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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Gathering data on land and at sea

An update from Connor, a junior geology major:

Renee analyzing beach slope and angle of repose analysis near Port Royal. A graduate of the University of West Indies, Renee will start a research sabbatical next month as an exchange graduate student at SMU.

Today was day one of data collection out of Morgan’s Harbor. Three groups set out for the bay, the beach and the mangrove swamp to make measurements assessing tectonics, paleoseismology and slope stability.

I spent much of the day working with the coring group. This entailed collecting data both on land and at sea. On land, we bushwhacked through the thorns to reach mangrove ponds.

The coring group encountered many interesting locals while trying to enter the mangrove. The mangroves resisted entry and failed to yield good cores when we reached the water.  Thick mangrove roots and deep water are to blame.

Evidence of a former high-energy channel was also discovered as we walked the beach-mangrove border. Better cores were acquired later in the day by boat in the mangrove swamps northeast of Port Royal. Analysis showed extremely fine black sediment in this area.

From left: Connor, Joey and Zach collecting sediment cores on a University of West Indies research boat in a mangrove swamp, northeast of Port Royal.

The slope stability survey group on the seaward beach initially experienced technical difficulties but ultimately succeeded in gathering high-quality elevation data. They were visited by wild dogs who dug a large hole near them.

Joey and Austen deploying a chirp seismic imaging system over the side of a boat.

The seismic imaging group collected seismic lines in the eastern portion of the harbor. However, part of this study suffered from a GPS that would not update, and students spent much of the afternoon fixing this issue (it now appears resolved).

A good day was had by all, and data gathered is looking to prove useful. Sunburns forming on many.

Sunset in Port Royal (photo by Joey F)

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