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Saint Lucia - Geography

The island is 43 km long and 22.5 km wide. It is rugged with steep mountains and deep valleys. The highest peak is Mt. Gimie (950m). St. Lucia is one of many small land masses composing the insular group known as the Windward Islands. Unlike large limestone areas such as Florida, Cuba, and the Yucatan Peninsula or the Bahamas, which is a small island group composed of coral and sand, St. Lucia is a typical Windward Islands formation of volcanic rock that came into existence long after much of the region had already been formed.

The Lesser Antilles are situated along the edge of one of the more volatile sections of the earths crust where the great American Plate meets with and submerges under the Caribbean Plate. The result of this powerful action is the formation of a chain of volcanic islands created where molten rock material rises up through the fractured and weakened crust. Initially growing on the sea floor, the volcanic land masses reached the surface of the ocean to form islands. For a distance of 700 kilometers, from Anguilla in the north to Grenada in the south, these volcanic islands form an arc along the eastern border of the Caribbean plate.

The island of Saint Lucia is almost entirely of volcanic origin with exception of a small area of coral reef formations in the north. The volcanic events which formed the island had several centers of activity and took place over a number of geological time periods. In general, parts of the island north of the Roseau Valley are older exhibiting volcanic features which are quite eroded making identification of the centers of volcanic activity impossible. To the south, on the other hand, the younger volcanic landforms are well preserved and very evident.

The Sulphur Springs are located within the Qualibou Caldera, a volcanic valley bordered by Morne Soufriere to the east and Rabot Ridge to the west. Morne Soufrire, the dome shaped mountain which is clearly visible from the town and most other vantage points in the area, is 1,500 meters in diameter and 450 meters in elevation. It formed as a classic volcanic dome and due the fact it shows very little weathering is thought to be among the youngest features in the area. Amid the hot spring pools are fumaroles which are open cavities which discharge steam and gases. The temperatures of the fumaroles range from just above the boiling point to 171C.

St. Lucia's physical features are strikingly beautiful. Dominated by high peaks and rain forests in the interior, the 6 16-squarekilometer island is known for the twin peaks of Gros Piton and Petit Piton on the southwestern coast, its soft sandy beaches, and its magnificent natural harbors. Mount Gimie, the highest peak, is located in the central mountain range and rises to 950 meters above sea level, a contrast that is also evident in the abrupt climatic transition from coastal to inland areas. The steep terrain also accentuates the many rivers that flow from central St. Lucia to the Caribbean. Fertile landholdings, which support banana farming, are scattered throughout the island.

Saint Lucia is part of the volcanically active Lesser Antillean island arc which includes all of the islands from Grenada to Saba. The youngest volcanic rocks are in the Soufriere region in the south of the island. The last major explosive eruption occurred about 40,000 years ago but there is evidence of numerous minor eruptions since then. The most recent of these occurred in 1766 when an explosion in the Sulphur Springs spread a thin layer of ash over the southern half of the island. At the present time, visible activity is confined mainly to the Sulphur Springs which is the most active geothermal area in the West Indies, but there are minor hot springs in several other locations. Earthquakes of both volcanic and non-volcanic origin are fairly common.

The island is located within a tectonically active area. Therefore, the possibility of significant earthquakes is a real one. In recent years several small tremors have been recorded. The island is vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes which occur in the Western Atlantic between the months of July and November each year. This vulnerability is increased by the high concentration of infrastructure (hotels, ports, roads, settlements) located along the coast, often in low-lying reclaimed areas.





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