The Soufriere, nicknamed “vié madanm la” in Guadeloupean Creole, literally “la vieille dame” in French or ” the old lady ” in english.
It is a active volcano located on the territory of Saint-Claude in Guadeloupe in the national park on the south end of the island called Basse-Terre. The town of Basse-Terre, the capital of Guadeloupe, is about ten kilometers southwest of the waterfalls of Carbet Falls on its eastern flank. It is the only active volcano on the island that is currently in a state of uneasy rest.
The Soufriere is part of a volcanic territory comprising several eruptive mouths which, in addition to the main lava dome, has formed several other domes, cones. Morne Carmichael, the Cistern, and others to name a few have craters with hot springs and fumaroles that have appeared in the most active areas.
The summit of Soufriere, called La Decouverte, culminates at an altitude of 1,467 meters and it is also the highest peak in Guadeloupe and the Lesser Antilles. This lava dome takes the form of a truncated cone 900 meters in diameter at its base. There is no real crater but several eruptive mouths, chasms from which sulphurous vapors escape and deep gashes. The landscape is rocky and chaotic, almost lunar, bristling with pitons. It is often covered with mists. Several marked trails run through the volcanic summit.
Surrounding the main eruptive mouth, other structures formed during eruptions. These are lava domes like Morne Amic, Morne Dongo, Madeleine and volcanic cones named Le Morne Carmichael, Cistern, Scale, Grande Decouverte, Gros Fougas, Morne Lenglet. The names of small craters on the main dome are Amic, Dupuis and Tarissan chasms and Napoleon crater.
It is an active volcano of the Pelican type with explosive with burning clouds and therefore very dangerous. It’s recent formation is estimated at 100 000 to 200 000 years ago. Its activity is marked by fumaroles, sulphurous vapors and hot springs on different points of the summit. It is the only known volcano to be active in Guadeloupe since the last 10,000 years.
The vegetation on the flanks of Soufriere is remarkable for its biodiversity. It is spread over three levels.
Dense tropical forest up to 1,100 meters then the dense wet maquis between 1,100 and 1,400 meters up composed of shrubs not exceeding two meters in height like Scheffler a attenuata, Clusia mangle, Miconia coriacea. Then the summit meadows from which emerge pioneer species of plants and present to the edge of eruptive mouths.
The first explosive magmatic eruption of the Soufriere is established around the 15th century or perhaps around 1530 with more or less 30 years of uncertainty.
The first description of the Soufriere is the fact of the father Jacques Du Tertre in The General History of the Antilles inhabited by the François published in 1667-1671.
In 1797, an important phreatic eruption took place. Another minor phreatic eruption occurred in 1956.
The last eruption of the Soufriere dates from 1976 it was a phreatic eruption. It led to the evacuation of the southern part of Basse-Terre and the prefecture, 73,600 people over three and a half months. No deaths have been deplored. From 1975 a number of earthquakes around 16,000 and 26 explosions are listed from 1975 to 1977 alerted the seismographs of the volcanic observatory. These shocks intensified in the course of the year 1976. In November 1975, the prefect was warned of the potential dangers and the need to set up an evacuation plan. The first explosion took place on July 8, 1976. Earthquakes have most likely reactivated a series of faults clogged with old materials like clays and magma rocks. This earthquake crisis was the probable cause of the sudden drop in the pressure accumulated inside a heated captive tablecloth, such as a pressure cooker, by the escaped gases from the deep magma, causing the spraying of rocks, and the discharge of sludge, acid gases and water vapors. 25,000 people from the south of Basse-Terre spontaneously evacuated the area to reach the Grande-Terre, out of reach. Volcanic activity continued for some months after this eruption, along with other mudslides and ash emissions. On July 8, 1976, an important flow rushes the valley of the river Carbet over 3.5 km in length. It is 30 to 50 meters wide and 15 to 20 meters thick. A second runs down the river Galion on August 30, 1976. On August 15, the total and compulsory evacuation of the south of Basse-Terre was ordered. It lasted until 18 November 1976.
Director Werner Herzog traveled the deserted city of Basse-Terre during the total evacuation and described the situation and the wait for the catastrophe with the short film La Soufriere.
A highly publicized controversy broke out between scientists Claude Allegre and Haroun Tazieff on the need for evacuation. Claude Allegre advocated the evacuation of the population, stating categorically that with the hypothesis of the magmatic intrusion, the eruption would be serious, while Haroun Tazieff argued that the eruption was safe, all samples analysis collected on the volcano establishing that there was no rise of fresh magma and that it was only a phreatic phenomenon. The prefect still decided to evacuate, but the eruption did no other damage than material.
Climbing To The Top
Access to the summit of Soufriere is possible via hiking trails. Some sectors at the top remain banned because of acidic and toxic gases. The ascent is relatively easy, but some precautions are necessary.
The classic start is from the “Bains Jaunes” at an altitude of about 950 meters then take the “trace of the Pas du Roy”. Direct access by car to the “Savane à Mulets” car park of an altitude of about 1,140 meters is no longer possible since the earthquake in the Saints of November 21, 2004 which led to the landslide of aTarade.