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St. Thomas Geologist Says Tsunami Could Be Here in 80 Minutes

 

roy watlington

   St. Thomas geologist Roy Watlington

CHRISTIANSTED — Local geologist Roy Watlington says a tsunami from Kick ‘em Jenny could reach St. Croix in as little as 80 minutes.

A tsunami caused by the volcano erupting would be in St. John first, then St. Thomas in 90 minutes, Watlington told CBS TV2 Monday night.

The volcano, Kick ’em Jenny, sits off the northern coast of Grenada. Officials downgraded its threat level Monday to yellow, which means volcanic activity has decreased significantly, but that it will still be monitored closely.

Kick ’em Jenny began stirring on July 11, and has produced more than 200 small earthquakes since then, according to the Seismic Research Centre at the University of the West Indies.

Even though the crater is about 600 feet (180 meters) below the surface of the ocean, the volcano is a hazard to locals and ships in the region.

To clear its path and reduce risks, scientists set up an exclusion zone for ships around the volcano. Recreational ships must stay at least 3 miles (5 kilometers) away from the summit of the volcano.

If it erupts, Kick ’em Jenny could displace seawater and produce a tsunami, though the risks of that are relatively low, scientists say. If an eruption causes a tsunami, it is likely to be small and confined to nearby islands.

But other risks to shipping and marine vessels in the region are especially significant.

Underwater or submarine volcanoes release intense amounts of gas into the sea during eruptions — and at times in between eruptions during a process called degassing.

Such gas bubbles lower water density and can cause ships to lose buoyancy and sink.

In addition to putting ships at risk of sudden sinking, an eruption could throw hot rocks, known as ballistic projectiles, up through the water and into the air far above the ocean surface. Such rocks can go up to 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the volcano and have the ability to significantly damage or destroy ships.

One of Grenada’s worst maritime disasters is believed to have occurred as a result of degassing from the Kick ’em Jenny volcano in 1944. At least 60 people died when a ship sank with 60 people on board.

Kick ’em Jenny has erupted a dozen times since it was discovered in 1939, scientists say.

Its last eruption was in 2001.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 50 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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