UWI SRU and IPGP Paris secure Montserrat Volcano Observatory contract

St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago W.I. (UWI); Paris, France (IPGP); April 1, 2008

For the next five years the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) will be jointly managed by the UWI Seismic Research Unit (SRU) and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), bringing the Caribbean’s only currently erupting volcano back under the watch of regional scientists. This decision is potentially beneficial to Montserratians and provides significant opportunities for advancing geoscience research in the region.

The joint SRU/IPGP contract takes effect on April 1, following an almost ten year relationship between the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the MVO. Collectively, the staff of the SRU and the IPGP has over one hundred 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.

“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.

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”. IPGP 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.

Based at the UWI’s St. Augustine campus in Trinidad, the SRU 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. 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 will provide greater opportunities 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.

“The MVO contract is in line with the University’s current thrust 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,” said Dr. Robertson. “IPGP is getting more and more involved in socially relevant problems that have to do with the solid Earth and its interfaces with oceans and atmosphere. These are also the source of major scientific advances,” added Dr. Courtillot. Both directors concluded that, “The Soufrière Hills Volcano is in our backyard and awarding the management contract to the SRU/IPGP emphasizes the relevance and importance of the work being done at the UWI, and at IPGP in Paris, in Guadeloupe and in Martinique, to our Caribbean people.”

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.