Monday, 14 November 2011

Guest Blog - Attachment with the Geological Survey of the Solomon Islands

This week we have a very interesting guest blog written by Laura Rose Wilson, a geologist at Leicester University, who spent time with another geologist from Leicester  working with the Geological Survey in the Solomon Islands.

"During the summer (2011) I worked in the Solomon Islands for 5 weeks with a friend, Sarah, as an attachment to the Solomon Islands Geological Survey.

The Survey, based in Honiara on Guadalcanal Island, is very basic, with intermittent electricity. The book cases and drawers full of maps and years of work on the Solomon Islands are very old, mixed up and poorly looked after. The rock sample store is falling down and many of the sample locations are missing. This is all a result of lack of staff, money and government input.

My work involved research on both Simbo volcano and the 2007 tsunami which affected the western province. Simbo volcano is in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands and is inhabited by approximately 1400 people. It is unknown whether this volcano is extinct or dormant and has had very little research carried out on it.  It was my job to research and collate as much data as possible in order to put together a hazard assessment of Simbo and bring the potential hazard to people’s attention. I found a lot of work had been started on hazard and disaster management, especially since the 2007 tsunami, however, this work does not progress fast, nor does a lot of it get finished. It is also very difficult to educate local people on potential disasters due to clashes with science and religion.

Sarah on the other hand did work towards establishing the uplift rate of the coral reefs on which Honiara is built and the surrounding hills. Sarah headed out into the field to examine the terraces and note their thickness and fossil content as well as bringing samples back to the office ready for sending to the UK for analysis.

The work ethic in the Solomon Islands is very laissez faire; when the electricity is on, computer games is often their pastime; when the electricity is off the staff head in to the run down, busy town centre. I therefore believe being there on an attachment was as beneficial to them as it was to us as it showed them a different work ethic; when we needed some information or a particular report, we made sure they would get it to us by the next day rather than 3 weeks later – this didn’t always work out though. We quickly developed patience as a key survival strategy.

Whilst working for the Survey we were allocated a member of staff to work with us as a counterpart. John Tuga from the island of Malaita (the most populous of the Solomon Islands) was assigned to help us out should we need it. This was very valuable to him as he was only an assistant geologist learning A-level standard Geology through a course with the Solomon Islands sector of the University of Papua New Guinea (PNG).  John hopes to go to the University of PNG in the next academic year to attain a degree in geology therefore our presence and knowledge gave him a head start. We taught him skills in the field such as rock recognition and description, recording and measuring key observations etc., as well as leaving him with geological books, dictionaries and charts which had been of use to us in the first few years of our degree and are not available to students out there. He showed a real interest and thirst for knowledge and was one of the few people there who was really dedicated to proving not all Solomon Islanders sit around day to day.
Throughout our stay in the Solomon’s we stayed with a local family in a small village outside of the town. This was a very interesting experience and we learnt about their way of life, which was much simpler than an average ‘Western’ household. The toilet and shower was outdoors and exposed and the kitchen was small with the food being cooked over hot stones. The daily meal was rice and cabbage with the rare treat of tuna or chicken. We were also very lucky being only one of two houses in the village to have electricity for a couple of hours each night. The family were very welcoming and the children were extremely excited and interested to see us.  They told us we were the first ever white people to come to their village. We learnt their traditions in exchange for helping some of the family members to improve their English.

Overall, as well as getting a lot from this trip for our own benefit and studies I feel we were also a great help to the staff at the Survey. We brought them new ways of thinking and an idea of how we work in England. The work we are doing will also give the Survey a head start on this research so that they can continue to develop and improve their knowledge in the future.

I believe attachments such as this are very important to share geological knowledge around the world and especially to the third world countries so that they can then continue the work themselves."