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GeoSciences Column: Hazagora – will you survive the next disaster?

GeoSciences Column: Hazagora – will you survive the next disaster?

There is no better thing, on a cold and stormy winter’s evening, than to gather your friends for a night of games / board games. Fire blazing (if you have one), tasty snacks laid out and drinks poured, you are all set to indulge in a night of scheming (if you are playing battle ship), deceit (Cluedo), or even all out comedy (think Pictionary or Charades).

The main purpose of the games you are likely to enjoy, in the relaxed setting described above and in the company of your nearest and dearest, is to entertain. You might not be aware that in playing board games you are also boosting your cognitive, decision-making and social skills. Serious games exploit this notion in order to support learning and raise awareness of important issues, as Dr. Mirjam S. Glessmer previously wrote about in our GeoEd column. With this in mind, could a board game be used to raise awareness about the complexities of geohazards and disaster risk reduction management?

A team of Belgian researchers set out to test the idea by developing Hazagora: will you survive the next disaster? Its effectiveness as an educational tool, both for those living in disaster prone areas, as well as stakeholder and scientists involved in risk management activities, is discussed in a paper recently published in the EGU’s open access journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences.

Playing the game

The game is set on an island, with a central volcano surrounded by forests, agricultural lands and coastal areas. Immerse yourself in the game and you’ll have the option to embody one of five characters: the mayor, the fisherman, the lumberjack, the farmer and the tour guide.  Potential locations where players can settle, with their families, road networks and wells to provide water supply, are drawn on the board game. The board is divided into different sectors which can be affected by a geohazard. The game is led by a game master, bound to follow the Hazagora guidelines.

 Setup of the game: (a) board game; (b) character cards with from left to right: the mayor, the fisherman, the lumberjack, the farmer and the tour guide; (c) resource cards: bread, water and bricks; (d) resource dice; (e) water well and food market; (f) hut (one chip with one family), house (two chips with two families), and road; (g) cost information card for building new streets, huts, and houses and buying protection cards. Taken from Mossoux, S., et al. (2016).

Setup of the game: (a) board game; (b) character cards with from left to right: the mayor, the fisherman, the lumberjack, the farmer and the tour guide; (c) resource cards: bread, water and bricks; (d) resource dice; (e) water well and food market; (f) hut (one chip with one family), house (two chips with two families), and road; (g) cost information card for building new streets, huts, and houses and buying protection cards. Taken from Mossoux, S., et al. (2016).

The outcome of a natural disaster, contrary to common reporting in the media and popular belief, is not exclusively controlled by the force of the natural hazard. The livelihood profile of each of the characters in the game is specifically chosen to highlight the important role economic, social, physical and environmental circumstances play in shaping how individuals and nations are affected by geohazards. A fisherman will inevitably be limited in his choice of settlement location, as he/she is bound to live close to the coast, while at the same time his/her occupation controls its income. On a larger scale, political and socioeconomic factors mean that victims of natural hazards in developing countries, especially Asia and Africa, are more vulnerable to geohazards when compared to residents of developed nations.

Life on the island unfolds in years, with players establishing his/her family on the land by providing shelter, bread (food) and water. Income is received each round table and can be used to a) provide for the family or b) invest in further developing their settlement by adding more housing for extra families. At any given time, and without warning, the game master can introduce a natural hazard (earthquake, tsunami, lava flow, ash fall). All players watch a video clip which illustrates the hazard and outlines the impacts based on recent disasters. The players then discuss the potential damage caused by the hazard to infrastructure, resources and people involved in the game based on factors such as their geographical location relative to the disaster, economic potential and available natural resources. The outcome is displayed on an impact table and the damaged infrastructure removed from the board. Affected families also receive no income during the following roundtable and neighbouring natural resources become contaminated. In this way, the players visually experience complex situations and are able to test new resilience strategies without having to deal with real consequences.

