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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My Jamaican experience

Traveling through the jungles of Jamaica.

An update from Joey, a senior geophysics major and math minor:

Austen on the beach as others body surf.

After several long days of hard work, we decided to play tourist for most of the day. We woke up this morning, packed up and checked out of our hotel in Kingston. We headed north over the Wagwater Fault and into the Jamaican jungle en route to Port Antonio on the Northeastern Coast.

It was awesome. Around every corner a new surprise met us. As our bus driver played his CD of Bob Marley’s Best Hits, we traveled past bamboo forests, steep cliffs, giant boulders, palm trees, winding rivers, and small local villages, which kept all of our eyes glued to the windows.

As we traveled I could not help but think how lucky I am: We were passing these villages that consisted of nothing but shacks made out of anything that the locals could find. I’m talking cinderblocks on top of a section of tin roof to keep it from blowing off. Many villagers seemed to roam the streets as if there was nothing else they could be doing.

Although some of these towns appear to present little opportunity, we did not talk to one Jamaican in these towns who wasn’t upbeat or in a good mood. All were very prideful and seemed to embrace the phrase “One Love” that has been on virtually every other street sign or advertisement that we have passed. It makes me so thankful for what I have and the opportunities that are given to me.

Dr. Hornbach photographing a Hermit Crab walking across his laptop.

As we went up and over the next mountain range, we were greeted by St. Mary’s Banana Farm, which makes St. Mary’s Banana Chips, which have become the students’ favorite snack this week. We continued through the banana forest, ended up in fields of pineapple and eventually on the northern coast. We headed east to Port Antonio.

Joey drinking a coconut he and Cliff pulled out of a tree

After being given a blessing of “Peace, love, unity, brothers and sisters, we are all one people,” by a Rasta man, we found ourselves on a white sand beach between two cliffs at the mouth of a river. Ben and I headed straight for the rocks, where we hiked up, over, and through the limestone as the waves crashed around us. We headed back to the beach, where the rest of the crew had already discovered the rope swing hanging above the river. Once the rope swing got old, we took to the waves and attempted to body surf.

Cliff, Connor and I headed off on a quest to pick our own coconut. It was a success; we got our coconuts. Not only did we get them, but we popped a hole in them and drank the milk… yeah, we’re awesome.

After a couple of hours at the beach, we all got back in the van and headed for lunch. Lyndon, a UWI professor who has been co-leading the study all week, took us to a small village famous for its local cuisine. It consisted of a bunch of really cool, small, open-aired shacks with the locals preparing the food over open fire pits. We were in for a treat. We feasted on Jerk Chicken, Jerk Pork, Jerk Fish, Jerk Lobster, Yams, Festival Bread, and an assortment of local fruit juices that none of us had ever heard of. We were stuffed!

Lining up for local cuisine

We continued on to our next hotel but made one more stop. We pulled off near Holland Bay to take our best look yet at the fault line between the Caribbean Plate and Gonave Micro Plate, which is the reason for the island’s formation.

Finally we arrived in the quiet town of Port Morant, where our next hotel is located. We settled in and discussed our plans for tomorrow as we were served another amazing local meal of shrimp and rice.

We were told by Lyndon and Renee, a UWI grad student, that we were basically experiencing what it’s like to be a local. Nothing that we were doing or seeing was in an area where tourists usually go. I find that very cool. Unfortunately our day of exploring is over, but I am looking forward to what tomorrow has in store.

Sunset at our hotel outside Port Morant, our next field site.

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