The role of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory is to provide impartial advice to the authorities on the volcanic activity and its associated hazards and risks. The origin of a permanent volcano observatory on Montserrat can be traced to periods of increased seismic activity that began in Montserrat in the early 1990s, first recognized by the UWI Seismic Research Unit (currently the Seismic Research Centre), through its regional monitoring activities. This activity prompted the SRU to strengthen the seismic network on the island, make field measurements of dry tilt and to look for possible changes in fumarolic activity. The SRU was assisted by scientists from the Guadeloupe Volcano Observatory (of IPGP).
Immediately following the first phreatic explosions on 18 July 1995, the SRU established an operational base on Montserrat so as to provide direct scientific advice on the state of the volcano to the local authorities and to continue upgrading the monitoring network. Acting on the advice of the SRU, the Government of Montserrat then invited scientists from the USGS Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP) and the Guadeloupe Volcano Observatory to join the SRU team on-island to assist with its monitoring activities. The SRU and USGS scientists, together with one UK scientist and two student volunteers recruited in early 1995 from the local secondary school, formed the core staff of the emerging observatory.
In July 1995, a temporary facility was established near the government headquarters in Plymouth and was first called the Soufrière Hills Volcano Observatory. The physical location of the Observatory moved from Plymouth to the Vue Pointe Hotel and then to a rented villa in Old Towne in October 1995, at which time the name changed to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.
At these early stages of the crisis the Foreign and Commonwealth Office commissioned short visits to Montserrat by individual UK consultants with experience of volcanic activity in the Caribbean. These scientists functioned essentially as advisors to the Governor and to the UK government, but also assisted the MVO with routine monitoring work. In October 1995, the first of a series of short-term contracts from the Overseas Development Administration (ODA, currently DFID) supported the direct involvement of staff from the British Geological Survey (BGS), to work with the incumbent monitoring team. Later, fixed-terms contracts with the BGS supported staff from that organization, UK university scientists and students, and other specialists from time to time. The local complement of staff at the Observatory also increased in October 1995 with the secondment of several Montserratian civil servants from other government departments.
In the early years (1996-1999), the day-to-day running of the MVO was managed by a Chief Scientist, who was responsible for coordinating the scientific work and for reporting to the Government of Montserrat and to the Governor. During the first year of its operation, the Head of SRU fulfilled this role but later this was shared between the SRU and BGS (1996-1997).
In 1998 an Interim Director was appointed and with the incorporation of the MVO as a statutory body in August 1999, a full-time Director was appointed to manage the operations of the Observatory. Overall policy and objectives are determined by a Board of Directors, which is co-chaired by the Governor and the GoM Chief Minister.
From 1998 to March 2008, the MVO was managed by the BGS. Since April 2008, the Observatory has been managed through a partnership of the Eastern Caribbean’s two major geo-hazard organizations; The UWI Seismic Research Centre (Trinidad and Tobago) and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (France).
(Adapted from Aspinall et. al (2002) – which contains a full description of the evolution, organization, role and activities of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory up to 1999.)