I apologise for the lack of posts…been busy writing away!
I have completed drafts on chapters 4 and 5, and currently working away on chapter 6. Chapter 4 I reconstructed the 1812, 1902 and 1979 eruptions of La Soufrière using archive sources and interviews. Chapter 5 was the impacts of the eruptions on the agricultural industry. Chapter 6 I am focusing on the evolving social risk and geoculture across the 168 years.
Chapter 6 is a bit of a challenge, but I have a lot of fascinating stuff to share once it all comes together!
In other news:
I have applied for a Visting Researcher position but I won’t say anything more!
I will be attending the IRDR 7th Annual Conference in July
I’ll also be attending a ‘Building Resilience to Geohazards in the Face of Uncertainty’ hosted by the Geological Society in September
That’s all for now! I’ll be using my new mantra to get through the next few months:
Upon returning from US fieldwork, I only had a number of weeks to create a conference poster and be on my way to the airport. I was preparing for the Cities on Volcanoes 9 (CoV9) international conference in Puerto Varas, Chile.
I did not know what to expect from the country or the conference. Luckily, both exceeded my expectations. I learned a lot from those who viewed my poster to the talks and other posters, met/made many new contacts and friends, as well as seeing some familiar faces.
CoV is an international conference occurring every 2 years hosted at an alternative city in the vicnity of a volcano(es). The aim is to bring together volcanologists, disaster managers and other researchers concerned with volcanic impacts on society, through the promotion of inter/multi-disciplinary research and establishing colloboration between physical and social scientists, as well as stakeholders like town planners. The particular theme for this year was “Understanding volcanoes and society: the key for risk mitigation”. CoV is part of the IAVCEI (International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior), which represents all volcanologist throughout the world.
I am not entirely sure how many delegates there was, but it certainly had to be over 500. There was such a rich representation of research across the world, in poster and oral form. There was a lot of them so it was impossible to sit in all talks and speak to everyone about their poster. My priority is to stick the talks and posters that are relevant to my project as well as my research interests, then if I have the time to see/read others, then I will.
Talks/posters I focused on related to agricultural impacts of volcanic eruptions, risk perceptions, historical reconstructions of volcanic eruptions, lahars, PDCs, risk and politics.
The conference itself had opportunities to visit some volcanoes (Chaitén, Calbuco, Osorno and the Laguna del Maule Volcanic Complex) before, during and after the conference. Unfortunately I could not afford any of them but luckily the ones during the conference were included, to visit either Calbuco or Osorno. I chose Calbuco, as it erupted last year. As this was a recent eruption that was on the ‘door step’ of Puerto Varas, it was talked about a lot at the conference. Wired has a nice summary of the activity.
We went to an area that was impacted by lahars, but a year on the rivers/streams have been cleared and artifically transformed, mainly by moving the bigger boulders on the banks. There was a primary school in this area…right under Calbuco to be exact. We walked up the river to a destroyed fish farm. The building was still standing, but was far beyond being operational again with the giant boulders that the lahar carried down. Walking up a little bit more we came to the waterfall in which the lahar came down, it was impressive to see if not slightly unnerving that a vast amount of water filled with volcanic material flowing down the river with such severity. The most interesting part was that we went back to the school and got first hand experiences from a number of individuals from the surrounding villages. The main things that I took away from their experiences were:
As farmers, their main priority was to secure their livelihoods. They accepted the risks and did everything they could to save their livestock;
For many, this eruption was the first they experienced, so a lot of things were learnt as the eruption of occurring;
They were fully aware of their needs, but the government did not and tried to impose what they thought they needed and ignoring what the villages really needed. This frustrated the communities and in the end they had little assistance from the government;
Throughout the event and afterwards, they built and maintained community resilience, social cohesion and social networks, key aspects of withstanding hazardous impacts.
Overall, I am so glad I went. I met some great people, learned a lot and have had valuable feedback from those who came to look at my work on the historical impacts of La Soufrière on the agricultural industry. Most importantly, it gave me confidence and belief in my work and that I could be a valuable member of the social volcanology community.
I am looking forward to the next one in 2018, when it returns to Naples! Hopefully I will be a stage to give a talk.
I was in the USA for 2 weeks September-October on a hunt for more archival sources related to the historic eruptions of La Soufrière. I had never been to America before so I got distracted by all the ‘bigness’ of pretty much everything compared to where I grew up and lived in the UK.
I had two aims:
Obtain copies of the diaries of the American Barrister Hugh Keane from the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, VA and;
Obtain field notebook copies of the American Geologist Dr Edmund Hovey from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
I have to say, I was very impressed with what I found.
