Activity slows on volcano island

April 24, 1998

Julia Hinde at the Geoscience 98 conference at Keele University

Volcanic activity on the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat is showing the first signs of dying down, say British scientists who have been monitoring the island since eruptions began in July 1995.

Bill McGuire, director of the Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre at University College London, said that since just last December the volcano dome has been shrinking.

"Up until Christmas, the volcanic activity was accelerating, but over the last few months the number of earthquakes has been reducing and there has not been significant deformation at the surface," Professor McGuire told the conference, adding that signs were that this period of volcanic activity might be coming to an end.

Scientists had predicted the activity would last about five years and, said Professor McGuire, the volcano seemed to be following this perfectly.

"The interesting question soon will be what happens when the activity stops," he said. How will we stop people building once again in the shadows of a volcano? People are already beginning to consider how to redevelop the island."

Professor McGuire is trying to persuade insurance companies to offer favourable rates and incentives for islanders wanting to rebuild in the relatively safe north of the island. He suggests that a new capital should be built in the north, with the south remaining a site for ecotourism and agriculture.

"It doesn't matter how good your science is if we can't get the message across to residents about how to respond," said Professor McGuire. "Montserrat last erupted 370 years ago. But it could go again in 50 or 100 years - we just don't know."

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