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U.S. Scientists Studying Caribbean’s Past Volcanic Activity In Order To Predict Future Eruptions

volcanic activity

BOULDER, Colo. – Scientists say reconstructing the magnitude of past volcanic eruptions is important in informing predictions about future eruptions and hazards.

But this is difficult to accomplish from records on land – old eruptions are often eroded away, buried beneath later eruptions, or obscured by vegetation and soil.

Because most volcanoes are close to the oceans, much of the erupted material falls into seawater and accumulates on the seafloor.

Scientists say more complete records of volcanic activity can be found in marine sediments. In 2012, Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Expedition 340 recovered a 140-meter long sediment core between Montserrat and Guadeloupe in the northeastern Caribbean Sea.

This is close to several volcanically active islands in the Lesser Antilles. Most notably, this core contained an 7-inch-thick ash layer that was deposited 2.4 million years ago, and came from Guadeloupe, about 46 miles to the east.

Volcanological models indicate this layer derived from a far larger eruption than any subsequently recorded event in the Caribbean region.

While a similarly large eruption would have a major impact on human populations in the region if it occurred today, it is important to note that such events are very rare in the Lesser Antilles, and there is no indication that another large eruption is imminent.

lesser antilles island chain

Lesser Antilles island chain./NASA

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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everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling.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 40 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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