Can Google Earth play a role?



The final question is this: has any advance in technology happened since the 2004 interviews discussed by Haynes, Barclay and Pidgeon which might improve volcanic hazard communication on Montserrat? The answer may be the computer program Google Earth and the spread of the fast computers and connections required to view it (and play many computer games, watch videos etc!). Although earlier Google Earth images of Montserrat were far from ideal, the latest (installed December 2007) are superb for all but the northern tip of the island. The images are best viewed after “switching off” extra information, such as place names (wrongly located on Montserrat at the time of writing) and the locations of tourist photographs.


There are a few clouds over the volcano and Centre Hills. Unfortunately the image was taken on a day when the gas plume from the volcano drifted down the line of the Belham Valley. This slightly blurs the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) but you can clearly see the 11 cars parked around Montserrat Secondary School. Using Google Earth you can create as many viewpoints around Montserrat as you wish, “fly” around them and tilt the image to get a crude 3-D perspective. Maybe this is the way for residents to “investigate” a contoured volcanic hazard map.


Looking elsewhere, Nourbakhsh and a team drawn from universities, NASA and Google Earth reported recently in the journal Nature (2006: 439, 787-788) that both government (e.g. NASA, NOAA) and commercial (e.g. IKONOS) space images made substantial contributions to the aid efforts after Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistan earthquake in 2005. For those of you who cannot access Google Earth, here are several “screen captures” of images showing how versatile this program can be in getting to know your own patch, so to speak. The screen captures are much less clear than the Google Earth original images.




Fig. 6  Whole island. Spot the NORTH end and wedge-shaped Bransby Point indicating WEST. Spot the volcano and its irritating gas plume drifting down Belham Valley. See how well Brades, the new Cultural Center, John A Osborne airport and Lookout show in the north (you may need the actual Google Earth images, rather than these low-resolution copies, to see these things). Even that maddening wreck is there but it's cleared now (2010), thank goodness!

Fig. 7  Focus on the Belham Valley. Note early-eruption lahar deposits along the valley but no obvious signs of the 8 January 2007 and umpteen subsequent pyroclastic flows. Garibaldi Hill (beside the sea, south of Belham River) and St George’s Hill (beside Garibaldi inland) show up well on this view.


Fig. 8  Focus on Salem and all the settlements around it. The key buildings for finding your way around are: the Vue Pointe Hotel (bottom right, beside the mouth of the Belham River; looks a bit like a multiple missile silo from space!); MVO (middle right, in “lonely majesty” high up the side of Centre Hills); Montserrat Secondary School at Salem (top right at the edge of the housing; by far the most obvious set of big buildings with shiny roofs). Note their mildly worn cricket pitch.

Fig. 9  Focus on Old Towne. Now you can now see the hexagonal chalets of the Vue Pointe Hotel properly. Has everyone cut their lawns recently?!


Since 2008 NASA has been publishing a series of images of Montserrat that are astonishingly clear. The examples below show how useful they have become in seeing what the volcano is doing to the island.


NASA 11 October 2009. Normal space photo with "normal" colours. North can be in any direction on such photos!

The Google Earth image above. Just to remind you of where north belongs!


NASA March 17 2007. "False colour" is generated by NASA experts in electronic imagery. Comparing this image with the conventional photos above, you can see that vegetation here has been coloured red, while the bare ground around the volcano is various shades of grey and brown. NASA February 21 2010.  All the fresh deposits from the 2009-10 eruptions appear in very pale grey to whitish colours. See how Mother Nature completely re-modelled the Spanish Point coastline (east) during lunchtime on 11 February 2010. All this new land in the south and east will be a huge benefit to Montserrat when the eruption ends.