Mount Pelée

Mount Pelée (/pəˈl/ pə-LAY; French: Montagne Pelée [mɔ̃taɲ pəle], meaning "bald mountain" or "peeled mountain")[3] is an active volcano at the northern end of Martinique, an island and French overseas department in the Lesser Antilles Volcanic Arc of the Caribbean. Its volcanic cone is composed of stratified layers of hardened ash and solidified lava.[4] Its most recent eruption was in 1932.[5]

Mount Pelée
La Pelée vue du Carbet.jpg
Highest point
Elevation1,397 m (4,583 ft) [1]
Prominence1,381 m (4,531 ft)
Coordinates14°49′N 61°10′W / 14.817°N 61.167°W / 14.817; -61.167Coordinates: 14°49′N 61°10′W / 14.817°N 61.167°W / 14.817; -61.167
Pronunciation/pəˈl/ pə-LAY
French: [pəle]
Mount Pelee is located in Martinique
Mount Pelee
Mount Pelee
Age of rock89+
Mountain typeStratovolcano
Volcanic arc/beltLesser Antilles Volcanic Arc
Last eruption1929–1932[2]
Easiest routewalk

The stratovolcano's eruption in 1902 destroyed the town of Saint-Pierre, killing 29,000 to 30,000 people in the space of a few minutes, in the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century.[6] The main eruption, on 8 May 1902, left only two survivors in the direct path of the blast flow: Ludger Sylbaris survived because he was in a poorly ventilated, dungeon-like jail cell; Léon Compère-Léandre, living on the edge of the city, escaped with severe burns.[7] Havivra Da Ifrile, a young girl, reportedly escaped with injuries during the eruption by taking a small boat to a cave down the shore and was later found adrift 3 km (1.9 mi) from the island, unconscious.

The event marked the only major volcanic disaster in the modern history of France and its overseas territories.

Geographical setting and descriptionEdit

Mount Pelée is the result of a typical subduction zone. The subduction formed the Lesser Antilles island arc, a curved chain of volcanoes approximately 850 kilometres (530 mi) in length, between Puerto Rico and Venezuela, where the Caribbean Plate meets Atlantic oceanic crust belonging to the South American Plate. Other volcanoes in the island arc are also known for their volcanic activity, including Saint Vincent's La Soufrière, Guadeloupe's La Grande Soufriere volcano, Montserrat's Soufrière Hills, and the submarine volcano Kick 'em Jenny.[4]

Geological historyEdit

Volcanologists have identified three different phases in the evolution of Mount Pelée volcano: initial, intermediate, and modern.[4] In an initial phase, called the "Paléo-Pelée" stage, Mount Pelee was a common stratovolcano. The cone of Paléo-Pelée was composed of many layers of lava flows and fragmented volcanic debris. Remains of the Paléo-Pelée cone are still visible at the northern view at the volcano today.

A second stage, now called the intermediate phase, started around 100,000 years ago, after a long period of quiescence. This stage is grouped by the formation of the Morne Macouba lava dome, then later on, the Morne Macouba caldera. During the intermediate phase, there were several eruptions which produced pyroclastic flows like those that destroyed Saint-Pierre in the 1902 eruption. Around 25,000 years ago, a large southwest sector collapse occurred, forming a landslide. This event is similar to the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980.[4]

The modern stage of the evolution of Mount Pelée has created most of the current cone, with deposits of pumice and the results of past pyroclastic flows. More than 30 eruptions have been identified during the last 5,000 years of the volcano's activity.

3,000 years ago, following a large pumice eruption, the Étang Sec (French for Dry Pond) caldera was then formed. The 1902 eruption took place within the Étang Sec crater. This eruption formed many pyroclastic flows and produced a dome that filled the caldera. Mount Pelée continued to erupt until 4 July 1905. Thereafter, the volcano was dormant until 1929.[8]

On 16 September 1929, Mount Pelée began to erupt again. This time, there was no hesitation on the part of authorities and the danger area was immediately evacuated. The 1929 eruption formed a second dome in the Étang Sec caldera and produced pyroclastic flows emptying into the Blanche River valley. Although there were pyroclastic flows, the activity was not as violent as the 1902 activity. It culminated in another "spine" or lava plug, albeit smaller than the 1902 plug, being emplaced at the summit. The activity ended in late 1932.[4][9].

Current statusEdit

The volcano is currently active. A few volcano tectonic earthquakes occur on Martinique every year, and Mount Pelée is under continuous watch by geophysicists and volcanologists (IPGP). Before the 1902 eruption—as early as the summer of 1900—signs of increased fumarole activity were present in the Étang Sec crater (Scarth, p. 30). Relatively minor phreatic (steam) eruptions that occurred in 1792 and 1851 were evidence that the volcano was active. Signs of unrest are likely to precede any future eruptive activity from Mount Pelée, and its past activity (including the violent eruptions uncovered by carbon dating) is an extremely important factor for hazard assessment.[10]

The city of Saint-Pierre was never fully rebuilt, though some villages grew up in its place. The estimated population of the Commune of Saint-Pierre in 2004 was 4,544.[citation needed]


The Martinique volcano frog, Allobates chalcopis, is endemic to Mount Pelée,[11] and the only species among related frogs (family Aromobatidae) endemic to an oceanic island.[12]

In literatureEdit

  • The Day The World Ended by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts (Stein and Day, 1969, 306 pp). The authors used contemporary records and survivor accounts to construct a historical novel of the events and lives of residents of Martinique, leading up to and through the eruption of May 8, 1902.
  • Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau (Gallimard, 1992. Trans. Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokurov, Vintage International, 1998). In this novel that retraces several generations of Martinique's history, Esternome, the protagonist of the novel's first part, witnesses firsthand the destruction caused by the volcano. Marie-Sophie Laborieux, Esternome's daughter and the novel's narrator, recounts her father's experiences and also discusses the traces of this event she has seen herself, including burn scars on her father's body and ossuaries in the ruins of Saint-Pierre. The eruption and its aftermath are discussed in the section "Amour grillée" ("Barbecued Love").

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "La Montagne Pelée". Observatoire volcanologique et sismologique de la Martinique (in French). Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
  2. ^ "Pelee". Global Volcanism Program. Smithsonian Institution. 15 February 2017. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
  3. ^ Scarth, Alwyn (2002). La Catastrophe: The Eruption of Mount Pelee, the Worst Volcanic Eruption of the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 2. ISBN 0-19-521839-6.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Mount Pelee".
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ "The eruption of Mount Pelee". SDSU.
  8. ^ Scarth, Alwyn (2002). La Catastrophe. Oxford. p. 221.
  9. ^ Zebrowski Jr., Ernest; The Last Days of St. Pierre-The Volcanic Disaster that Claimed 30,000 Lives; P. 268; Rutgers University Press: 2002
  10. ^
  11. ^ Frost, Darrel R. (2014). "Allobates chalcopis (Kaiser, Coloma, and Gray, 1994)". Amphibian Species of the World: an Online Reference. Version 6.0. American Museum of Natural History. Retrieved 23 September 2014.
  12. ^ Fouquet, A.; Pineau, K. V.; Rodrigues, M. T.; Mailles, J.; Schneider, J. B.; Ernst, R.; Dewynter, M. L. (2013). "Endemic or exotic: The phylogenetic position of the Martinique Volcano Frog Allobates chalcopis (Anura: Dendrobatidae) sheds light on its origin and challenges current conservation strategies". Systematics and Biodiversity. 11: 87–101. doi:10.1080/14772000.2013.764944.

External linksEdit