Alejandra Pau reports for Pagina Siete:
San Calixto Observatory, 100 years taking the pulse to the Earth
Science institution is world-renowned for its studies in seismology, meteorology and astronomy. Shortly, will held its centenary.
Its creation in 1913, was a milestone. It was a momentous shift from knowledge about the coming land of stories and reports of the colony to a scientific field; the leap was made possible when the first Seismometer was installed in the ancient crypt of the Church of San Calixto College, already a century ago.
In this vault, under arches and colonial columns, began the history of the Observatory of San Calixto (OSC), dependent of the Society of Jesus, an institution that has stood globally by establishing milestones thanks to its studies on seismology, astronomy and meteorology.
In commemoration to its centennial anniversary, the Observatory will inaugurate a Museum, will held a “workshop” with international guests and will publish a historical memory, in addition to having organized the protocol acts.
The work of taking the pulse of the Earth began in 1892, with the creation of a meteorological station.
“In 1911, two Jesuit brothers manufactured test kits which ran for two years until the father Pierre M. Descotes came to Bolivia and built the first seismic station in the country, which began operating on May 1, 1913,” advises the Director of the OSC since 2002, Estela Minaya.
Contributions and global seismology
Descotes founded the Observatory, and was its director until 1964. The Jesuit was owner of a meticulous and scientific spirit.
It was he who was dedicated to astronomy equipment, to determine the exact time of Bolivia, which is fundamental to determine the times that telluric phenomena such as earthquakes are recorded. The burned Palace [Presidency of the Nation] determined by means of a decree, that thee OSC to give the official time in the country since 1922 until 1984.
Thanks to that study, an error was discovered in the coordinates of La Paz [city] location.
It was an error of 400 meters that was repeated from Panama to South America which was corrected to continental scale.
By 1930, the institution had won a reputation for tidiness in its work, which was praised by famous seismologists in the book Seismicity of the Earth (seismic activity of the Earth) of 1949, which classified the seismic station as one of the most important in the world.
This careful work, in a field of measurements, calculations and coordinates that seems an abstract and arid universe, became history in the daily bulletins hand-written from the May 1, 1913, and for long years. They are manuscripts whose beautiful calligraphy easily relate them to personal letters full of romance, of generations of yore.
The geologist Guido Avilés displays the records in smoked paper, resembling early 20th century photographic negatives. After explaining the evolution of the seismic records of the file, note that the most exciting thing about his work is “passed theory to observe the phenomena of the Earth in its true dimension, its cause and its consequence in the moment in which happen”.
There, within the walls of what future will be, the Museum of the OSCs, referred to the work done by the successor of Descotes, the father Ramon Cabré.
This religious encouraged research and supported the thesis of the area so that those students end their studies; so far, there are more than fifty research and thesis works.
To Cabré followed the father Lawrence A. Drake and later Estela Minaya.
Prestige of a century
The OSC, by its prestige, earned the right to be included in research projects in the world, fostered by international cooperation. Its reputation had earned it a place in the history of seismology.
As a result, in Bolivia were established other members of the World Network monitoring stations and other studies that receive funding from the Governments of France and the USA.
Since 1990, there is also a station for detection and monitoring of nuclear explosions.
Today, from a data center set up in a large house in Indaburo street, where everything is computerized and digitalized, the technician of the OSC, Teddy Griffiths points out that the most exciting work is “study the ground and identify their surfaces’ behavior in order to establish which areas of threat exist in Bolivia”.
Until 2012, the OSC had a network of seven stations in Santa Cruz, La Paz and Potosí.
Since this year, the OSC has 25 stations located in all the departments of Bolivia through a project financed by the Inter-American Development Bank.
Currently, this research center also participates in projects of measurement of volcanic activity and landslides in La Paz, among others.
Between technology and files that protect a century of seismic history of the country, for controlling telluric behavior and changes in the pulse of the planet, runs the existence of the OSC with an immutable rule, which was established since it began to operate: the permanent monitoring.