29 June 2011

Report on IVM-Fund trip to Guatemala: Part 1

Posted by Jessica Ball

*Note: Because of the recent (and ongoing) fire near Los Alamos, I won’t be posting about any local geology for a little while. This series of posts will go up for a few days while I figure out what I’m going to be doing in the next week or so.

From April 29 – May 3, 2011, Dr. Jeff Witter of the International Volcano Monitoring Fund (IVM-Fund) made a trip to the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory (OVSAN) to deliver a set of volcano monitoring equipment. This equipment was purchased with the proceeds from a fundraising effort that I and the OVSAN personnel conceived of and that Jeff helped put into action. Jeff did a great writeup of his experiences in Guatemala, and asked that I share it with everyone who has contributed to the fundraiser (and anyone else who is wondering what that “Donate to Guatemala” button is on the top of this blog). If you’ve donated to the fundraiser, thank you, and please enjoy the results of your generosity! If you’re thinking of donating or are interested in learning more about the effort, please click on the “Donate to Guatemala” tab and visit the IVM-Fund website.


IVM-Fund Trip Report

Delivery of Field Equipment and Volcano Monitoring Instruments to the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory, Southwestern Guatemala

Date: April 29 – May 3, 2011

IVM-Fund Representative: Dr. Jeff Witter

Guatemalan Hosts: Gustavo Chigna and Manuel Mota

The IVM-Fund’s first international project was a great success and involved delivering ~US$4000 worth of field equipment and volcano monitoring instruments to Guatemalan scientists at the beginning of May 2011 for use at the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory (OVSAN) in southwestern Guatemala. During the IVM-Fund’s Guatemalan fundraising program in 2010, we communicated directly with Gustavo Chigna, the director of OVSAN, to find out exactly what kind of equipment they needed at OVSAN and what sort of instruments they had the capacity to utilize effectively. The goal was to provide them with high-priority equipment they could put to use immediately. This meant there would be no additional costs for OVSAN and no extensive training requirements. We aimed to make the process of equipment deliver, deployment, and implementation as quick and seamless as possible. Gustavo provided the IVM-Fund with a list of items. While shopping for the equipment in the U.S., we periodically checked back with Gustavo to make sure we bought the make and model most appropriate for their needs. For example, we had to buy special two-way radios that worked over a specific frequency range in order to abide by Guatemalan regulatory standards.

Volcano monitoring work conducted at OVSAN is overseen by the national institute of volcanology and seismology, an organization known by the Spanish acronym INSIVUMEH, which is headquartered in Guatemala City. INSIVUMEH oversees volcano monitoring efforts at a network of volcano observatories scattered across Guatemala and each one is staffed by full-time ‘observers’. In addition to providing continual visual surveillance, the observers make measurements at the volcano with the monitoring instruments they have available to them, provide daily reports to INSIVUMEH, and are the critical communications link with the local populace.
Apart from chaperoning the equipment into the hands of our Guatemalan partners, this trip also served as an opportunity for the IVM-Fund to learn first-hand about the nature of the volcanic hazards in Guatemala and discuss how the IVM-Fund could help local scientists increase their volcano monitoring capabilities. Even though I [Jeff Witter] spent only a few days in Guatemala, it became abundantly clear that, with three active volcanoes to contend with (Santiaguito, Fuego, and Pacaya), Guatemala’s volcano monitoring challenges are great. I also learned that it is most effective to provide direct support to the observers in the form of equipment, instrumentation, and training. Since the observers are the front-line personnel, watching the volcano 24/7, the greatest volcano monitoring benefit can be gained by providing observers with more resources. That’s what the IVM-Fund has tried to do for OVSAN with this first successful delivery.

In the packed three full days I was there, I covered a lot of ground in southwestern Guatemala. I was able to visit both the Santiaguito and Fuego volcano observatories, met the observers at both stations, watched (and heard) explosions at both volcanoes, saw visual evidence of the destructive effects of recent eruptions, learned first-hand the potential impacts of future activity, and spent a morning making measurements and documenting explosive activty at Santiaguito volcano, guided by OVSAN personnel. Even more importantly, this trip has strengthened the relationship between the IVM-Fund and our Guatemalan colleagues to foster the creation of a long-term partnership between our two organizations.

Next time: Arrival and day 1 of the trip as told by Dr. Jeff Witter