My first stop was the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond. I was well aware of the rich history the city and the state itself so I was expecting great things.
Hugh Keane was a barrister in St Vincent in the early 1800s, but his family had been on the island since the late 1700s. His diary entries were in most part short (and small) but he does write on the 30th April about the beginings of the 1812 eruption.
Although this is what I came for I did run into a few issues. One is the handwriting, in which I need to take a paleography course at The National Archives in London for (online thankfully). Another was I actually took most of the pages at a wrong angle (oops) making it harder to transcribe. Another is the language and abbreivations he uses. And a big one is that he doesn’t give a day-to-day running commentary on the eruption. Either Hugh was too busy to watch it (he was a barrister during the slavery era) or he got bored of it. Hopefully his entries will provide helpful insights in what the volcanic processes and hazards were, if not to gain an idea what the responses were.
In any case, I got what I went for so I was happy with that. For Edmund Hovey’s collection I did not know what to expect. All I knew was that he was ordered by the American Museum of Natural History to investigate the eruptions of Pelée and Soufrière.
Dr Edmund Hovey was a geologist and at the time, assistant curator in the palaeontology section of the museum.
Once I got to the room where the collection was held (after getting briefly lost in the museum naturally), the curator assisting my search showed me the list of what they had. It looked exciting. A small cool collection was artifacts that Edmund brought back from Martinique:
I got more excited when I opened up the field notebooks:
Anyone who has done a geoscience based degree or course, knows how important a field notebook is. I was quite impressed with the level of detail Edmund went into, like a true geologist: time, date, location, and detailed descriptions of the geology and any hazardous phenomena. If this was part of an assignment today he would get high marks on descriptions but not so much on sketches. At the beginning of each notebook he would also note down the adminstrative hierarchy (Governor, adminstrator, executive council etc.) and if he was accompanied by anyone. The most surprising find for me (and the most critical) was that he interviewed and gathered statements of those who observed volcanic activity. Reading these statements, another very important aspect became apparent, he was including more voices than the ‘white elite’ men. He spoke to black men and women whose voice I had so far not been able to read (granted he called them negroes and negresses but I guess that was the language at the time).
My most favourite statement, that I will share with you all, was from a surviour of a pyroclastic density current that flowed down the eastern flank of the volcano over the Orange Hill Estate House. People survived in a rum cellar, whilst a number died in the corridor leading to the cellar and the estate manager, his wife and nephew died on the verandah.
Statement of Taylor in one of Edmund’s field notebooks (AMNH: Box 3, Item 31)
Photograph of the Orange Hill Estate house (YM: TA123)
Cellar where survivors were found (YM: TA125)
“A cook told me that trash in front of cellar and some of the houses were set on fire by the hot stones. Taylor(who is a very intelligent black man) and the others said that the “cloud rolled down from the Soufriere along the ravines, struck the sea, burst into flames foof, foof, foof, and at once turned back toward the sugar factory striking the building with great force and forcing shut the heavy doors and the heavy wooden shutters of the window openings. Heat was very oppressive. Air suffocating. Smelled of sulphur (rotten eggs, one said). For four or five minutes it seemed as if everyone would die from suffocation and cries for water were heard on all sides. Then the air cleared a bit, though the rain of dust and stones continued”.
From all information gathered from my trip, I can understand the volcanic hazards better: what, where, when and their impacts. They will also help inform impacts on the agricultural and society, where possible.
I like to thank the Royal Geographical Society for funding.
It is now the 1st May, which means I have one month left here on St Vincent. I am starting to get a bit restless and want to come home to see my family and friends. But I can hold on for a little longer!
Reflecting back on my time here so far, I would say it has been character building, as well as a confidence booster. Some people say being in a different country for a while has a positive effect on people. I suppose I can agree with them.
Coming out here by myself as an independent PhD student has suited me fine, as I do prefer my own company. I have been away from distractions to really crack on with the data I aimed to collect here.
Doing a dissertation/thesis, whether undergrad, Masters or PhD, is really a lonely affair. Of course you have your supervisors and friends, but they are busy people are they not? Every project is different and the guidance from the supervisors vary, but for me, it has worked just fine. Although a part of me wishes at least one of my supervisors had the chance to come out here to experience this island for themselves!
The data collection here has been the utmost importance and confess, I have not had much time to rest. I would say on a weekend I have relaxed but, just yesterday I conducted more interviews. But, I did get to see a new part of the island. I went to the Mesopotamia Valley, a village called Belmont which lies on the ridges of an extinct volcano! It was an amazing view, beats the view of a Private School’s sports grounds back home.
