Reflecting on La Soufriere: Past, Present and Future
The UWI St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago. Thursday, April 6th, 2023 – Almost two years after responding to a dramatic eruption at La Soufriere, scientists, emergency managers and other stakeholders descended on St. Vincent for three days, March 28 – 30, 2023 to share scientific findings, discuss lessons learned, and plot the way forward for regional volcano risk management.
To get things started, Day 1 was devoted to The Hazard and Risk Communication in the Eastern Caribbean Workshop. Emergency managers, GIS and communication specialists from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts/Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago participated in a one-day workshop hosted at the UWI Open Campus (St. Vincent) and facilitated by regional and international experts. Representatives from the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI) Working Group on Hazard Mapping, the United States Geological Survey Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (USGS-VDAP), GNS Science New Zealand and a small team from the UWI Seismic Research Centre led participants through a series of discussion topics after presentations on the global state of volcano crisis communication and hazard mapping. During breakout sessions participants provided feedback on existing volcanic hazard maps and the Volcanic Alert Level System (VALS) currently used in the region. Organiser, UWI-SRC Geologist Prof. Richard Robertson, indicated that capturing suggestions for improving these two critical elements of local and regional volcanic emergency response was the first step in “co-producing a revised suite of more user-friendly crisis management tools”.
Day 2 saw the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines being invited to participate in a scientific conference featuring research conducted during and in the aftermath of the 2020 – 2021 eruption. The “Explosions, Ash and Lahars – Country Conference 2023” was open to the public, free of charge and streamed online. Researchers from around the world presented work on the physical, psychological and social aspects of the eruption to a varied and appreciative audience. During a short opening ceremony, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. The Hon. Ralph E. Gonsalves delivered a feature address in which he recounted the dark days of April 2021 and thanked all those who provided assistance to his country and its people in their time of need. Also in attendance was a special group of Vincentians who had since the eruption, been involved in capturing the changes to the physical and social landscape of the island brought on by the eruption.
Hailing from communities north of the Rabacca Dry River that were heavily impacted by ash and lahars, participants in the Changing Landscapes Project had previously been involved in a program which taught them the basics of digital photography. The project sought to provide these communities with the tools to effectively tell their own stories. Participants’ photos adorned the walls of the conference venue and formed a fitting backdrop for the research presented during the conference. In the lead up the country conference, this group received further training in the art and science of storytelling. This time around they were initiated into the world of documentary film making by award winning Vincentian film makers Aiko Roudette, Akley Olton and veteran journalist and documentary maker Dr. Kim Johnson from Trinidad and Tobago. On Wednesday at the country conference, Ms. Clyronique Durrant delivered a stirring talk on the merits of citizen science on behalf of her Changing Landscapes colleagues to rousing applause.
The third and final day of activities took conference and workshop participants on a guided tour of north-windward St. Vincent. Starting at the Rabacca Bridge and then to the head of the La Soufriere hiking trail at “Bamboo Range”, the tour stopped at various sites of interest where tour leaders discussed different aspects of the eruption’s social and environmental impact. Along the way persons observed homes and other infrastructure damaged by the eruption as well as newly constructed homes built to house those who were displaced. The day ended with cultural presentations and opportunities to sample traditional Vincentian delicacies during a picnic at the scenic Owia Salt pond. The UWI Seismic Research Centre wishes to thank its local partners the National Emergency Management Organisations (NEMO) and the UWI Open Campus for their hospitality over these three days and looks forward to more successful collaborations in the future.