19 June 2010

The Santiaguito Volcano Observatory needs your help!

Posted by Jessica Ball

While I was in Guatemala working at the Santiaguito lava dome complex, my field group had a lot of help from the Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanologia, Metereologia e Hidrologia (INSIVUMEH). And when I say a lot, I mean “helped organize every logistical detail of the trip and gave us a place to stay at the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory“. I could never have done any of this work without their help, and now I’m going to try and help them out in return.

The Santiaguito Volcano Observatory needs our help.

Unlike the geological organizations in the U.S. and Europe, INSIVUMEH doesn’t have a lot of money to throw around. The scientists and observers at Santiaguito (and at other volcanoes in Guatemala) don’t have the equipment they need to easily and accurately monitor active volcanoes. It’s not a matter of needing big pieces of high-tech instrumentation; the folks at the Observatory don’t even have the basics that we all take for granted – such as digital cameras, radios, and GPSs. What’s more, even though they have a seismic station collecting data about the Santiagutio domes, there’s no way to receive or process the information at the Observatory, because they don’t have the computers to do it. 

In light of the recent large eruptions at Santiaguito and Pacaya, this is dismaying. The people who live and work around Santiaguito depend on the Observatory to help keep them safe, and INSIVUMEH’s scientists don’t have the basic tools they need to do their work. I’ve talked about the hazards of living near an active volcano in the past, and the key to doing it safely is to have diligent, well-equipped scientists monitoring volcanic activity. The INSIVUMEH volcanologists and observers are incredibly dedicated to their work, but there’s a point when equipment needs simply hamper their ability to be effective. Because the average person in Guatemala lives on US$2 or less a day, there’s no way they can afford to spend their own money to supplement their equipment. But we can, and that’s why I’m making this announcement – and asking for your help.

Donate to the International Volcano Monitoring Fund!

The International Volcano Monitoring Fund (IVMF), which was created by Dr. Jeff Witter, has been set up specifically to help volcano observatories in developing countries. Dr. Witter has agreed to extend their current endeavors to purchasing equipment for the Santiaguito Observatory, and has just launched a new webpage where you can find out how to help: http://www.ivm-fund.org/guatemala/. He and I have been working with Gustavo Chigna, the director of INSIVUMEH’s volcanology programs, and Rudiger Escobar, a Guatemalan PhD student in volcanology at Michigan Technological University, to develop a list of what the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory needs.

The equipment they’ve requested runs all the way from smaller items like tape measures and rock hammers to more expensive things like desktop computers (to receive and process seismic signals) and laser rangefinders. Each item comes with a dollar amount needed to purchase it and a description of how it will be used. You don’t even have to purchase the whole item – like the DonorsChoose campaign that the geobloggers participate in every year, every little bit helps. The IVM Fund is a non-profit organization, so you can be assured that as much of your donation as possible will be going toward funding Guatemalan volcanologists.

Please, help my colleagues in Guatemala do their work! I’m incredibly lucky that I don’t have to worry about being able to afford my equipment, and I want to make it possible for the volcanologists at INSIVUMEH to do their work without the same problems. Because any fundraising effort is a long-term endeavor, I’m going to place a permanent link on the blog and periodically update you all as the IVM Fund collects enough to start purchasing equipment. (I also think that t-shirts may be in the works for the future – you’ll be able to donate toward volcano monitoring efforts and add to your geologic wardrobe!)

Eruptions – especially the ones that we’ve seen this year – remind us all that it’s necessary for volcanologists to keep a close eye on active volcanoes. Like any scientist, they need the proper tools to do that. When they have them, volcanologists can do a lot to help safeguard peoples’ lives, livelihoods and homes. If you think you can spare a little money, please help the volcanologists at the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory do just that!