GeoLog

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This guest post was contributed by a scientist, student or a professional in the Earth, planetary or space sciences. The EGU blogs welcome guest contributions, so if you've got a great idea for a post or fancy trying your hand at science communication, please contact the blog editor or the EGU Communications Officer Laura Roberts Artal to pitch your idea.

GeoPolicy: Assessing environmental and social impact – applying policy in big industry

GeoPolicy: Assessing environmental and social impact – applying policy in big industry

Former EGU Science Communications Fellow Edvard Glücksman is our second guest blogger for the newly established EGUPolicy column. Edvard is a Senior Environmental & Social Specialist at the UK-based consultancy Wardell Armstrong and an External Stakeholder Affiliate at the University of Exeter. He describes his work along the research-policy-industry interface.

The collapse of a wastewater dam at an iron ore mine last November left 19 dead and triggered an environmental crisis in Brazil’s River Doce basin. The mine is a joint venture between Vale SA and Australian-owned BHP Billiton, and the operators are now expected to pay the Brazilian government around USD $7 billion in compensation for environmental and community damages.

Such large-scale industrial accidents devastate entire communities and inflict long-term reputational damage to local and international companies working in the area. In my role at Wardell Armstrong, an independent UK-based consultancy, I work to align project design and operational layout to national policy frameworks and international standards of best practice, such as the World Bank’s IFC Sustainability Framework.

Improving the deal for local communities

Independent Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) studies are a fundamental requirement for operators to secure funding from increasingly careful lenders, who are reluctant to invest in projects that threaten to damage their reputation. By identifying, mitigating, and managing negative impacts of industrial projects, I work to reduce a project’s risk to the environment and nearby communities.

Conventional environmental impact assessments focus on a range of variables, such as water use and quality, noise and vibration, air quality, soils, or greenhouse gas emissions. Increasingly, these are complemented by cultural, economic, and demographic variables, as well as ecosystem services, which frame natural ecosystems according to their economic contribution to society. Public participation, known as stakeholder engagement, is a key element of the ESIA process.

Under the broader umbrella of the rapidly emerging notion of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), I also liaise with project operators to maximise the short- and long-term positive contribution of industry to local communities. As a result of decades of expensive reputational damage, the mining industry has been particularly proactive in implementing CSR schemes, convening the biggest players under the auspices of the International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM).

CSR is the idea that companies should positively contribute to society, above and beyond legal and profit-making commitments. Although hardly a new or radical concept, the notion that industry should be socially responsible is brought to the fore by heightened scrutiny of industrial accidents. Negative publicity, amplified by social and conventional media, sways public opinion and investor confidence, translating into financial risk. As CSR progressively enters national and international policy agendas, including across the EU, an increasingly diverse range of companies and industries adopt its tenets as a core part of their business model.

Tools for the next generation

I ended up in this job after several years of juggling primary research and science policy work. My doctoral thesis was in biology but, having studied sociology in an undergraduate degree, I always enjoyed working at the interface of science and society. During my doctoral years, I also took regular breaks from the lab, including on Secondment to the UK Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST).

In my experience, most of today’s science jobs require interdisciplinary thought and keen communication skills. As a consultant, I apply natural and social science concepts across the private sector, bridging the gap between researchers, the policy arena, and profit-driven industrial stakeholders. Having previously worked in science communication roles, including at the EGU, I have a keen appreciation for the role of accessibility within the policymaking arena. In industry, where non-specialists frequently juggle with confusing scientific concepts, compounded by cultural discrepancies and linguistic barriers, the role of communication skills are thus just as vital as technical ability.

When working within and around policy issues, some of the biggest impacts can be achieved by raising awareness to the next generation of policymakers. To that end, I also lecture undergraduates at the University of Exeter about broader sustainability issues, industry-community relations, and the impact assessment process. Some of my students are mining engineers and, although the environmental and social dimensions of industrial projects are increasingly in the limelight, conventional engineering modules rarely highlight the importance of these ‘softer’ dimensions of their trade. As policy requirements become more stringent and the investment community becomes increasingly risk-averse, university courses will steadily shift to reflect the changing landscape.

Edvard Glücksman, Senior Environmental & Social Specialist at Wardell Armstrong

Edvard Glücksman at the Wardell Armstrong's Turo office, built on the site of the Wheal Jane mine in Cornwall, UK

Edvard Glücksman at the Wardell Armstrong’s Truro office, built on the site of the Wheal Jane mine in Cornwall, UK

 

Imaggeo on Mondays: Three coloured pools

Imaggeo on Mondays: Three coloured pools

With the Imaggeo Photo Contest opening last week, what better than feature one of the 2015 competition finalists as this week’s Imaggeo on Mondays image. In this post, Irene Angeluccetti, author of the photograph, writes about the threatened ecosystem of Mono Lake. If you’ve been inspired by Irene’s photograph, why not entre the photo contest for your chance to win a free registration to the General Assembly in 2017? You can find out more by reading this blog post.