The remainder of my time here will be getting the rest of my interviews done, then beginning to make scripts and code them.
Oh and it will be my birthday near the end of the month…so I have definitely decided to not work then and head over to the Grenadine island of Bequia. Can squeeze in a bit of holiday before this is all over.
*This is a work in progress, and is a documentation of my thought processes on an argument…so bare with me with any inaccuracies.
This morning, I came up with an interesting observation from my current data, the data from my MSc thesis, a cultural observation and the literature.
A mentality that I believe has an Imperialist/colonial legacy, is apparent not just here but throughout the Caribbean that nature is there to be dominated. It can be observed all around, with the conversion of the forests into plantations, villages that are on and around the mountains (particularly on the Leeward side), and tunnels cutting through possibly, geologically important areas. Does this cultural trait, in combination of other factors (that I am still trying to piece together), create the certain geoculture I am beginning to piece together?
A volcano cannot be “controlled” like a river, which can be culverted like a stream has over here for the construction of the Argyle International Airport. From what I have observed in the data, La Soufrière’s eruptions (and likely other volcanoes as well), have led to a feeling of awe, fear/dread and helplessness. It has prompted religious responses and interpretations. Interestingly, there was an increased number of marriages following the 1902 eruption (I was surprised when I came across that information!) 45 % of 100 people questioned for my MSc study on risk perceptions, believed God was in control of its eruptions and there is a lack of self-confidence in their preparedness and self-efficacy in the case of a future volcanic crisis. There is an attitude that there is a lack of interest in personal preparedness, but a high demand in those in authority to “do something”. Are these feelings connected to a need to dominate nature, but for a volcano and its impacts, it cannot be dominated?
I would love people’s thoughts on this. Have you come across this in your work? What am I missing? Am I talking utter nonsense?
I am known for not writing things down. So sitting down to blog (I think I am going to go with my friend’s suggestion and say ‘volog’) about my first fieldwork season is 3 weeks late.
So, I am in staying on an old plantation estate house called Queensbury, on the island of St Vincent, also known as Youloumain or Hairoun to the Garifuna, the indigenous population who live in the north, where the volcano that I am studying, La Soufrière, resides.
The name La Soufrière is an interesting one. Besides sharing the same name as the volcanoes on Guadeloupe and St Lucia (which can be very confusing looking up for journal articles), it has had a few other names with different meanings, which I have come across in my archival research studying the volcano’s historic eruptions of 1812 and 1902. For a time, it was called ‘Souffrir’, the French word for ‘suffer’, which would be very fitting for the volcano, as it has impacted the society in big ways. The name then changed slightly to ‘Souffrier’, where we can see the corruption of the word taking place. When it eventually became the name we know today, its meaning was ‘the sulphur mine’. But to a number of Vincentians today, it simply means ‘the sulphurer’. In the 1700s archive documents, the volcano was called ‘Morne a Garou’. Morne Garou is the general name given to the overall northern mountain range in which the volcano resides, so the name has persisted. However, Morne a Garou means ‘Dreary Spirit’, which could mean it is related to how the Kalinago and Garifuna perceive the volcano. Indeed, the word ‘volcano’ and its varying hazards do not appear in their language, unlike ‘hurricane’ (‘bebeidi’), where Europeans got the word from when they came to the West Indies and experienced them for the first time. Not being in their language, it could mean that the perception of volcanism was not of nature or physical, perhaps it was spiritual. But I am getting off track here, it is something I want to explore further beyond the PhD.
The point is, with my archive research so far, Soufrière has been seen, written, drawn and painted about in varying ways. Stemming back to Daniel Defoe’s skeptical description of the 1718 eruption, which had perhaps been exaggerated for the Mist Journal to attract readers (in fact, a lot of his work was believed to be ‘made up’), to William Turner’s painting of the 1812 eruption (also exaggerated), to the accounts of Mr McDonald, a landowner on St Vincent during the 1902 eruption, and finally, of the re-telling of people’s experiences of the 1979 eruption, the volcano, although creating experiences called ‘mismatch effect’ (different experiences for the same hazardous event), has been inspiring people.
I do not know about you, but Turner’s and Marlow’s paintings have some similarities.
Those who have described the volcano have romanticised the raw power of its natural beauty. During Defoe’s and Turner’s time, this was commonplace. But even for the later eruptions, Soufrière has been viewed as a primal agent of Mother Nature, blissfully in slumber between eruptions, attracting visitors from around the world to admire its luxuriant forests and animals, including the allusive Vincentian parrot (that I am determined to see before I leave), to swim in its crater lake and overall, to take it for granted. It is not until the precursory earthquakes, or even as late as the first actual explosion, that people realise that the volcano is a serious threat to their safety.
