History of MVO

Before the 1950s

The first seismic monitoring stations were established on Montserrat in 1937, during a Royal Society of London expedition to investigate seismic activity. One permanent three-component seismograph was installed at the Grove and ran until 1945. Additional “shock recorders”, which do not record continuously, were installed at various locations and the last of these stopped running in 1951.

The 1950s – 1995

Monitoring of the Soufrière Hills Volcano was carried out by the Seismic Research Unit (now Centre), based in St. Augustine, Trinidad. The SRU was established in 1952 and is now, as the SRC and part of the University of the West Indies, the authoritative source for information on the status of earthquake and volcanic activity in the English-speaking Eastern Caribbean.

Following an increase in the number of felt earthquakes in January and February 1966, SRU installed four seismograph stations and began a programme of ground-deformation measurement. From 1967 to 1980 seismic recording in Montserrat reverted to the operation of a single, vertical-component seismograph station, but the network was reinforced whenever a build-up of local earthquakes occurred. In 1980 an automatic station was installed on St. George’s Hill. A sequence of earthquakes near the island of Redonda between March 1985 and 1986 led to the establishment of two extra stations in mid-1989. The entire network was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo later that year and was not restored until 1992. From then until the onset of eruptive activity in 1995 the number of seismic stations progressively increased. Data processing and interpretation was carried out in Trinidad.

1995 – present

SRU provided the first scientific and hazard assessments following the onset of eruptive activity in 1995. SRU staff were joined on Montserrat by scientists from the British Geological Survey, various UK universities, the United States Geological Survey, IPGP and a local technical team. This group was at first referred to as the Soufrière Hills Volcano Observatory but changed its name to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory within three months.

Starting in 1998, the scientific operations of MVO were managed by the BGS, and the MVO was staffed by both BGS and locally-recruited staff. MVO was officially created as a Statutory Body by the Montserrat Volcano Observatory Act of 1999. Responsibility for management of MVO was transferred to SRC in 2008, with some IPGP involvement up until 2016.

The observatory was first set up in 1995 in a temporary facility near government headquarters in Plymouth. When Plymouth was evacuated , MVO  was moved to Old Towne, first to the Vue Pointe Hotel and then to Pimento Villa. Further evacuations during 1997 meant that the observatory had to move again, to Mongo Hill – from where it was not actually possible to see the volcano. MVO moved into its current purpose-built observatory in Flemmings in February 2003.