Page 1: Introduction
Page 2: Details of Event
Page 3: Details of Event
Page 4: Details of Event
Page 5: Tectonic Plate Boundary
Page 6: Physical Attributes
Page 7: Big Idea
Page 8: Bibliography
Table of Contents
Mount Pelée, a volcano located on the island of
Martinique in the Caribbean, was for centuries referred to by
local natives as “fire mountain” because of previous
eruptions in ancient times. While the mountain began to
emit sulfurous vapors and a light dusting of volcanic ash in
late April of 1902, no one could have anticipated the
catastrophe that was to occur. The magnitude of the
volcanic eruption of Mount Pelée on May 8, 1902, Ascension
Day, was ultimately thought to be one of the worst volcanic
disasters of the 20th century. Within mere minutes, the
picturesque town of St. Pierre, with a population of 30,000
people, was completely destroyed. As the peak of the
mountain flew thousands of feet in the air, rivers of fire
began to flow out of Mount Pelée, destroying everything in
Details of Event
Even the smell of sulphur from” fumuarole
activity” (steam emitted from the Earth’s crust), and
the light dusting of ash raining down from Mount Pelée
in the latter half of April, 1902 did not alarm the
majority of the inhabitants of Martinique enough to
cause them to flee. On the morning of May 8, 1902, the
upper mountainside of Mount Pelée ripped open and a
black cloud shot out horizontally. A second cloud
consisting of scalding steam and volcanic gases and
dusts (with temperatures reaching over 1,000 C) formed
an enormous mushroom cloud that destroyed over 8
square miles, including, of course, the town of St.
Pierre. Townspeople died instantly from suffocation as
oxygen was replaced by deadly gases.
Mount Pelée was such a drastic eruption that, out of
approximately 30,000 citizens in the town of St. Pierre, only
three survived. A man named Louis-Auguste Ciparis was
one of the survivors. Ciparis had been imprisoned the day
prior to the volcano’s eruption. He was supposedly drinking
and had started a fight, so the police banished him to an
underground prison cell. The cell had no windows and had
merely a slight crack underneath one door. The next
morning, when the volcano erupted, Ciparis urinated on his
clothes and stuffed them into the crack to retain the heat. In
doing so, Ciparis ultimately survived one of the worst
volcanic eruptions ever recorded. Days later, a search party
found him with severe burns. Ciparis eventually joined the
Barnum and Bailey Circus, touring the world as the “Lone
Survivor of St. Pierre.”
Details of Event
Another survivor of the eruption of Mt. Pelée, aka
“Bald Mountain”, was a little girl named Havivra Da
Ifrile. Havivra saw the volcano begin to erupt and
immediately climbed into her boat and rowed to a nearby
cave where she and her friends often played pirates.
"Before I got there, I looked back, and the whole side of
the mountain near town seemed to open and boil down
on the screaming people. I was burned a good deal by the
stones and ashes that came flying about the boat, but I got
to the cave,” said Havivra. She was later found floating
unconscious inside a burned and broken boat about two
miles out at sea.
Details of Event
Mount Pelée has a convergent plate boundary. A
convergent boundary is “an actively deforming region
where two or more tectonic plates or fragments of the
lithosphere move toward each other and eventually
collide”. Mount Pelée is on the boundary of the North
America Plate and the Caribbean Plate. The North
America Plate subducted under the Caribbean Plate,
and the magma produced when the crust subducted
rises to the surface and forms a chain of volcanic
islands. Martinique, and subsequently, Mount Pelée,
were formed this way.
Tectonic Plate Boundary
Prior to eruption, Mount Pelée, or “Montagne
Pelée”, as the inhabitants of Martinique call it, stood at
an elevation of 4,583 ft. Mount Pelée is a stratovolcano:
a volcanic cone consisting of volcanic ash and
hardened lava. Renowned for being the most active
volcano of the Lesser Antilles arc (with more than 20
major eruptions during the past 5000 years), the
destruction resulting from the eruption of Mount Pelée
was caused by “pyroclastic flow”, or the current of
rapidly moving hot gas and rock. A particular type of
pyroclastic flow is called “nuée ardente” (burning
cloud), a term first used in the description of Mount
Pelée. Reaching speeds of up to 450 mph, the
pyroclastic flow from Mount Pelée glowed red at night
and completely decimated the town of St. Pierre.
How does Mount Pelée relate to our study of the Earth’s
As we’ve learned previously about the Earth’s crust, the
temperature increases according to depth. As the molten rock, ash and
gasses from deep within the Earth escape through cracks and fissures
in the Earth’s surface, the material cools, and centuries of eruptions
can cause a volcano to form a mountain shape. If magma continues to
leak through a weak spot in the Earth’s crust, but a plug of rock exists
at the top of a volcano which blocks the magma’s exit, pressure
continues to increase. Eventually, the pressure becomes so great that
the volcano erupts. As the plates far beneath the Earth’s crust
separate, slide past one another, and collide, the constant shifting
contribute to the cracks and fissures which allow heat to escape, and
ultimately form volcanoes. Mount Pelée illustrates the effects of the
constantly changing surface of the Earth.
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