Earth Sciences in Jamaica

During J Term 2013, nine students are traveling to Jamaica as part of a multidisciplinary Earth Sciences course to conduct geophysical research on earthquake risks on the Caribbean island. Jamaica’s capital city of Kingston rests precariously along the western edge of the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault, which activated in the catastrophic 2010 earthquake in nearby Haiti. During their trip, the students will collect and analyze geophysical data on land and at sea, and will present their findings to Jamaica’s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management. Taught by SMU Earth Sciences Associate Professor Matt Hornbach and Lyndon Brown of the University of the West Indies, the course is funded in part by the Society of Exploration Geophysicists’ Geoscientists Without Borders program and The Institute for the Study of Earth and Man in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

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A full day of work: Assessing slope failure in Port Royal

An update from Ben, a second-year graduate student in Earth Sciences:




And thus the day began like any other day, with me waking up early, of course!  After my breakfast of a Jamaican delicacy, pancakes, we began our work for the day.  Unlike the past week, when we collected at least some field data each day, today was a full day of processing and analyzing the data we have gathered throughout our past surveys.

Connor, Zach and Emma working up the final Port Royal angle of repose report.

We have the sediment group – we shall call them the “dirt people” (it is not geologically correct but go with it) — who were cooking mud pies and making sandcastles in the corner. The mud pies turned out a little dry for my taste, but the dirt people seemed to enjoy the final product.  The sandcastles never got very tall.  They seemed to be having a problem getting their castles past an angle of 40 degrees (they were completing angle of repose calculations for Port Royal).

The surveying group worked on at least three different tables through the morning.  I am not sure why they tended to move so much; I guess they just got used to traversing across the landscape so much during their data collection and are now uncomfortable staying in one place.  They finally settled into a routine of combing through data to generate slope maps to compare and integrate with experimental angle of repose data provided by the “dirt people.”

Lastly, the seismology group, I dub them the “knuckleheads” (this would make sense if you met them), who disappeared into the depths of the hotel to continue their analysis on seismic data collected the past week.  They seemed to avoid the room with the other students and the shining sun.  I attribute this to their affinity for collecting data while in the shade of the surveying boat.  The sun is just too much for these people.

I was on trouble-shooting duty for those with limited programming/modeling experience. I helped generate digital slope maps with the surveying group, and taught the knuckleheads to work different seismic software when needed.

Presentations on the veranda in Morant Bay.

After a break for a dinner of goat (yes, I am serious), we proceeded to our classroom, a patio overlooking the Caribbean Sea, to see student presentations from today’s analysis projected on a whitewash wall. With the ocean in the background, the student-lead presentations began.  Each group learned from the others about different but interlinked aspects of geology and geophysics from the different surveys.  I do not believe a single person left without learning something new from the other groups.

All of the groups worked very hard throughout the day preparing, processing, and analyzing the data, and it clearly showed in tonight’s presentations.  I am lucky to be part of such a driven and bright group of both graduate and undergraduate students!

Gwen, Austen and Brett take a break to catch the sunset over Morant Bay before evening research presentations.

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