My research is reconstructing the events of 1812, 1902 and 1979 using descriptions of the lay-public (and scientists for the 1902 and 1979 eruptions), and its impacts on the society, agriculture and settlements. For 1812, as volcanology as a discipline had not fully materialised, using descriptions to interpret the volcanic phenomena takes skill. But more skill is needed to understand the handwriting (I am getting there!)
From this, comes the more challenging part, and that is how the Vincentian population responded, coped, mitigated and recovered, and determining the patterns of adjustment and adaptation. This, while placing their reactions and the volcanic eruptions themselves, within the social and wider historical context.
As for me being on St Vincent, this place is not unfamiliar to me. I came here 2 years ago for my masters research on volcanic risk perceptions of the volcano (which inspired me to do the PhD) and my family are from here. My grandfather was born in Barrouallie and was a shark catcher (he has scars to prove it) before heading to the UK like a number of Caribbean migrants back in the 60s and 70s. I am part of the De Freitas clan, Portuguese indentured servants from Madeira that along with Indian indentured servants, were brought to the island to replace the then emancipated slave population. I do find it interesting that having family from volcanic islands and regions (on my father’s side I am part Cameroon), I have become a volcanologist. Not a typical volcanologist mind you, I will be the first to admit that if I am given a volcanic rock or thin section I could not tell you anything! I am one that sees the volcano’s historic and social significance. The purpose of my fieldwork season is to gain archive and oral history insights of the 1979 eruption, so when I get back to the UK in May/June, I can start to compare and contrast my findings for 1812 and 1902, and build a holistic overview of how Vincentians and Soufrière have come to live together. Which has been awesome to see unravel.
One of the best parts are the stories. To boil the PhD down to its most simplest, it is to bring the stories of the three eruptions to life. To show how much of a profound impact volcanism can have on us that live with them. How they drive people towards or away from religion and spirituality. To make people think what is the most important in life. To change the course of politics. To inspire geoscientists of the past, present and future. Even to find love! (Yes, I have a story of the 1979 eruption that created a few love affairs in the evacuation centres). Volcanoes are not just a natural phenomenon that destroy and create all in their path, they are a focal point of societal change.
That is all for now, I shall leave you with a handful of photos I have taken so far of my time here.
Yesterday at 2pm to 3pm I delivered my very first guest lecture. I was a nervous wreck and honestly do not entirely know why. Maybe because I was teaching second year students something. Maybe because the lecturer(s) who invited me were keen to hear to what I had to say.
Or maybe because it was my own research and it is only now that my own thoughts are being heralded as ‘good’ so I was spooked that someone actually cared.
But I am being hard on myself.
So this all began when I got the results back from my masters dissertation which was ‘Volcanic Risk Perceptions of La Soufrière, St. Vincent.’ I got a distinction and I was so ecstatic with myself and realised I had an undergraduate lecturer to thank. The lecturer in question (I will not name them just so I do not spook them! Although I am sure this will get to them somehow…) inspired me as a physical geographer, to combine the world of disaster management and particularly the various aspects of community resilience (pretty sure I have given it away now).
So I emailed them with the dissertation attached as a thank you. Almost got emotional but I tried to remain professional, since I had then started my PhD.
They emailed me back saying how great and detailed it was and did I mind coming in to talk to the second year students on the ‘Warning and Informing for Environmental Hazards’ module (yep, given it away now) about it. So after a few exchanges with the current lecturer on the module, I had the date and time. The room location was a little last minute but meh details.
So. This trip was nostalgic. I remember how much I enjoyed and engaged with the warning and informing module and setting foot back onto the campus felt really odd. It is approaching 4 years ago I was an undergraduate at Coventry University. Now I stepped onto the campus with a BSc and a MSc and now doing a PhD.
One thing that confused me though is that the entrance to the George Elliott building that I used to walk through was no longer there! Literally had a good 30 seconds of “Oh God…WHERE IS THE DOOR?!”
This came across my thoughts for a split second. Not going to lie.
Anyway, after I did find the door I went down (or up? Across?) memory lane when finding the lecturer. Ran into some old faces. Felt really weird.
But the lecturer/PhD student Craig (he is not the inspiring individual I talked about earlier…sorry Craig) was very reassuring when I said I was nervous and we certainly talked about some of the good old times as he was just starting out as a PhD student in my final year.
So the time eventually arrived where we wondered over to the enter confusing (but not as confusing as the Cohen building here at Hull Uni) William Morris building. This building had changed too…luckily the doors were still in the right place.
