Observing Montserrat’s Natural Wonders

Montserrat native Graham Ryan is the director of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.

Graham Ryan next to helicopter
Volcanologist Graham Ryan keeps watch over his home island as director of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Roderick Stewart/MVO

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Like Pompeii of old, Montserrat is the modern reference point for volcanic destruction. The island is part of the Lesser Antilles, as well as a British overseas territory. As director of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, native islander Graham Ryan keeps a close eye on the Soufrière Hills volcano that devastated the island in 1995 and has remained active ever since.

“One thing that makes this volcano unique is that it is so long lived,” Graham says. “These kinds of volcanoes usually last two or three years on average. It’s also episodic, which makes it difficult for us to know when the activity is over.”

The veteran volcanologist knows Soufrière Hills well. He was an intern at MVO during the historic 1995 eruption and a staff volcanologist during a destructive dome collapse in 2003. As director, he vigilantly monitors Soufrière Hills from all angles, from helicopter surveys of the island to GPS readings of ground deformation measured in millimeters.

Graham Ryan
Montserrat native Graham Ryan has dedicated his life to understanding his island’s volcanic activity. Dike Rostant/MVO

“The land is like a balloon,” he explains. “When the volcano erupts and magma comes out, the balloon deflates. But when the volcano is on pause, the balloon inflates as the magma comes in underground. It has been inflating since 2010, so that’s why we don’t think the volcano is done yet.” 

How does it feel to be the first native Montserratian to lead the Montserrat Volcano Observatory? I’ve been fortunate to work with good bosses and leaders who created a supportive work environment. It’s my turn to do that for others and to make sure the MVO continues to fulfill its mission the best it can.  

After 20 years in the field, what do you still enjoy about volcanology? I fell into volcanology because I like problem-solving. Volcanoes are still very poorly understood. I like thinking about fundamental problems and coming up with different ways of solving them so we can make progress.

Graham Ryan’s Spots for Montserrat

Nadine’s Grill (St. John’s): On Fridays, Nadine makes fantastic jerk chicken and jerk pork. Her stand is right by the airport.

Olveston House (Salem): Their desserts are really good, especially the lemon meringue pie, tiramisu and cheesecake.

Summer Breeze (Little Bay): It has a nice location overlooking the beach. I like their rotis, especially the shrimp roti.

Rendezvous Beach: It’s the only white-sand beach on our volcanic island. It’s secluded; remember to pack a picnic.

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