21 May 2011

Fundraising update for the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory

Posted by Jessica Ball

OVSAN team and donated equipment

I’ve recently received some great news from Dr. Jeff Witter of the International Volcano Monitoring Fund (IVM-Fund): the fundraising that we’ve been doing on behalf of the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory (OVSAN) raised over $4,000, and Jeff has just recently returned from a trip to deliver equipment purchased with the money to the Observatory. (If you’re unfamiliar with the fundraiser I’m talking about, check out the “Donate to Santiaguito” tab at the top of the blog.)

This is exciting news, as Santiaguito has entered a new stage of activity (characterized by a somewhat precarious lava flow, more and larger pyroclastic flows, and eruptions which are producing copious amounts of ash, which might be remobilized in lahars). The staff at the Observatory have been in pretty desperate need of basic monitoring equipment for a while now, and with this delivery they can really get started doing some efficient and important monitoring at the domes. I’m glad that I was able to help get this project started, and I’m really happy to see the OVSAN team outfitted with the tools they need for such an important job as monitoring an active volcano.

Here’s what Jeff had to say about his trip and the delivery:

“Dear Friends of the IVM-Fund,

At the beginning of this month the IVM-Fund delivered ~$4000 worth of field equipment and volcano monitoring instruments to the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory (OVSAN) in Guatemala thanks to the generous support of our donors. I delivered the equipment personally to ensure that the equipment arrived in the hands of the Guatemalan volcanologists who monitor activity at Santiaguito volcano on a daily basis.

The Guatemalans were very appreciative and set right to work making measurements at the volcano and in river valleys downstream. Lahars (volcanic mudflows) are a particular concern this year because frequent volcanic explosions at the lava dome have generated large amounts of loose volcanic material (i.e. pumice, ash, & broken lava) that is accumulating and ready to be washed down the river valleys as lahars in the coming rainy season. OVSAN scientists will be making measurements to keep track of this giant accumulation of loose volcanic material as it works its way down the river valleys. They hope to use this new, quantitative information to advise downstream communities about the risks of lahar inundation.

The direct impacts from eruptions at Santiaguito are continuing. Just 4 days ago, the Guatemalan government issued a volcanology bulletin stating that a new series of moderate to strong explosions has begun at Santiaguito generating pyroclastic flows and near-continuous block avalanches with accompanying ashfall on nearby communities. The equipment donated by the IVM-Fund has increased the capacity of the OVSAN personnel to conduct volcano monitoring activities themselves.

As an integral part of this package of support provided to OVSAN, the IVM-Fund has committed to pay for an internet connection at the observatory for an initial period of 18 months. We have set aside sufficient funds to do so. We hope to have an internet connection up and running at the observatory soon after sorting out some logistical details. As you can imagine, observatory personnel are quite excited about having an internet connection. For one thing, they’ll be able to download near real-time data from the Santiaguito volcano seismic monitoring network that’s posted onto the Guatemalan government’s volcano monitoring website. In this way, they’ll be able to keep track of the frequency and magnitude of microearthquakes happening under the volcano. Furthermore, an internet connection will enable the OVSAN scientists to send photos, daily reports, etc. via email to the main headquarters in Guatemala City. That, and the ability to email the rest of the world and take advantage of all the resources on the internet will be of great value to OVSAN.

I’d like to pass on to all donors a big “Thank You” from the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory personnel!  They very much appreciate the support. Following this visit to Guatemala, I’m convinced that the volcanologists there are deserving of further support from the IVM-Fund and we look forward to planning another volcano monitoring support program in Guatemala.

I’ll be writing up a report that more fully describes my trip to Guatemala as well as the volcano hazard challenges they face. I’ll post it on the IVM-Fund website and will let you know when so you can share with your friends and colleagues the good work we at the IVM-Fund are doing.



Here are some more photos of the OVSAN team and their new equipment:

Measuring depth of a lahar channel downstream from Santiaguito (using the new laser rangefinder from atop a bridge)
Manuel & Julio observing Santiaguito
Gustavo Chigna and new computer
Gustavo and Alvaro using the IR thermometer

The fundraiser for Guatemalan volcano observatories (including OVSAN), and hopefully other observatories in developing countries, is still going on and hopefully will be for a long time to come. Jeff is hoping to have some IVM-Fund t-shirts available for purchase in the near future, and you can always donate – as little or as much as you can afford – by going directly to the IVM-Fund donation page.