By Arlington James 

In the central part of the East Caribbean chain of islands, geothermal activity is still evident and this can be seen in the form of a number of “soufrières” which contain fumaroles, hot bubbling mud, etc. Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and of course, Dominica still provide “live” evidence of the fact that these islands all originated from volcanic action.

Besides the lakes, towering mountains, rivers, gorges, flora, fauna and fascinating sites which characterize the Nature Island, Dominica also has a number of areas where geothermal activity is displayed, including the Valley of Desolation, Boiling Lake, Wotten Waven, Soufrière and Galleon in the south of the island. In all of those areas, one will find hot boiling water and fumaroles releasing steam and warm sulphurous gases.

Near the extreme north of Dominica there is also an area known as Soufrière, and this too, is a very interesting feature among Dominica’s natural attractions. Just as in Soufrière in the south, there are pools of bubbling water in this northern Soufrière and one will also get the smell which is actually the scent of sulphurous gases (hydrogen sulphide gas) being released into the atmosphere. What makes this area unique, however, and so different from the Soufrière in the Parish of St. Mark and other Caribbean islands, is that the water in all the pools is cold and there are no fumaroles belching out steam or hot gases. Recently, the area was unofficially named “Cold Soufrière” in order to differentiate it from the Grand Soufrière in the south of Dominica.

The Cold Soufrière is located in an old volcanic crater which is partially contained by the northern slopes of Bellevue Mountain on the northern foothills of Morne aux Diables. This area is located at approximately 1,500 ft above sea level and can be reached by a dirt road which connects the hamlets of Delaford on the windward side and Guillet on the leeward side of the island. Driving up to Soufrière from the village of Penville through Delaford, one will obtain some breath-taking views of the northern part of Dominica and on clear days views of the French Dependencies of Marie Galante and la Desirade. The Cold Soufrière proper can be reached via a short track (8 minutes) which passes plots of dasheen and heading downhill from the Delaford-Guillet Road.

“Cold Soufrière” comprises an area of exposed rock measuring 75 ft in diameter. The exposed area is generally barren, but is fringed by a dense forest of Kaklen trees (Clusia sp.) which all bear prop roots. The stand of Clusia, whose fruit resembles that of the Mangosteen, quickly  gives way to a forest of Bwa bandé, Laurier, Ti Citron and other trees. One might also find a small plant (Leiphamos aphylla) with neither green pigment nor leaves, but which shows up as a single golden coloured flower on a short stalk.  Another fascinating feature about this Cold Soufrière is the presence of thick mats of a bright green moss growing in very waterlogged areas, indicating the presence of springs in the area.

The animal life in the Cold Soufrière and environs includes butterflies and other insects, Anolis tree lizards, Scaly-breasted Thrasher, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, Trembler and the semi-endemic Blue-headed Hummingbird. There are many claims of a “Kavalaj tet-chien” ( a congregation of boa constrictors for mating) in the valley downstream of the Cold Soufrière. Unlike some other Caribbean islands, Dominica has no poisonous snakes.

There are over seventeen pools in the Cold Soufrière. These are all small, shallow and bubbling, in the exposed area and on the fringing forest. The temperature of the water in the various pools ranges from 23.5° C to 28° C (74° F to 82.5° F) and the deepest pool is only about 26 inches deep; the surface of that pool is 13 inches below the ground. A small amount of sulphur is also evident in this area. Locals claim that the sulphur and water are a good skin cleanser and the mud can be used as a face mask.

The liquid in the pools in the Cold Soufrière is also very acidic, with acidities nearing that of very strong vinegar. Some of these pools contain very clear water while the water in other pools is brown to tan in colour. Some of the pools bubble vigorously.

During the dry season, the water levels in the pools drop significantly, with some pools drying up temporarily. Then, one would hear the hissing sound of gases escaping through the bottom of the dry pools. It has been suggested that the Cold Soufrière sits atop an area of cool magma which is still able to release gas under some pressure.

The Cold Soufrière is an area with much potential for development as an ecotourism site on Dominica, with interesting geology, landscape, vegetation and wildlife. In addition the agricultural practices in that valley also contribute to making that site one of the more unique areas on Dominica and with improved road access to the area, could become an important destination for local, cruise and stay-over visitors on Dominica.

-------------------------------------------------------------

Since this article was published, the presence of aquatic life was confirmed in the pools and stream in the Cold Soufrière. This is in the form of may flies, cadisflies, and choratid worms (larval stage of a species of fly), surviving in this acidic environment.

Also, the Guillet-Delaford Road was also constructed, making access to the Cold Soufrière much easier.