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500,000 project to improve volcano monitoring in Vanuatu - 06/03/2012

A five-year New Zealand-funded project to increase the resilience of Vanuatu to volcanic eruptions gets underway this week.

Funded by the government's New Zealand Aid Programme, the project will build on co-operation between the two countries over the past three years during which there have been eruptions on the remote northern island of Gaua.

The project will introduce real-time seismic and camera monitoring of three Vanuatu volcanoes for the first time. Continuous seismic recording can pick up the early signs of volcanic unrest and allow time for emergency procedures to be put in place.

It will also enhance community preparedness through a comprehensive outreach and education programme, and develop robust protocols and procedures for responding to a volcanic emergency.

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We hope that over the next five years the strong links between scientists in New Zealand and Vanuatu will benefit the communities on the volcanoes

Dr Gill Jolly

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There are more than half a dozen active and potentially active volcanoes in Vanuatu and the risk of a major eruption is ever present.

A major eruption could seriously impact the lives of thousands of people in the islands and produce ash clouds that could interrupt air travel between New Zealand and Asia.

Under the $500,000 project new monitoring instruments will be installed on Tanna, Ambae, and Gaua volcanoes and will transmit data back to the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geohazards Department (VMGD) in Port Vila.

Technicians in Port Vila will be able to measure the pulse of these volcanoes and provide timely warnings to the communities on the islands.

Geohazards Manager at VMGD in Port Vila, Esline Garaebiti Bule, described the project as a major step forward in the ability of Vanuatu to helps its communities understand volcanic hazards and reduce the risks to people living near the volcanoes.

New Zealand scientists will help train technicians in Vanuatu in the skills needed for installing and maintaining the new instruments, so the benefits of the project will be sustainable.

Head of the Volcanology Department at GNS Science, Gill Jolly, has spent the past week working closely with scientists in Vanuatu to develop robust procedures for triggering warnings of volcanic activity in the islands.

"We hope that over the next five years the strong links between scientists in New Zealand and Vanuatu will benefit the communities on the volcanoes,"Dr Jolly said.

Ultimately the project has the potential to be expanded to monitor all volcanoes in Vanuatu, and could be replicated in other Pacific Island nations such asTonga, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Fiji.