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SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans
December 12, 2017
Soufriere Hills Volcano Day
16°48.059’N x 062°12.539’W
Anchored, NE of Montserrat
Clear night with absolutely no breeze
Way back in early November (while we were in Woods Hole) I had no idea that I was signing up to write the blog post for one of the coolest days of this trip. That’s right: today, our class got to visit the Soufriere Hills Volcano and its observatory! We picked a great day to visit, too. The wind was blowing all the smoke that continuously flows out of the top of the volcano towards the opposite side of the island. We were presented with a beautiful, clear view of the lava dome that has been building up since the most recent eruption in 2010.
A few days ago, we spoke with the Chief Fisheries Officer of Montserrat. He told us that where we were standing used to be submerged in the ocean, prior to a huge hard engineering project (basically filling in the coastline with a whole bunch of concrete) to create Little Bay Port. The theme of dramatic coastline changes of Montserrat popped up again today. We learned that where we were standing to look up at Soufriere Hills also used to be part of the ocean. However, during the eruptions from 1995-2010, huge pyroclastic flows glided right into the Caribbean Sea, spreading out up to 2 kilometers. Those flows could travel up to 100 miles an hour. If the volcano had erupted while we were there, the lava could have reached us in 3-5 minutes. We also saw the old capitol city of Plymouth. Most of the buildings were 1-2 stories tall… or so we thought. As it turns out, those buildings were actually five stories tall, but the first three were completely buried under volcanic rock and ash.
After visiting the viewing site, we drove over to the observatory that is located on one of the hills adjacent to the volcano. This observatory opened in December of 2002. The previous observatory was located in Plymouth and had to be relocated. While we were there, we watched a video of the eruptions, toured the monitoring room, and (*spoiler alert*) bought some Christmas presents/souvenirs from the gift shop. The monitoring room is filled with computers and alert systems so that the volcanologists will know if and when there is any activity. Apparently, there are a few earthquakes a week from the seismic activity associated with the volcano. Don’t worry Mom and Dad, the earthquakes are typically less than magnitude one and not enough to indicate the onset of another eruption.
Today was definitely one of my favorite days of the trip. However, there is still more to look forward to. Tomorrow, we will be getting underway towards Antigua for a quick stop to go through customs before heading over to Barbuda. The end of the trip is on the horizon and I have very mixed feelings (and I know I am not alone in feeling this way). While I miss everyone at home, I also don’t want this adventure to end. I am beyond grateful to SEA Semester for setting up this amazing program that has reinforced my love for the sea.
P.S.: Hi Dad! I just saw your message from this morning but I don’t have WiFi anymore. Yes, I have been getting a little sea sick, but I haven’t tossed my cookies yet. I have been taking some medicine to prevent it, and that helps a lot. I have been sleeping very well, despite the tight quarters and I really enjoy sailing. The seas were very rough Saturday night. I was doing dishes after dinner when a huge wave crashed over the bow and water came splashing down through the vents and soaked everything in the galley. Don’t worry though, the peanut butter balls (the midnight snack) were safe. I taste tested them after the incident and confirmed that they were still delicious. I love and miss you, Mom, Dad, John, Luke, Di, and everyone else at home!! See ya soon.