With 19 live volcanoes in this seismically active region, the importance of the Seismic Research Centre (SRC ) cannot be underscored enough. In fact, for several decades, the SRC has been the official source of information for earthquakes and volcanoes in the English-speaking Eastern Caribbean. The Centre, which is housed at The UWI St. Augustine Campus, and is currently getting an infrastructural face-lift, is the regional agency responsible for monitoring earthquake, volcanoes and carrying out fundamental research.

In recent years, the SRC has not only been involved in seismology and volcanology, but also in geohazard education and outreach. Its role has grown over the years to include promoting geological hazard awareness, as well as having an active role in the regional effort to establish a tsunami warning system for the Caribbean and adjacent areas. In 2008, the Centre assumed joint management of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, in an arrangement with the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) of France.

Some of the key research projects include: Real Time EArthquake RisK ReducTion (REAKT), which is a collaborative project with 23 primarily European countries, to generally improve the efficiency of real time earthquake risk mitigation methods and its capacity of protecting structures and people; TSUnami Alert REGional (TSUAREG), which is a collaborative project funded by the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) for the installation of four VSAT stations in Antigua, Carriacou, Dominica and St Lucia, to enhance the regional seismographic network for tsunami detection and promote data sharing which will enable a greater understanding of the plate tectonics of the Eastern Caribbean; and the installation of two radon monitoring stations in south-west Tobago (funded by the SRC DCF and Campus Research and Publication Fund Committee), to name a few.

The region is a significantly active one, SRC Acting Director, Dr. Joan Latchman explained recently, and in several islands capital cities were built on, or very near to volcanoes, and the results have been catastrophic.

“Now that we know and understand-we can plan how we use the land.”

She has first-hand knowledge, having completed several tours-of-duty during volcanic eruptions to monitor the activity and educate the public through radio and print programmes. She also added that “the SRC velocity models and data processing modules were also specifically developed to produce more reliable earthquake locations in the region”. And she obviously has great admiration for the team of seismologists, volcanologists, engineers, technicians, research interns, information officers and administrative staff.

“I think I am one of those blessed people who loves everything (she) does… I think that here’s a field that’s making a difference.”

Many members of the team echoed her sentiments, including SRC secretary, Yvonne Joseph, who has been working at the Centre for 37 years.

“I like the camaraderie of the staff, even the work that the Centre is involved in…and I like the one-ness of everyone. It’s like family”.

“It was a scientific job and I was fascinated with that field. And what we learnt from being there was even better than the classroom… I’ve seen some spectacular sites,” explained Research Technician Lutchman Pollard. Although he retired in 2006, he continues to work on special assignment with the SRC. Over the years, he has had several tours, including to St. Vincent and Montserrat to monitor and gain data.

The team underscores that they are professionals who are committed to safety, and there is no doubt that they have been integral to monitoring and sharing information during times of crisis and playing a key role in saving lives; but there have been some close calls.

“In Montserrat, in 1997, I remember clearly. I was sitting at the airport facing the volcano and there was heightened activity,” Pollard explained. “The scientists, on the slopes of the volcano, called on the radio saying that we needed to do a phased evacuation… by the time I called them again they said we needed to evacuate and it was dangerous…Heavy dark clouds were billowing into the atmosphere, I ensured everyone was evacuated, the Governor’s airplane from Antigua was the last airplane to land… and then I drove to higher ground.”

“The pyroclastic flow was coming down the hillside to the airport, it slowed down, didn’t actually reach the water, but it was very close. There were rocks the size of a house and boulders of varying sizes, heat and water vapour, and at the same time there is a billowing convection cloud coming down the hillside at a terrific speed, 20-30 km per hour, sending ash into the ir. It looked like two pulses of eruption, one in front and another behind it like a train, two distinct flows, although the scientists said that there were actually three”.

The SRC team helped many to safety. Pollard remembers assisting a family with a small child who was badly burnt, on to the helicopter. Unfortunately, there was loss of life for some farmers who did not heed the warnings.

To learn more about the Centre please contact Stacey Edwards at (868) 662-4659 or email: info@uwiseismic.com

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