From left to right, Dr. Richard Teeuw, Jasen Penn, and Joseph Smith-Abbott launch a soil study on Tuesday morning at the Department of Disaster Management. (Photo: ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED)

There are at least 10 different types of soil in the Virgin Islands, and each one has unique properties that can help people understand what areas are more susceptible to disasters like landslides, according to a scientist visiting the territory.

To augment this knowledge, a soil study on all the major islands in the territory and the establishment of a soil laboratory are underway with the help of a scientist from the University of Portsmouth in
the United Kingdom.

Professor of Geoinformatics and Disaster Risk Reduction Dr. Richard Teeuw, along with Department of Disaster Management Director Jasen Penn and Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour Joseph Smith-Abbott, hosted a press conference Tuesday morning to announce the launch of the study.

The VI currently lacks digital soil maps — a critical gap in datasets needed for environmental management, according to Dr. Teeuw.

“Soil mapping dates back in the Virgin Islands probably to the early 1950s — maybe even earlier than that, particularly for agricultural purposes,” said Mr. Smith-Abbott. “This particular initiative is very important because it’s decades in the making.”

He added that the project will create more robust digitised maps that will inform decisions related to construction, waste management, and more.

Mr. Penn said the survey will also help the DDM do its job.

“The work we do in terms of risk reduction and planning for future hazards relies on good information. When it comes to the makeup of our soil, details matter,” Mr. Penn said. “Knowing whether a particular parcel is more or less clay, more or less bedrock, etcetera, gives us insight into how vulnerable that parcel is to hazards like earthquakes and landslides.”

Project outcomes

The study will also provide guidance for land development, help map areas susceptible to erosion and landslides, and help determine soil sustainability for construction and waste disposal, Dr. Teeuw explained.

Additionally, the findings will highlight soil types that have good fertility and water retention for agriculture, he said.

A final report is scheduled for March 2024.

The data collected in the project will be accessible to various government agencies, officials explained.
“This means that the information gained from this study won’t sit on shelves gathering dust,” Mr. Penn said. “We’ll have it on hand for our daily work.”

He added that the project can be “built upon” for future projects and studies.

Grant funding

The study went through several grant funding steps be- fore taking off, officials explained.

Through UK aid via the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Darwin Initiative for Biodiversity, a proposal was set out for the scientists to conduct a multi-purpose soil survey with the VI government.

VI project partners include the DDM, the National Parks Trust, the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, the MNRL, the Environmental Health Division, the Agriculture and Fisheries Department, and the Town and Country Planning Department.

In January, Dr. Teeuw will return along with two other University of Portsmouth scientists to conduct surveys focused on waste management, civil engineering, and water-and-soil chemistry.

Next June, four scientists focusing on how the soils affect construction and biodiversity will conduct training for government officials, Dr. Teeuw said.

By January 2024, the group will publish maps and guidelines on soil sustainability for various types of land use and assessments of climate change impacts, he added.

Dr. Teeuw plans to submit a final report by March 2024 and then host an online workshop highlighting key project outputs, he said.