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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Piecing together Kingston’s Tectonic Puzzle

An update from Cliff, a first-year master’s student in Earth Sciences:

Cliff collecting seismic data in northeast corner of Kingston Harbor.

Today was the last day of fieldwork in the Kingston Harbor, and I got to spend it surrounded by blue ocean and lush green mountains.  At 8 a.m., our trusty driver, Mr. Stewart, arrived at our hotel, ready to haul us over to the UWI Marine Laboratory again.

We loaded all of our seismic gear onto the boat and headed out for a long day of data collection in the harbor.  Today, we were focusing on mapping out what we believed to be a strike-slip fault running northeast-southwest through the harbor, along the southern edge of the city of Kingston.

We got our system up and running, and deployed it into the water in no time flat, compared to our first excursion. It was the calmest we had seen the waters since we arrived, and we were looking forward to seeing high quality data. We also got a chance to show off our chirp seismic imaging system to our new friend and colleague, Renee, a native Jamaican who will be spending the spring semester at SMU as an exchange student working on some of these data as part of her master’s degree.

Students prepping for field work with Hugh (the UWI science officer) at the UWI Marine Lab in Port Royal.

With the gear deployed, it was a simple case of shooting as many seismic lines as we could cram into the day. For every pass we made across the harbor, we pieced together another small but important part of Kingston Jamaica’s geology.  Our preliminary interpretation from what we saw during data collection is that an old but possibly still active fault extends across the harbor in a northeast-southwest direction. Further analysis of these data will clarify this, though.

It was a great feeling knowing that by the end of the day, we would have enough data collected to begin piecing together the puzzle of how Earth’s tectonic forces shaped the area and how they might continue to shape the landscape of Jamaica for years to come.   After a long day under the Jamaican sun, we said our goodbye to Donald, our amazing boat captain who had been such a helpful guide the past three days.

Joey interpretting chirp seismic data he collected two days ago.

After a much needed dinner break, we listened to a 30-minute power-point presentation given by Emma and Joey, who spent the entire day analyzing and interpreting seismic data we previously collected on Day 3 of the study.  Now, I’m looking forward to a restful night’s sleep, a new adventure, and a new side of Jamaica tomorrow!

Emma and Joey presenting their initial analysis and results from the Day 3 seismic survey.

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