Earthquakes shake the Caribbean; New volcanic eruption possible


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A series of earthquakes rocked the Caribbean today, with each epicenter marked with an orange or red dot. The red star marks the spot where a new volcanic eruption could occur in the coming days or weeks. Image: USGS

A series of earthquakes rocked the Caribbean today and scientists fear another volcanic eruption is possible in the Lesser Antilles on the island of Martinique.

17 earthquakes hit the Caribbean today, most in western and southern Puerto Rico. The region’s strongest earthquake struck this morning about 75 miles north of The Valley in Anguilla; it was measured at 4.1. A 4.0 hit in the same general area a few hours ago. On the northern coast of Venezuela, a 5.0 earthquake also struck early today. None of these earthquakes were strong enough to generate a tsunami in the Caribbean, and no tsunami threat currently exists in the Bahamas or on the east coast of the United States.

However, scientists fear that a swarm of earthquakes occurring on the island of Martinique could be a sign that Mount Pelée could be bracing for an upcoming eruption. The seismic and volcanic activity on the French Caribbean island is monitored by the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris and the Volcanological and Seismological Observatory of Martinique. According to this observatory, between June 4 and 11 at least 16 volcano-tectonic earthquakes were recorded; they were located inside the volcanic edifice between sea level and above sea level. Although these earthquakes were not felt by the population of the island, they are of the kind associated with the formation of micro-fractures in the volcanic edifice. The observatory said: “During phases of volcanic reactivation, periods of higher seismic activity often alternate with phases of lower seismicity. Seismicity remains above the reference level.

An explosive eruption has started at the La Soufrière volcano in Saint-Vincent.  Image: University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center
An explosive eruption occurred earlier this year at the La Soufrière volcano in Saint-Vincent. Image: University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center

Scientists also report that vegetation appears to be brown and dead along the southwest flank of Mount Pelee, which could be an indication of the presence of volcanic heat and / or deadly gases coming from within the Earth’s interior. around the volcano.

Mount Pelée is an active volcano at the northern end of Martinique which is located in the volcanic arc of the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean. Mont Pelée means “bald mountain” or “skinned mountain”; its last eruption was in 1932. When the stratovolcano erupted in 1902, it destroyed the nearby town of Saint-Pierre, killing around 30,000 people in a matter of minutes. This eruption became the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century.

Due to the ongoing unrest on the volcano, the Martinique Volcano Observatory (NVO) has increased its volcanic alert level from green / normal to yellow / agitated.

If Mount Pelee were to erupt, it would be the second volcano to do so this year in the Caribbean. In April, an explosive eruption occurred over Saint-Vincent at the La Soufrière volcano there. Saint-Vincent is located in the south of Martinique. By covering the islands with thick ash, the eruption of Saint-Vincent also released a plume of poisonous gas that circled the globe.

It is too early to know whether or not another eruption at Mount Pelee would impact the environment, weather and climate beyond the Caribbean.

Data captured by Earth observation satellites can help visualize SO2 emissions from the erupting volcano in the Caribbean as it travels around the world.  Image: ADAM Platform / Earth Meteorological and Environmental Observation
Data captured by Earth observation satellites can help visualize SO2 emissions from the erupting volcano in the Caribbean as it travels around the world. Image: ADAM Platform / Earth Meteorological and Environmental Observation

If Mount Pelee erupts, it will join more than 2 dozen other currently erupting volcanoes around the world. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), there are approximately 1,500 potentially active volcanoes in the world, with approximately 500 of the 1,500 erupting volcanoes in history.

Most of the world’s volcanoes are located around the “Ring of Fire” around the Pacific Rim. The Ring of Fire is an area around the edge of the Pacific Ocean where numerous volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur. Caused by plate tectonics, the lithospheric plates under and around the Pacific Ocean move, collide and / or are destroyed, creating the seismic activity for which the Ring of Fire is famous.

While many volcanoes erupt around the Ring of Fire, volcanoes can erupt in the Caribbean as well. 17 of the region’s 19 active volcanoes are located on 11 islands, with 2 more currently underwater near the island of Grenada. The most active volcano in the Eastern Caribbean before the explosive eruption in April was the Soufriere Hills in Montserrat. Soufriere Hills destroyed the capital of Plymouth and killed 19 people when it erupted in 1997. This volcano has been erupting continuously since 1995.

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