(a) Game session organized with citizens in Moroni (Comoros Islands). (b) Interaction among Belgian students to develop a resilient community. Taken from Mossoux, S., et al. (2016)

(a) Game session organized with citizens in Moroni (Comoros Islands). (b) Interaction among Belgian students to develop a resilient community. Taken from Mossoux, S., et al. (2016)

Players also have the opportunity to acquire protective action cards which can be used to mitigate, prepare or adapt to hazards. The cards can be used by individuals, but also be part of community actions. During a natural hazard, players can decide to use their cards, individually or as a team, to avoid (some) of the impacts caused by the geohazard. This approach stimulates learning about the risks and mitigation strategies associated with natural hazards, by allowing players to test, experience and discuss new management ideas.

The game lasts for a minimum of five years, or equivalent to three hours game time, after which the resilience of the community (which takes into account factors such as number of living families with permanent shelter and access to natural resources) is evaluated using a resilience index. Players are ranked according to their resilience index, thus generating discussion and analysis of strategies which lead to some players fearing better than others.

Following the game, do players better understand natural hazards?

To test the success of the game at raising awareness of natural hazards, the researcher’s carried out a number of game sessions. A total of 21 secondary school and university students from Belgium, as well as a further 54 students, citizens, earth scientist and risk managers from Africa took part in the sessions. Players completed questionnaires before and after the games to evaluate how their understanding of natural hazards and risk management strategies changed after having played Hazagora.

Appreciation of the game by the players (n=75). (∗) Results are significantly different between European and African players (p <0.05). Taken from Mossoux, S., et al. (2016). Click to enlarge.

Appreciation of the game by the players (n=75). (∗) Results are significantly different between European and African players (p <0.05). Taken from Mossoux, S., et al. (2016). Click to enlarge.

The questionnaires revealed that participants found the game fun to play and greatly appreciated the flexibility offered to players to come up with their own adaptation and mitigation strategies. The scientific information regarding the physical processes driving natural hazards was the main thing European players learnt from the game. In contrast, West African players highlighted the usefulness of the game to develop personal and professional mitigation plans; the learning outcomes reflecting the differing life experiences and geological situations of the participants.

Hazagora succeeds in making players more aware of the mechanisms which drive natural hazards and how communities’ vulnerabilities differed based on social-economic factors, rather than depending solely on the potency of the geohazard. By driving discussion and collaboration among players it also stimulates engagement with the importance of disaster risk reduction strategies, while at the same time developing player’s social and negotiation skills. And so, following an enjoyable afternoon of gaming, Hazagora achieves its goal and becomes a great addition to the tools already available when it comes to raising awareness of geohazards.

By Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer.

 

References

Mossoux, S., Delcamp, A., Poppe, S., Michellier, C., Canters, F., and Kervyn, M.: Hazagora: will you survive the next disaster? – A serious game to raise awareness about geohazards and disaster risk reduction, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 135-147, doi:10.5194/nhess-16-135-2016, 2016.

Hazagora is a non-commerical game that is available upon request – please contact the study authors for more details.

GeoPolicy: How to communicate science to policy officials – tips and tricks from the experts

GeoPolicy: How to communicate science to policy officials – tips and tricks from the experts

The EGU General Assembly was bigger than ever this year. Over 16,500 people attended more than 500 sessions. Although many sessions featured policy-relevant science, the short course entitled ‘Working at the science policy interface‘ focused purely on the role of scientists within the policy landscape. For those of you that couldn’t attend, this month’s GeoPolicy post takes a closer look at what was discussed.

The short course consisted of three panellists; Katja Rosenbohm, Head of Communications at the European Environment Agency (EEA), Panos Panagos, Senior Research Scientist in the Land Resource Unit at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), and Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Head of the IPCC AR6 Working Group 1 (IPCC). Each speaker gave a short presentation, introducing their respective institutions  and how their work connects science to policy. The session concluded with questions taken from the audience. EGU Press Assistant, Hazel Gibson (@iamhazelgibson), live-tweeted the session and a Storify of the tweets can be found here.

 

Katja Rosenbohm & the EEA: assessing if the EU is achieving its policy goals 

The European Environment Agency (EEA) provides independent information on the environment to European and national level policy makers, as well as to the general public. Katja spoke of the EEA’s State of the Environment Reports which are published every 5 years. These reports give ‘a comprehensive assessment of the European environment’s state, trends and prospects, in a global context’ and include analysis of 11 global megatrends, 9 cross-country comparisons, and 25 European environmental briefings. These reports help the EU analyse whether current policy is achieving their desired goals.

