News Releases

UWI Seismic Unit and IPGP secure Montserrat volcano contract

For Release Upon Receipt - April 4, 2008

St. Augustine

The University of the West Indies (UWI) has secured the contract to manage the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, which is an organization responsible for monitoring the Soufriere Hills Volcano, bringing the Caribbean’s only currently erupting volcano back under the watch of regional scientists.

The UWI Seismic Research Unit (SRU) will jointly manage the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) with the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP). The Soufrière Hills Volcano on Montserrat has been erupting since 1995 and has rendered almost two-thirds of the island uninhabitable, including the former capital of Plymouth. Of the original 12,000 residents only about 4000 of those currently live on the island. Montserrat is a British overseas territory in the northern region of the Eastern Caribbean.

The joint SRU/IPGP contract, which takes effect on April 1, creates a significant opportunity to advance geoscience research in the Caribbean region. The Caribbean’s island arcs (such as the Lesser Antilles) are regions where complex real-life hazards exist, not only the better known volcanic eruptions, but also the generation of a tsunami by a submarine earthquake or a volcanic landslide. The linking of these two research institutions provides potential for studying volcanism and earthquake activity at arc-scale rather than the scale of individual islands, a logical and innovative step towards disaster risk reduction regionally and globally.

Taken collectively, the staff of the SRU and the IPGP has over 100 years of experience studying volcanoes in the West Indies and elsewhere. Both agencies were involved in managing the MVO during the first few years of the eruption which began in 1995.The SRU, which is based at the UWI St. Augustine campus in Trinidad and Tobago, monitors earthquakes and volcanoes for most of the English-speaking Eastern Caribbean countries. The IPGP has volcano observatories on Martinique and Guadeloupe, i.e. the main French-speaking Antilles, and is also responsible for monitoring of the very active Piton de la Fournaise volcano on Reunion Island, Indian Ocean, which has erupted 25 times in the past decade. The joint SRU/IPGP contract comes following a relationship between the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the MVO that lasted almost ten years.

“This is a major undertaking for the University of the West Indies and the SRU. We look forward to strengthening our existing collaboration with the IPGP to ensure that the MVO continues to provide the Government of Montserrat with the highest quality of scientific advice while improving on existing practices,” said Dr. Richard Robertson, Geologist and Head of the Seismic Research Unit.

He also pointed out that the MVO contract was in line with the current thrust by The UWI towards promoting disaster risk reduction: “It will provide major opportunities for deepening research not only in geoscience but also in hazard and crisis management thereby improving our understanding of the disaster risk reduction cycle.”

Dr. Vincent Courtillot, Professor of Geophysics and Director of Institut de Physique du Globe, added, “We are delighted to undertake this challenging task in collaboration with our SRU colleagues, with whom we have a longstanding and close working relationship. We are already serving the populations of Martinique and Guadeloupe through volcanic and seismic monitoring and are in an excellent position, together with the SRU, to add Montserrat to the other active volcanoes under our watch.”

Doctors Robertson and Courtillot agreed that the decision to award the management contract to the SRU/IPGP highlighted the importance of the work being done by UWI and IPGP to our Caribbean people.

For more information, please contact Stacey Edwards at or (868) 662 4659 or the IPGP at (33) 1 44274806 or


The University of the West Indies (UWI) is the largest and most longstanding higher education provider in the English-speaking Caribbean, with main campuses in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and Centres in Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Christopher (St Kitts) & Nevis, Saint Lucia, and St Vincent & the Grenadines. UWI is an international university with faculty and students from over 40 countries and collaborative links with over 60 universities around the world. Through its seven Faculties, UWI offers undergraduate and postgraduate degree options in Engineering, Humanities & Education, Law, Medical Sciences, Pure & Applied Sciences, Science and Agriculture, and Social Sciences.

Established in 1952, the Seismic Research Unit is a Centre within the UWI and it operates the largest network of seismographs and other geophysical instruments in the Caribbean region. The SRU monitors earthquakes and volcanoes for most of the English-speaking Eastern Caribbean as well as it conducts education and outreach activities and it is involved in a regional effort to establish a tsunami warning system for the Caribbean.


The Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), established in 1921, is a research institute dedicated to the study of the Earth's inner structure and workings, and the interactions between the solid Earth and its fluid envelopes, over a broad range of spatial and temporal scales. It is one of the largest institutes of its kind in the world. The IPGP has had the status of a (graduate) University since 1990, with three missions: fundamental and applied research, the observation and surveillance of natural phenomena and the transmission of scientific and technical knowledge through teaching. IPGP has more than 320 staff members and more than 180 Masters and Doctoral students distributed among 14 research teams with proven records in the main fields of the Earth Sciences: Geophysics (including Seismology, Magnetism, Gravity and Geodesy), Earth Materials, Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry, Geology and Volcanology. The IPGP operates magnetic observatories (with a major contribution to the worldwide network INTERMAGNET), the worldwide network of seismological stations GEOSCOPE, and has the responsibility of monitoring volcanic and seismic activity in Guadeloupe, Martinique and Réunion islands (and also the Comores and the Republic of Djibouti), where it maintains permanent high-level observatories.