On a brief stop on the road from the Yosemite park to Las Vegas, we got hooked by some postcards depicting the nearby Mono Lake. We decided immediately to make a quick detour to visit the Natural Reserve surrounding the lake. Although noon wouldn’t provide the best light over the lake, we spent an hour wandering among the towers of the South Tufa area.

The alkaline Mono Lake waters, with a pH of 10 and far more salty than the ocean, are home to crowds of alkali flies and brine shrimps. These in turn are food for dozens of different waterbird species.

Mono Lake’s unique ecosystem has long been threatened by a constant decrease in water level due to water diversion. A dramatic water level drop has been observed since its tributaries started being diverted to meet the need of the Los Angeles growing water demand since 1941 on. By 1978 the lake water levels had dropped by almost half of its original volume, spurring the creation ofcitizens committee which started to take care of the future of the lake. The effort of the committee, in protecting Mono Lake, has led to the partial restoration of the original water volume. However periods of extreme drought still threaten this fragile ecosystem.

Western USA is facing one of the most severe droughts on record. In particular, California is entering the fourth year of a drought that is creating an extremely parched landscape. An effective drought monitoring is essential to plan response and recovery actions. This is especially true in the case of low-income countries prone to agricultural droughts and subsequent famine crisis.

By Irene Angeluccetti, researcher at ITHACA – Information Technology for Humanitarian Assistance, Cooperation and Action

If you pre-register for the 2016 General Assembly (Vienna, 17 – 22 April), you can take part in our annual photo competition! From 1 February up until 1 March, every participant pre-registered for the General Assembly can submit up three original photos and one moving image related to the Earth, planetary, and space sciences in competition for free registration to next year’s General Assembly!  These can include fantastic field photos, a stunning shot of your favourite thin section, what you’ve captured out on holiday or under the electron microscope – if it’s geoscientific, it fits the bill. Find out more about how to take part at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/photo-contest/information/.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Emerald Moss

Imaggeo on Mondays: Emerald Moss

The high peaks of the Tien Shan Range, one of the biggest and largest mountain ranges of Central Asia, conjure up images of snowcapped peaks, rugged terrains and inhospitable conditions. Yet, if you are prepared to look a little further, the foothills of these towering peaks are a safe haven for life. Bulat Zubairov, a researcher at Humboldt University, takes us on a journey of discovery to the Ile-Alatau National Park in today’s Imaggeo on Mondays post.

This photo was taken in the Ile-Alatau National Park, approximately at this point: 43° 9’31.81″N, 77° 5’47.36″E. The National Park is located on the northern slopes of Ile Alatau (Zailiysky Alatau) mountain range, which is a part of the Tien Shan Range and it is a main recreation zone for people who live in Almaty (the biggest city in Kazakhstan).

The photo was taken in a small watershed – an area or ridge of land which separates two bodies of water – where a small river flows. The upstream section of the watershed dries up periodically over the summer periods.

Reflecting the rich fauna and flora of the Ile-Alatau National Park, more than 100 species of mosses can be found in this area in a wooded zone. They play a significant role in regulation of water balance of the region, preventing soil erosion, supporting special types of biocenosis and promoting biodiversity conservation. Being one of the indicators of ecosystem condition, mosses also play a key role in monitoring and assessment of current changes in ecology of the region, especially taking into account ever-growing anthropogenic pressures. All this shows the relevance of efforts aimed at researching of such a beautiful and such important part of nature as mosses.

By Bulat Zubairov, PhD student at Humboldt University in Berlin

If you pre-register for the 2016 General Assembly (Vienna, 17 – 22 April), you can take part in our annual photo competition! From 1 February up until 1 March, every participant pre-registered for the General Assembly can submit up three original photos and one moving image related to the Earth, planetary, and space sciences in competition for free registration to next year’s General Assembly!  These can include fantastic field photos, a stunning shot of your favourite thin section, what you’ve captured out on holiday or under the electron microscope – if it’s geoscientific, it fits the bill. Find out more about how to take part at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/photo-contest/information/.

 

GeoEd: For the best hands-on outreach experiences, just provide opportunities for playing!

GeoEd: For the best hands-on outreach experiences, just provide opportunities for playing!

This month’s GeoEd post is brought to you by Dr. Mirjam S. Glessmer. Mirjam, is a physical oceanographer and now works as Coordinator of Teaching Innovation at Hamburg University of Technology. Mirjam blogs about her “Adventures in Teaching and Oceanography” and tweets as @meermini. Get in touch if you are interested in talking about teaching and learning in the geosciences!

“For the best hands-on outreach experiences, just provide opportunities for playing!” I claim.

Seriously? You wonder. We want to spark the public’s curiosity about geosciences, engage the public in thinking about topics as important as sea level rise or ocean acidification, and provide learning experiences that will enable them to take responsibility for difficult decisions. And you say we should just provide opportunities for them to play?

