Guyana considers setting up seismic monitoring centre

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The assessment team, including Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn (first left) and CDC’s Lieutenant Colonel Kester Craig (second from right) observe a hole created by the earthquake.

The Civil Defence Commission (CDC) plans to consider setting up Guyana’s first permanent seismic monitoring station to strengthen the nation’s capacity to study underground events that can lead to earthquakes.

This was revealed during a Zoom conference hosted by the CDC on Thursday to provide updates on the installation of equipment to monitor seismic activity at four sites in Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo).

Each site captures seismological data on the 5.7 magnitude earthquake that rattled sections of the South Rupununi on January 31 last.

Major Salim October, the CDC’s acting Preparedness and Response Manager, said the entity would be “working closely with the University of Guyana as well as the seismic research centre in Trinidad and CDEMA [Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency] with the aim of exploring possibilities for us setting up our own seismic centre here in Guyana.”

Major October underscored that considerations to install a fixed monitoring station would hinge on the availability of funding and may be among long-term plans.

Meanwhile, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) will commence weekly monitoring of the data from the Region Nine stations. This data would be provided to a team from Brazil’s University of São Paulo (USP), which is partnering with GGMC.

Major October added that the CDC and GGMC would engage the University to initiate capacity-building sessions to interpret the seismological data.

There are also plans to allow the USP to install a fifth monitoring site. However, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in São Paulo have delayed its implementation.

As a result of the damage to some houses in the Rupununi, the CDC pledged to consult the GGMC and the Ministry of Public Works to identify both medium and long-term solutions that will enhance housing construction to safeguard lives and property.

Those consultations follow the CDC’s assessments that showed that adobe houses, i.e., those made from dried mud blocks and other materials from the environment, faced more destruction than concrete houses.

The Public Works Ministry and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs would also ensure adobe houses’ construction is enhanced.

Meanwhile, Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn, a trained geologist, said he supported the improvement of adobe houses.

Referencing an academic study on the effects of seismic activity on traditional houses in Brazil, Minister Benn suggested that an engineer “assess the type of housing construction which could be adaptable, taking examples from over the Takutu on the Brazilian side.”

The Minister also underscored the need for seismological predictive modelling.
Additionally, in his presentation, USP Professor Marcelo Sousa de Asumpcao said the precise location of the fault line where the earth shifted is inconclusive, though it is believed to be 5km long and 3km deep.

Professor Sousa de Asumpcao added that a preliminary analysis has shown that the earth on the southwestern end of the projected fault line shifted some 40 centimetres upwards.

“The activity is decreasing slowly, but we are still recording tens and hundreds of small earthquakes [aftershocks] every day,” he said.

CDC’s Director-General, Lieutenant Colonel Kester Craig and Captain Lakshman Persaud, other officials from the CDC, GGMC and USP also participated in the meeting.

On February 6 and 7, Minister Benn and a high-level team from the CDC conducted an assessment of the earthquake’s effects on the Katoonarib and Sawariwau villages in Region Nine.

In 1964 and 1954, Guyana’s ‘Deep South’ Rupununi was affected by 4.3 and 4.8 magnitude earthquakes, respectively.