useful to others, if I posted it here. I have mixed feelings about doing so, but feel that it is a sensible request from someone better able than myself to judge whether such notes are a good idea.


Biographic etc notes about Bob Thompson


I’m a recently-retired academic earth scientist who has mostly researched in universities on topics to do with the petrology and geochemistry of igneous rocks. I first attended university at Oxford (UK) in 1959 and have subsequently studied, researched, taught and done some administration at: Manchester, UK; Penn State, PA; Carnegie Institution, Washington DC; Imperial College, London UK; Durham, UK. My tally of Oxford degrees is MA, DPhil (Oxford PhD) and DSc. The Durham University web page with my recent publications etc is at Although most of my students for postgraduate (PhD) studies worked on geologically old rocks, a couple studied active volcanoes. Several of my former students (UG or PG) have made their careers in volcanology; two became MVO Directors and another was tragically killed by a volcanic explosion in the Andes.


In 1969 I spent 6 weeks introducing a new PhD student to Mt Etna. During that period we worked on the summit, where I sampled liquid basalt lava from a flow. A vent a few hundred metres away was erupting explosively every 20-30 minutes (“Strombolian” activity). Only about 100 metres away, a smaller new vent was emitting 50 metre jets of flame every few minutes. The pioneering volcanologist Haroun Tazieff ( was there, leading a team of several dozen (including nuclear physicists!) who were making ground-breaking measurements of the gases throughout individual explosions. He taught me a vast amount of volcanology there and we remained friends throughout his life. He also introduced me to a young, subsequently eminent, Franco Barberi ( and we have also remained personal friends.


During my first decade at Imperial College (1972-82) the famous volcanologist George Walker ( occupied the office next to mine and we came to know each other well. During that period his postgraduate students included Steve Sparks and Geoff Wadge, both later to become very involved with the Montserrat eruption. When he moved suddenly to New Zealand I took over the supervision of the last of his London research students.


During my last decade at Durham University I taught courses on both physical volcanology and volcanic hazards. The later was particularly rewarding because the classes were 100+ and from diverse backgrounds. It was fascinating to challenge them with concepts like the importance of understanding the viewpoint of animists living on a volcano when you try to communicate volcanic risks to them. This sort of topic is novel to aspiring earth scientists! Needless to say, the Montserrat eruption was also one of my major topics and therefore I followed the progress of the volcanic activity very carefully.


In July 2007 I spent just over a week on Montserrat. I had planned a fortnight but had to leave early, in order to accompany a sick person back to the UK. Of course such a short visit is far too little time to get to know the island properly but I was able to check various things. During the following two months I had some dealings with both the Governor’s Office and the FCO in London. In these matters I learned huge amounts more about all aspects of the eruption and its impacts on the residents. Therefore, last November I began writing the material for the new website.


There are two distinct parts to the material. Topics 1 and 2 are very simple summaries of the geological basics about the volcano and the aspects of its eruptions that most endanger Montserrat residents. I’ve tried to pitch the contents of the introductions at a level suitable for both schoolchildren and new non-scientific arrivals in the island from places that lack volcanism. Topics 4-9 each take one or more published academic research papers about aspects of the eruptions and summarise them in language suitable for a wider readership than only those who have access to academic research journals etc. Media such as newspapers and the magazine New Scientist do this sort of summarising routinely and I am only adding marginally to that global effort by focusing on facets of the Montserrat eruption. To write such summaries you do not have to be a major expert in every field. You just have to have access to the relevant research journals etc and also to be experienced in making such summaries and appraisals of the work of other earth scientists – a normal part of the job of an academic. If I can find the time, I aim to write more of these summaries in due course. If any Montserrat resident asks me about a topic that can best be answered by another such summary, that question would guide me as to where to focus next.


I think that it is probably a definite advantage for me to lack immense specialist knowledge of any aspect of the work and output of MVO. The last thing Montserrat needs is a self-ordained competitor in any field of the work of MVO staff (let alone the eminent and very expert members of the Science Advisory Committee who work with them)! All I aim to do is to provide an alternative place to the MVO website for people to read exactly the same story, but sometimes in somewhat different prose. Hopefully my version of the story will help to increase the number of residents who feel really well-informed about what is happening. Likewise I hope that my website material will also in the future be useful to residents around other explosive volcanoes elsewhere.