Frequently Asked Questions



Is is safe to visit Montserrat?

Yes. Thousands of people live safely on Montserrat. The areas most affected by dangerous volcanic activity have been evacuated for a long time. There are a few small residential areas which are subject to restricted access  when and if necessary.

Where do people go to watch the volcano safely?

The volcano can be safely viewed on both the east and west of the island. On the east at Jack Boy Hill there is a small picnic area and garden with a viewing platform. On the west side, there are good view points from both Salem village and Garibaldi Hill.

There is also a viewing deck at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.

Are there any health risks from the volcano?

All active volcanoes pose a number of possible health risks. Pyroclastic flows as well as ballistics from explosions can severely injure of kill. The temperature of deposits after activity can be as high as 400°C and should never be approached on foot. There is presently no evidence that the health of Montserratians has been damaged by long term exposure to volcanic ash. However, research into the long term impacts of volcanic ash on health continues.




What is the MVO?

The Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) provides round the monitoring of the Soufriere Hills Volcano by a team of scientists and technicians. the MVO provides advice on the state of the volcano to the Disaster Management Coordination Agency (DMCA). The DMCA then manages the hazards posed by the volcano, and instructs the other government services on evacuations and access to the unsafe zone.

What can I do on a visit to the MVO?

There is a small Visitors’ Centre on the premises which is open to the public from Monday to Thursday. Visits are self-guided and activities include a video documentary describing the history and impact of the eruption, information poster displays, interactive kiosks and a display of rock samples, ash and other artefacts. Visitors can also enjoy spectacular views o the volcano, Belham Valley and Plymouth from the Observatory’s viewing deck. Merchandise is also available for purchase.
The MVO is open to the public 10:15am – 3:15pm Monday to Thursday.
There is a charge of EC$10.00 (US$4.00) per person.

For school visits and groups exceeding 15 people, please contact the MVO in advance.






Does ashfall occur all the time in Montserrat?

Ashfall does not occur all the time in Montserrat. The volume of ash that falls in inhabited areas depends on the amount of ash generated at the volcano and the wind direction.

What should I do if there is ashfall?

Try to stay indoors when ash fall is heavy. Ash masks should be worn and are available at all Health Centres. A cloth or handkerchief can be used as a temporary mask. You should also avoid driving during ashfall, especially if it is raining.

What is the Hazard Level System?

The Hazard Level System is a five point scale and divides the southern two-thirds of Montserrat into five zones, with to Maritime Exclusion Zones (W & E as illustrated on the map).

It is designed to improve management of the ongoing eruption and to prove important information to the residents of Montserrat during periods of increased levels of volcanic activity.

Permission to access these zones is dependent on the hazard level.

Who decides when to change the Hazard Level?

The hazard level is decided by a government committee, the National Disaster Preparedness and Response Advisory Comittee (NDPRAC), based on advice from the MVO. In a crisis, NDPRAC can meet at very short notice.

What should I do if there is an increase in volcanic activity?

Should the need arise for evacuation, the eight digital sirens around the island will be activated.

There will be two indications:

Audible Siren (all areas) – an increase in volcanic activity.

Digital Voice (Salem and environs) – indicates that there has been an escalation in volcanic activity with potential to threaten lives.

People should listen immediately to Radio Montserrat (ZJB 95.5/88.3 FM) for updated information on the activity.


  • Remain calm
  • Move to areas in the north of the island
  • Do not cross the Belham Valley
  • If you are outside the affected areas do not drive into or towards them as you may impede any evacuation.




Why don’t you use drones instead of an expensive helicopter?

MVO are very interested in the use of drones for volcano monitoring and are actively looking into possibilities. At the moment, there are no reasonably-priced drones (or UAVs) which meet our operational requirements in terms of altitude, range and duration of flight. Even if we could make use of drones, we would still need the helicopter as most of the work it does is transporting people and equipment to remote monitoring sites.

How can the scientists be sure that the north part of the island will not be affected by the volcano?

The northern part of the island is sometimes affected by ashfall under certain wind conditions, but is too far away from the volcano to suffer any other effects.






Other FAQs


What is a volcano?

A volcano is an opening on a planet or moon that allows magma to reach the surface.

How many active volcanoes are there in the world?

There are about 1,500 potentially active volcanoes worldwide (on land). There are even more submarine volcanoes but the number is unknown.

What is the world’s largest active volcano?

Mauna Loa (Hawaii) is the world’s largest active volcano at 4169m (13,677 ft) above sea level. From the base on the ocean floor to the top it is over 9000 m (30,000 ft), making it taller than Mount Everest.

What is the “Ring of Fire”?

The Ring of Fire is a long chain of volcanoes that border the Pacific Ocean. It is one of the most geologically active areas on Earth and is home to powerful volcanic eruptions and frequent earthquakes. There are more than 450 active and dormant volcanoes located with the ring of Fire, as it is the location of the largest number of subduction zones on the earth.

Volcanic arcs and oceanic trenches partly encircling the Pacific Basin form the Ring of Fire. Source: USGS

What was the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century?

Novarupta volcano in Alaska, erupted on June 6th 1912. It erupted continuously for 60 hours, sending tall dark columns of tephra and gas high into the atmosphere. People in Juneau, Alaska, about 1200km from the volcano heard the sound of the blast – over one hour after it occurred. Pyroclastic flows reached distances of over 20km away and filled a V shaped valley until it became a broad flat plain.  It is recorded as a 6.2 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index.

What is the difference between magma and lava?

Magma is the term given to molten rock inside of the earth. Once it is erupted onto the surface, it is then called lava

How are volcanic earthquakes different from tectonic earthquakes?

Tectonic earthquakes are generated when plates move as accumulated energy is released. Volcanic earthquakes are generated by the movement of magma within the lithosphere. Since magma is less dense than the surrounding rock, it rises to the surface, breaking the rock as it moves, thereby generating earthquakes.

Are there other volcanoes in the world that have had eruptions lasting as long as the volcanic eruption in Montserrat (i.e. more than 10 years)?

Yes. Two volcanoes on the Caribbean Plate have had much longer eruptions. Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica has erupted from 1968 – 2010 and Santiaguito Volcano in Guatemala has been erupting from 1922 – present (it last erupted in 2016).

The longest ongoing (but not necessarily continuous) volcanic eruptive phases are:

  • Mount Yasur – 111 years
  • Mount Etna – 109 years
  • Stromboli – 108 years
  • Sangay – 94 years