Phreatic activity and hydrothermal alteration in the Valley of Desolation, Dominica, Lesser Antilles




Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Springer-Verlag GmbH



Phreatic eruptions are possibly the most dramatic surface expressions of hydrothermal activity, and they remain poorly understood. The near absence of precursory signals makes phreatic eruptions unpredictable with respect to both time and magnitude. The Valley of Desolation (VoD), Dominica, located close to the Boiling Lake, the second largest high-temperature volcanic crater lake in the world, hosts vigorous hydrothermal activity with hot springs, mud pools, fumaroles, and steaming ground. A phreatic or phreatomagmatic eruption from this site is considered to be the most likely scenario for future volcanic activity on Dominica. Yet there is little information regarding the trigger mechanisms and eruption processes of explosive events at this active hydrothermal center, and only a very small number of studies have investigated hydrothermal activity in the VoD. We therefore conducted two field campaigns in the VoD to map hydrothermal activity and its surficial phenomena. We also investigated alteration processes and their effects on degassing and phreatic eruption processes. We collected in situ petrophysical properties of clay-rich unconsolidated samples, and together with consolidated rock samples, we investigated the range of supergene and hydrothermal alteration in the laboratory. In addition, we performed rapid decompression experiments on unconsolidated soil samples. Our results show that alteration leads to an increasing abundance of clay minerals and a decrease in both strength and permeability of the rocks. In the immediate vicinity of degassing acid-sulfate fluids, advanced argillic alteration yields a mineral zoning which is influenced by meteoric water. The water-saturated basal zone is dominated by kaolinite run 0whereas alunite formation is favored at and above the groundwater table where atmospheric oxidation of H2S to H2SO4 occurs (e.g., steam-heated alteration). Alteration effects may in turn inhibit degassing at the surface, increasing the potential for pressurization in the subsurface and thus lead to phreatic eruptions. Rapid decompression experiments, together with ballistic trajectory calculations, constrain estimates of the conditions prior to the 1997 small-scale phreatic event in the VoD. The results presented here may serve as a contribution to the understanding of the hazard potential of ongoing hydrothermal activity within the VoD. On a broader perspective, our results will help evaluate hydrothermal activity in similar areas worldwide which might also have the potential for phreatic eruptions, for instance Poas (Costa Rica) or Tongariro and Waimangu (New Zealand).

Table of Contents


Volcano, The Valley of Desolation (VoD) Dominica, Phreatic eruption, Hydrothermal activity