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May 16 - Arriving in Antigua


Noon Position : lat 16 53.5 N:  long 62 04.0 W

Course made good: variable

Air temperature @ noon today : 28.8 degrees C

Sea temperature @ noon today :  27.2 degrees C

Wind: Direction: SE , Force 3

Arriving in Antigua

Here we are in the Caribbean!  I guess that not many Antarctic ships get to visit these waters, it's certainly a lot different to FIPASS and Stanley.  The island of Antigua is about 20 miles long and 5 miles wide.  The temperature at the moment is nearing 30 degrees and it is raining.  Most of the time, though the sun shines and we are all roasting in this unaccustomed heat.  Fortunately we are cooled by the trade winds on most days.  The combination of calm seas, good weather and trade winds means that this is a major centre for sailing yachts.  We have just missed Antigua Sailing Week, it finished last week, but there are still plenty of sailing ships around as you can see below.

  Well, you don't often get palm trees in the same photo as the JCR. Photo J. Edmonston.

  A Square-Rigger crossing our bow. Photo P. Cooper.

Science and Volcanoes

Having arrived at Saint Johns we picked up the scientific team and headed across the water for Montserrat.  This has to be the shortest time to start of cruise ever, 2 hours!  Before we started getting muddy we invited the Governor, Minister and head scientist of Montserrat aboard to have a look around this research ship and discuss the things that we would be doing.  Steve Sparks, the Principal Scientific Officer has written a short piece to explain the science that we are doing at the moment.

  Little Bay, Montserrat.  Also known as the 'Green Isle' it is reputed to be the friendliest of the Caribbean Islands.

JR123 Exploring the flanks of an active volcano

A major eruption of Soufriere Hills volcano on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean took place between 1995 and 2003. More than half a cubic kilometre of magma has been erupted, making this one of the most significant volcanic eruptions of the last few decades. Much of the volcanic material erupted has been transported into the sea due to large collapses of the volcanic andesite dome that grew during the eruption. The World’s largest collapse of a lava dome took place on 12 July 2003 when the entire erupted material avalanched into the sea over a 5 hour period. (photos 1 & 2) Cruise JR123 of the James Clark Ross aims at finding how this material is distributed in the ocean, getting new information about the volcanic history of Montserrat and understanding the major geological processes that build volcanic islands.

Photo 1. The andesite lava dome of the Soufriere Hills volcano on 31st May 2003. The dome had grown continuously since 29th July 2001and had a height of 1100 metres above sea level and an estimated volume of about 200 million cubic metres of rock. (Image courtesy of Monserrat Volcanic Observatory).

Photo 2. The dome collapsed over a five-hour period on 12th July 2003 forming a major collapse depression (scar) in the volcano. Almost all the dome and some of the older edifice slid into the sea. (Image courtesy of MVO).

Looking up the 'Tar River' towards Englishes Crater on the west side of the volcano in Soufrierre hills.

Plymouth, the capital city, was directly in the line of the pyroclastic flow of 1997.

  The houses of Plymouth are now deserted.  Over two-thirds of the islands population have been evacuated in the last ten years.

The distribution of the new submarine deposits around Montserrat has been successfully established using the ship’s swath bathymetry system, comparing the new survey to surveys by colleagues from Paris in 1999 and 2002 (figs 3, 4). Over 30 sediment cores have been collected so far, using the vibrocorer developed by the British Geological Survey. The new cores and bathymetry data show that there have been a number of huge submarine landslides off the coast of Montserrat that can be related to volcanic activity. The sediment samples will allow the ages of the landslides and major eruptions of the Soufriere Hills volcano to be determined. One of the major questions in volcanology is what happens when hot volcanic flows move from land into the ocean. JR123 results have established that the hot flows mix violently with sea-water. During the mixing, coarse fragments and sand separate from the fine sand and silt to form two separate types of flow. The coarse material avalanches down the submarine flanks to form linear ridges of new deposits up to 60 metres thick and extending about 8 km offshore. The suspension of fine sand, silt and volcanic dust then travels to distances of at least 30 km.
The cruise also involves a pilot geochemical study of the effects of fine volcanic ash on the chemistry of seawater. The results confirm that volcanic ash is highly reactive and may have a significant influence on ocean chemistry.

Figure 3, Swath Bathymetry around Montserrat showing the volacnic flowa underwater.

Figure 4, This shows the change in the sea floor since the 2003 eruption.

Relaxing in the Sunshine

As well as working in the heat we have all managed to have some time off ashore.  Antigua supposedly has 365 beaches, one for each day of the year.  We haven't managed to visit even a tenth yet, but we've certainly liked the ones we have seen.

  Some of the crew out for an evening drink in Saint Johns. Photo P. Cooper.

  Swimming at Runaway beach. Photo J.Edmonston.

Soaking up the super-yacht ambience at English Harbour, on the south-east of the island. Photo S. Wright.

Barnaby Bear

Malcom Hart (one of our scientists) has asked if his travelling companion can get his photo onto the web page.....

So, here is Barnaby Bear, from Montpelier Infants School in Plymouth (UK).  He has joined the RRS James Clark Ross on cruise123 to Antigua and Montserrat.  He wanted to learn about research ships and to visit the town of Plymouth on the island of Montserrat to see the damage caused by the Soufriere Hills volcano. If you enlarge the picture and look carefully you will see the houses of Plymouth in the background.


This is it, my last web page.  In a final attempt to out-jolly all other doctors I am paying off in Antigua and the crew will be sailing home without me.  Next week the boys will be in the mid-Atlantic and I'm sure there will be a guest editor to tell you what they're up to without me.  I will be catching up with them in Portland, when they come alongside in the UK.

I hope that you have all enjoyed this Antarctic season as much as I have.