The 2015 State of the Environment Report concludes with 4 key messages:

  • Policies have delivered substantial benefits for the environment, economy and people’s well-being; major challenges remain
  • Europe faces persistent and emerging challenges linked to production and consumption systems, and the rapidly changing global context
  • Achieving the 2050 vision requires system transitions, driven by more ambitious actions on policy, knowledge, investments and innovation
  • Doing so presents major opportunities to boost Europe’s economy and employment and put Europe at the frontier of science and innovation

A copy of Katja’s slides can be found here.

 

Panos Panagos & the JRC: the policy cycle & communicating your research

Panos introduced the JRC, the European Commission’s in-house research centre. The JRC has a near-unique position in which all its research directly provides scientific and technical support to policy. As a result, all research at the JRC tries to solve the societal challenges of our time, i.e. food security, energy resources, climate change, innovation and growth etc. Panos explained that scientific evidence can be used to assist policy at all stages of the ‘policy cycle’ (see figure below) but scientists must learn how to present their research so that policy officials can understand.

The Policy Cycle and where scientific evidence can be used. Slide taken from Panos Panagos' talk. Full presentation can be foudn here.

The Policy Cycle and where scientific evidence can be used. Slde taken from Panos Panagos’ talk. Full presentation can be found here.

Factors needed for scientific evidence to inform policy:

  • TRUST because if there is no trust, the evidence will be ignored
  • TIMING / RELEVANCE is vital and should be provided as early as possible in the policy cycle. The speed of scientific response after a specific event is crucial – evidence can be submitted too late, after a policy decision has been made.
  • FORM should not be a 500 page report. It should be concise. Policy makers do not have time to read long reports or interpret data.
  • FORMAT provide policymakers with concise, visual input so that they can quickly understand the main messages – graphs should have a maximum of 3 colours!
  • PRACTICE the science-policy relationship needs to move from being a formal, arms-length, linear relationship, to an iterative one where questions and answers are generated through co-creation by both scientists and policymakers

A copy of Panos’ slides can be found here where you can learn more about the JRC and the projects they have been involved with.

 

Valérie Masson-Delmotte & the IPCC: what’s next after COP21?

Valérie spoke of the IPCC and how these reports inform world leaders and policy officials about climate change. The IPCC is split into three Working Groups (WG):

  • WG1: understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change;
  • WG2: its potential impacts
  • WG3: options for adaptation and mitigation.

Last year, Valérie was appointed co-chair of the WG1 for the next set of IPCC reports (AR6) which will be published in 2022/3. In her talk, Valérie stressed that ‘the IPCC should be policy relevant but not policy proscriptive’. Scientists should not over-step their mark and become advocates of their research, they must remain unbiased and present their research professionally.

Scientists can indirectly assist policy by contributing to these IPCC reports; either through their academic papers or by becoming co-authors or editors. Three more-focused special reports will be published over the next few years. These are:

  • In the context of the Paris Agreement, special report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways;
  • A special report on climate change and oceans and the cryosphere;
  • A special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems, considering challenges and opportunities both for adaptation and mitigation.

In addition a methodological report on greenhouse gas inventories has also be scheduled for early 2019.

If you can communicate your science to high school students, you are at the right level for policy makers!

When asked about how scientists should communicate their research to policy officials, Valérie suggested that scientists ‘practice’ communicating with teenagers. A 15 year old will quickly tell you if you are making sense or not and you will be able to clarify your meaning.

A copy of Valérie’s slides can be found here.

 

Discussions

The session concluded with a panel discussion and audience members were invited to ask questions. General themes encompassed science communication, science funding, and the division between science and politics.

A couple of the Q&As are listed below.

  • Is there a lack of knowledge in scientists about policy and how can we change that?

Yes but this can be reduced through the creation of networks and collaborations to encourage increasing participation from scientists to policy (bottom up communications). Perhaps an early career scientist and policy worker pairing scheme could help engagement soon rather than later?

