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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Coring in East Kingston Harbor and a visit to Giddy House

Our group at the University of the West Indies’ marine campus building at Port Royal.

An update from Gwen, an engineering and Spanish major:

Gwen (left) and Emma on an anchor at Fort Charles Port Royal Museum.

Today, I woke up and rolled out of my super-cushy new bed at 7 a.m. Bleh! The earliness of the morning was quickly ameliorated by the delicious Blue Mountain coffee that was served at breakfast in the hotel, along with fresh papaya and a salted fish dish.

The 11 of us packed up the seismic chirp gear, the surveying gear, and the multiple strange long rods, kits, etc. into the bus. We then headed out to one of the University of the West Indies’ coastal labs, accompanied by Renee and Lyndon. The bus ride offered beautiful views of the Blue Mountains and the fault line that we are researching.

A sediment core collected in eastern Kingston Harbor that shows tilted bedding. The core site is in the shadow of Long Mountain, which plunges steeply into Kingston Harbor and may be tectonically active. We will use cores to help constrain deformation rates and the probability of a large earthquake.

Once at the West Indies lab, we headed out in a boat to see what the different groups (surveying, soil coring, and seismic) could do. The soil-coring group was surprisingly successful in an area near the fault line. Unfortunately, the sea was too rough for any of the other groups to get much done, and we spent a lot of time bouncing up and down in the boat, buffeted by waves, kind of like a theme park ride. We saw sea turtles and lots of jellyfish.

After a delicious lunch of Tastee Cheese (a Jamaican delicacy – cheddar cheese that comes in a can) and bread, we moved our group to Fort Charles. Fort Charles was built before the first recorded major earthquake in Jamaica in the 1600s, so it was very interesting evidence to check out.

Gwen helping hold up Giddy House.

At right is a picture of me leaning on Giddy House, which was tilted about 45 degrees sideways during the 1907 Jamaica Earthquake. Pretty cool! After a delicious dinner and some data input, it’s time for bed.

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