Found the room and my goodness there was a horrid smell of rotting/fermented/whatever-the-hell-it-was-doing fish. A nice welcome!
Craig, myself…every student entering the room pulled the same expression.
There was also an awkward pillar in the middle of the room. Ah how I missed the impractical rooms. Luckily, I had dual projectors!
So after fumigating the room and a student evaluation form, Craig introduced me and I was let loose.
Not visible to everyone in the room but I was interally panicking. I have no idea why! But I eased into it as I did know what I was talking about. Sure, I stumbled over some of my words and I am sure I forgot to breathe at some point but this was practice. I am speaking at a conference next month…so yeah. Had to suck it up.
The students had just come back from a fieldtrip (good ol’ Slapton!) and yes I was very conscience of the fact that some were fiddling with their phones but at the same time I knew they were listening. I got them to do a quick task of what is hazardous about Coventry to test their perceptions, asked questions about what they could see with the results I was showing and their thoughts on the implications of warning and informing on St. Vincent in regards to the volcanic risk perceptions and I managed to get some good responses! Granted, I was teaching them a complex issue but they seemed to get it (mostly because they had a lecture on risk perceptions before their fieldtrip).
And at the end of the talk, there were questions asked and some good suggestions on how you might go about engaging the populations who do not participate in workshops in order to reduce the generational gap in knowledge I found. Even got a career-type question (and a bit of praise from Craig) on how I ended up where I am now.
So overall, I felt so relieved getting it done and it was great practice. And I shall be reflective right now:
Try and calm yourself before giving a talk, it can show when talking!
Students may appear not to be listening but you might be surprised!
Do not freak out if the entrance you used to go through no longer exists anymore.
Embrace the fact that you are now an early-career academic and perhaps might inspire others to follow suit one day (into volcanology I hope!).
Having someone who inspires you to become an academic is always a good thing, man or woman.
So thank you El Parker for giving me the opportunity…see you soon!
(Brownie points to all my undergrad buddies who knew the person I was talking about!)
If we are to get technical here I have actually been to another one which took a conference-like approach (minus the posters). The volcanologists at Lancaster hold a ‘Volcano-Ice’ day, which brings together volcanologists who study all aspects of volcano and ice interaction. I remember most of it was centered around Icelandic volcanism but I cannot complain. I mainly went along to it to see what research was going on and it was a day to escape coursework. I enjoyed it.
Now for the Volcano and Magmatic Studies Group (VMSG) conference it was not only fun, informative, socialable but I think it was character-building for me too. One thing, I had never been to Norwich before so that was an experience to try and find the hotel I was staying at, another was stepping outside my comfort zone and having over 200 people under one roof. I am an odd person, I find being surrounded by large numbers of people uncomfortable. But I managed.
Oral and poster presentations (including my own poster) captured a whole spectrum of research. Geology, geochemistry, petrology, geophysics, serious games…that is not even all of it, it was such a rich diversity. But that is what volcanology is. You have researchers that study volcanoes and use different ways to study them. Basically, one volcano is viewed and interpreted in so many different ways.
My poster on risk perceptions was a little different (it was mainly based on socio-psychological concepts) but I never felt my work was undervalued or treated differently. Quite the opposite in fact. Volcanologists who had expertise outside my area of interest were reading my poster, asking questions and generally seemed to appreciate how I approached my research.
It was interesting to observe the social dynamics of the conference. People who knew each other really well tended to congregate together. People by university also clustered together. But at the same time, there was mingling (slipping in some magma science there!). It did find it slightly overwhelming that the larger volcano research universities greatly outmatched the tiny number of volcanologists at my university (1 academic, me and 4 students) but I suppose that does not matter, it is what makes us different as a little volcano research group (if you could even call it that?).
It reminded me of Collectormania (or any other kind of Comic Con). Full of people passionate about volcanoes (comics) but have preferences to sub-disciplines (different comic companies and characters). Minus the cosplay and fangirling. Okay that was perhaps a silly comparison.
There was also a workshop on volcanic risk so being interested in it, I went along. There was a smaller number of people and there was certainly great discussions happening around the various topics covered in the workshop. I really enjoyed that and I even added to the discussions. Everyone had different experiences to share and exchange. I will remember for a long time the experience of a woman who was involved in responding to the Mt. St. Helens eruption in the 80s.
As an early-career researcher I found it so valuable to hear the experiences of those who are well established in this vast discipline. I just hope that one day I contribute just as much.
I am looking forward to the next VMSG in Dublin…it is another place I have not been to!