Stratigraphic and field data are used in conjunction with textural and chemical evidence (including data from scanning electron microscope, electron microprobe, X-ray fluorescence, X-ray diffraction, and instrumental neutron activation analysis) to establish that the 2003 eruption of Anatahan volcano was mainly phreatomagmatic, dominated by explosive interaction of homogeneous composition low-viscosity crystal-poor andesite magma with water. The hydromagmatic mode of eruption contributed to the significant height of initial eruptive columns and to the excavation and eruption of altered rock debris from the sub-volcanic hydrothermal system. Volatile contents of glass inclusions in equilibrium phenocrysts less abundances of these constituents in matrix glass times the estimated mass of juvenile magma indicate minimum emissions of 19 kt SO2 and 13 kt Cl. This petrologic estimate of SO2 emission is an order-of-magnitude less than an estimate from TOMS. Similarly, inferred magma volumes from the petrologic data are an order of magnitude greater than those modeled from deformation data. Both discrepancies indicate additional sources of volatiles, likely derived from a separate fluid phase in the magma. The paucity of near-source volcanic-tectonic earthquakes preceding the eruption, and the dominance of sustained long-period tremor are attributed to the ease of ascent of the hot low-viscosity andesite, followed by a shallow phreatomagmatic mode of eruption. Phreatomagmatic eruptions are probably more common at emergent tropical island volcanoes, where shallow fresh-water lenses occur at near-sea-level vents. These relations suggest that phreatomagmatic explosions contributed to the formation of many of the near-sea-level craters and possibly even to the small calderas at the other Mariana islands.