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HomeNewsArchivesSPEWING 'VENT HOLES' PUZZLE UVI SCIENTISTS

SPEWING 'VENT HOLES' PUZZLE UVI SCIENTISTS

Aug. 16, 2003 – Friday afternoon the Peterborg peninsula saw more traffic than it's seen in a long time, as a truckload of beachgoers discovered some hot "vent holes," the larger about 6 inches in diameter, alongside the road. Noticed for their "sulphurous smell," the holes were surrounded by scorched vegetation and black, glassy chunks of a substance not ordinarily seen among St. Thomas's rocks and stones.
The passersby noticed the smell and the heat, they said, and investigated. Authorities were called, and police, V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency personnel, and UVI scientists all converged on the scene to examine and ponder.
UVI physicist Roy Watlington, who has long studied area geology; UVI chemistry professor Stan Latesky; and Toni Thomas, natural resources specialist at UVI's Cooperative Extension Service, were at the scene. Watlington said he and Latesky would be doing chemical tests on samples Saturday to try to pin down the origin of the phenomenon.
Watlington named several possible origins, but he discounted the possibility of a meteor strike. The "nearby rock pattern and lack of a crater," he said, indicate the likelihood that it is not of extraterrestrial origin.
Human activity is a possibility, and it is believed that there was a bunker on the peninsula during World War II activity, although no extant records, such as the extensive attention to Water Island's military history, have been identified. Related to this is the possibility that munitions were buried or left behind when the military departed. Also possible, but unlikely, is that someone was experimenting with explosive materials. The shorting out of power lines in the area starting an underground fire also is possible.
The sudden igniting of previously undiscovered underground small oil or natural gas deposits is yet another possibility. Chemical testing Saturday should establish firmly whether that is the cause.
Always in the minds of Caribbean residents is volcanic activity, but Watlington emphasized that volcanic activity on St. Thomas ended millions of years ago and that there are no peripheral signs of that dormancy ending. He is often asked this question as the frequent earthquakes in the area arouse fears of a connection. While adamant that there is no connection, he noted that earthquakes do move the underground Earth, and that he's reluctant to say "never" or "impossible." He has worked with a noted vulcanologist, Dr. Haraldur Sigurdsson, chiefly in connection with the underwater "Kick 'em Jenny" volcano off Grenada and will discuss with him the volcanic possibilities.
Seismic experts at the Puerto Rico Seismic Network, including director Dr. Christa Von Hillebrandt-Andrade – who has done fieldwork and lectured on St. Thomas – will be brought into the investigation as well.

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