Warning, response mechanisms in place – Volcanologist
This still photo, captured from video footage, shows the deadly smoke and ash from last Sunday’s Fuego volcano eruption in Guatemala, rising as motorists flee the area. (AP)
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June 8, 2018
Warning, response mechanisms in place – Volcanologist

Residents of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and other Caribbean countries where there are active volcanoes should not be overly worried because of eruptions taking place in other parts of the world.

Kilauea, a shield volcano, is wreaking havoc in Hawaii, while in Guatemala, nearly 200 people remain missing after the Fuego volcano erupted last Sunday, killing at least 75 people.
Dr Richard Robertson, director/senior research fellow Geology/Volcanology at the University of the West Indies (UWI) at St Augustine said the recent eruptions are an indication that the earth is a dynamic planet where things are happening all the time.

He however said this does not mean we should expect eruptions in the region at this time.

“The earth is one system and if you think as yourself as a system, a human being, your fingers are connected to every other part and the earth is connected like that. But to say there is a direct line [between volcanoes], there isn’t that connection,” Robertson told SEARCHLIGHT on Tuesday.

Dr Richard Robertson

He said while we in SVG have a volcano that has erupted in the past and could erupt in the future, we should not be any more worried about eruptions than we were before.

The Vincentian volcanologist said in our part of the world, we have volcanoes that can do the same kinds of things as the volcano in Guatemala, but that is why we have an agency like the Seismic Unit at the UWI and mechanisms in place to let us know if and when something happens; and with plans in place to respond to anything that happens.

He said SVG has a monitoring system and he would be very surprised were we to be caught off guard, if something were to happen.

He also noted that the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) updated its volcanic eruption management plan a few years ago and things are in place in the event of an eruption.

Robertson said that people were killed during the recent eruption in Guatemala because certain basic rules were ignored, and we should be concerned and learn from this.

He said the regional monitoring system includes a network of instruments designed to detect the precursory signals that volcanoes usually give prior to erupting.

“In St Vincent we have seismic centres that are located on the volcano itself and further afield that should and would indicate to us when the ground starts to shake, and that is the sort of thing that would happen prior to an eruption, as magma comes close to the surface, it would cause the ground to shake and cause earthquakes.”

Dr Robertson said the precursory signals may occur from as long as years before an eruption to as short as days before something actually happens at the surface.

“It can vary and you really wouldn’t know until the change happens, so I would expect ideally in Soufriere, we would have months before something happens, but it could be shorter than that.”
He said in relation to SVG, residents have been very practical when La Soufriere acts up.

“My experience in SVG and I have been researching SVG for a long time and Vincentians respond in a sensible way to volcanic eruptions. They move away form the volcano and that is the thing you have to do.
He said footage from the recent Guatemala eruption showed persons videotaping and that is not advisable.

Dr Robertson however noted that SVG continues to have problems with persons destroying the volcano monitoring equipment on La Soufriere. He urged Vincentians to leave the equipment alone as it could mean the difference between life and death.

The volcanologist said sometimes patterns can be observed in volcanoes which include periods of activity and periods of sleep and La Soufriere erupts about every 100 years, more or less.

“So, given that as we move further and further away [from the last eruption in 1979] the chances may increase, but they don’t always work like that…just keep living your lives and think that sometime in the future you will have to move away from it, but volcanoes do not trigger one another,” Robertson stated.

He said that over the years, the Seismic Unit has been working to raise awareness and they have received help from overseas researchers and collaborators and as a result have managed to do several things locally.

In the region, 19 volcanoes are being monitored in places like St Kitts, Dominica, St Lucia, SVG, Grenada, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Montserrat along with the underwater volcano Kick ‘em Jenny.