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St Vincent on alert as seismic activity increases at La Soufriere

St Vincent on alert as seismic activity increases at La Soufriere
Activity at La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent. (GP)

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Residents of St Vincent and the Grenadines were warned to stay away from La Soufriere volcano after increased seismic activity was detected in the dome over the weekend.

Volcanologists Dr Erouscille Pat Joseph and Professor Richard Robertson of the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre (SRC), joined Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves in a live address to the nation on Tuesday evening to provide an update on the activity.

“This is what we call an effusive eruption going on at Soufriere, which essentially means magma is coming slowly out of the earth and building a dome,” Robertson said.

It is similar to what occurred in 1971/72, after which the volcano went dormant. La Soufriere last had an explosive eruption in March 1979, and the ash rained on parts of Barbados.

St Vincent on alert as seismic activity increases at La Soufriere
The hazard zones for the La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent. (GP)

Robertson said there was minor seismic activity in November and again on December 16 and 23, but on December 27 a NASA satellite detected a hot spot in the crater.

They contacted the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) and arranged for the Soufriere Monitoring Unit to visit the site on Tuesday. The magma is slowly building on the existing dome.

Robertson said sulphur-rich gases will be released into the atmosphere and warned residents to stay away from the area at this time.

He said there is not enough data to determine whether it will continue to slowly build or activity will increase to the point where there is an explosive eruption. In the meantime, they will continue to monitor the situation, and working in conjunction with NEMO, will put more equipment to collect data.

During the briefing, Gonsalves received correspondence from Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of National Security Stuart Young, giving clearance for Robertson and two others to leave the twin-island republic, where the SRC is located, to go to St Vincent. Gonsalves said once they had the COVID tests, an aircraft from the Barbados based Regional Security System would collect the team and equipment.

Robertson said he hoped there would be enough time to alert citizens in the danger zone so they can be evacuated ahead of a major event.  (SAT)