Yes. Hear me out. Playing does not necessarily equal mindlessly killing time. Kids learn a lot by playing, and even grown ups do. But if you prefer, we can use the term “serious play” instead of just “play”. Using the term “serious play” makes it clear that we are talking about “improvising with the unanticipated in ways that create new value”, which is exactly what outreach should be doing: getting people intrigued and wanting to understand more about your topic.

So how would we go about if we wanted to create outreach activities which gave the public opportunity to play in order to lure them into being fascinated by our field of science? There are several steps I recommend we take.

  1. Identify the topic nearest and dearest to your heart

Even if your aim is to educate the public about climate change or some other big picture topic, pick the one element that fascinates you most. If you are really fascinated by what you are showing, chances are that the excitement of doing the activity will carry over to your audience. Plus, once you have this really great activity, you will likely be asked to repeat it many times, so you had better pick one that you love! J

Me, I am a physical oceanographer. I care about motion in the ocean: Why and how it happens. Consequently, all of my outreach activities have people playing with water. Sometimes at different temperatures, sometimes at different salinities, sometimes frozen, sometimes with wind, but always with water.

  1. Find an intriguing question to ask
An experiment melting ice cubes in water. (Credit: Mirjam Glessmer).

An experiment melting ice cubes in water. (Credit: Mirjam Glessmer).

Questions that intrigue me are, for example, “do ice cubes melt faster in fresh water or in salt water?”, “how differently will ice look when I freeze salt water instead of fresh water?” or “what happens if a stratification is stable in temperature and unstable in salt?”. Of course, all these questions are related to scientific questions that I find interesting, but even without knowledge of all the science around them, they are cool questions. And they all instantly spark follow-up questions like “what would happen if the ice cubes weren’t floating, but moored to the ground?”, “what if I used sugar instead of salt?”, “wait, does the food dye influence what happens here?”. And all of those questions can be investigated right then and there. As soon as someone asks a question, you hand them the materials and let them find the answer themselves. That is why we talk about hands-on outreach activities and not demonstrations: It is about actively involving everybody in the exploration and wonder of doing scientific experiments!

  1. Test with family, friends and colleagues

Many, if not all, the outreach activities I am using and promoting have been tested on family, friends and colleagues before. You know that you have found an intriguing question when your friends sacrifice the last bit of red wine they brought at a Norwegian mountain cabin, to use as stand in for food dye in an experiment you just told them about, because they absolutely have to see it for themselves!

By the way, this is always good to aim at with outreach activities: always try to keep them easy enough to be recreated at a mountain cabin, in your aunt’s kitchen, at the beach or anywhere anyone who saw it or heard about it wants to show their friends. People might occasionally have to get a little creative to replace some of the materials, but that’s part of the charm and of the inquiry we want!

  1. Bring all the materials you need, and have fun!

And then, finally, Just Do It! Bring all your materials and start playing and enjoying yourself!

But now they can play with water and dye. That doesn’t mean they understand my research!

Playing with water and dye (Credit: Mirjam Glessmer).

Playing with water and dye (Credit: Mirjam Glessmer).

True, by focussing on a tiny aspect you won’t get to explain the whole climate system. But you will probably change the mindset of your audience, at least a little bit. Remember, you studied for many years to come to the understanding you have now, it is not a realistic expectation to convey all that in just one single outreach occasion. But by showing how difficult it is to even understand one tiny aspect (and how much there is still to discover), they will be a lot more likely to inquire more in the future, they will ask better questions (to themselves or to others) and they will be more open to learning about your science. Your activity is only the very first step. It’s the hook that will get them to talk to you, to become interested in what you have to say, to ask questions. And you can totally have backup materials ready to talk in more depth about your topic!

But what if it all goes horribly wrong during my activity?

The good thing is that since you are approaching the whole hands-on outreach as “get them to play!” rather then “show them in detail how the climate system works”, there really isn’t a lot that can go wrong. Yes, you can mess up and the experiment can just not show what you wanted to show. But every time I have had that happen to me, I could “save” the situation by engaging the participants in discussing how things could work better, similar to what Céline describes. People will continue to think about what went wrong and how to fix it, and will likely be even more intrigued than if everything had worked out perfectly.

But what if I am just not creative enough to come up with new ideas?

First, I bet once you start playing, you will come up with new ideas! But then of course, we don’t need to always create outreach activities from scratch. There are many awesome resources around. EGU has its own large collection in the teacher’s corner. And of course, Google (or any websearch of your choice) will find a lot. And if you were interested in outreach activity in physical oceanography specifically, you could always check out my blog “Adventures in Oceanography and Teaching”. I’m sure you’ll find the one activity that you will want to try yourself on a rainy Sunday afternoon. You will want to show your friends when they comes over to visit, and you’ll tell your colleagues about it. And there you are – you found your outreach activity!

If you want to read about how the four steps above pan out for one of my favourite outreach activities – come back to this space next month for my next GeoEd post and I’ll walk you through it! In the meanwhile tell me in the comments below – what is your best advice for doing outreach activities?

By Mirjam S. Glessmer, Coordinator of Teaching Innovation at Hamburg University of Technology

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