  • Is there a fundamental problem with politicians being more accountable to financial interests than good science?

Politicians can use any excuse to get rid of something costly and research is expensive. It is the role of the scientist to explain the value of our research to stop this from happening.

Further discussions are covered in the Storify post created from this session. More general information about science policy can be found on the EGU policy resources website: http://www.egu.eu/policy/resources/

GeoTalk: A smart way to map earthquake impact

GeoTalk: A smart way to map earthquake impact

Last week at the 2016 General Assembly Sara, one of the EGU’s press assistants, had the opportunity to speak to Koen Van Noten about his research into how crowdsourcing can be used to find out more about where earthquakes have the biggest impact at the surface.

Firstly, can you tell me a little about yourself?

I did a PhD in structural geology at KULeuven and, after I finished, I started to work at the Royal Observatory of Belgium. What I do now is try to understand when people feel an earthquake, why they can feel it, how far away from the source they can feel it, if local geology affects the way people feel it and what the dynamics behind it all are.

How do you gather this information?

People can go online and fill in a ‘Did You Feel It?’ questionnaire about their experience. In the US it’s well organised because the USGS manages this system in whole of the US. In Europe we have so many institutions, so many countries, so many languages that almost every nation has its own questionnaire and sometimes there are many inquiries in only one country. This is good locally because information about a local earthquake is provided in the language of that country, but if you have a larger one that crosses all the borders of different countries then you have a problem. Earthquakes don’t stop at political borders; you have to somehow merge all the enquiries. That’s what I’m trying to do now.

European institutes that provide an online "Did You Feel the Earthquake?" inquiry. (Credit: Koen Van Noten)

European institutes that provide an online “Did You Feel the Earthquake?” inquiry. (Credit: Koen Van Noten)

There are lots of these databases around the world, how do you combine them to create something meaningful?

You first have to ask the different institutions if you can use their datasets, that’s crucial – am I allowed to work on it? And then find a method to merge all this information so that you can do science with it.

You have institutions that capture global data and also local networks. They have slightly different questions but the science behind them is very similar. The questions are quite specific, for instance “were you in a moving vehicle?” If you answer yes then of course the intensity of the earthquake has to be larger than one felt by somebody who was just standing outside doing nothing and barely felt the earthquake. You can work out that the first guy was really close to the epicentre and the other guy was probably very far, or that the earthquake wasn’t very big.

Usually intensities are shown in community maps. To merge all answers of all institutes, I avoid the inhomogeneous community maps. Instead I use 100 km2 grid cell maps and assign an intensity to every grid cell.. This makes the felt effect easy to read and allows you to plot data without giving away personal details of any people that responded. Institutes do not always provide a detailed location, but in a grid cell the precise location doesn’t matter. It’s a solution to the problem of merging databases within Europe and also globally.

Underlying geology can have a huge impact on how an earthquake is felt.  Credit: Koen Van Noten.

Underlying geology can have a huge impact on how an earthquake is felt. 2011 Goch ML 4.3 earthquake.  Credit: Koen Van Noten.

What information can you gain from using these devices?

If you make this graph for a few earthquakes, you can map the decay in shaking intensity in a certain region. I’m trying to understand how the local geology affects these kinds of maps. Somebody living on thick pile of sands, several kilometres above the hypocentre, won’t feel it because the sands will attenuate the earthquake. They are safe from it. However, if they’re directly on the bedrock, but further from the epicentre, they may still feel it because the seismic waves propagate fast through bedrock and aren’t attenuated.

What’s more, you can compare recent earthquakes with ones that happened 200 years ago at the same place. Historical seismologists map earthquake effects that happened years ago from a time when no instrumentation existed, purely based on old personal reports and journal papers. Of course the amount of data points isn’t as dense as now, but even that works.

Can questionnaires be used as a substitute for more advanced methods in areas that are poorly monitored?

Every person is a seismometer. In poorly instrumented regions it’s the perfect way to map an earthquake. The only thing it depends on is population density. For Europe it’s fine, you have a lot of cities, but you can have problems in places that aren’t so densely populated.

Can you use your method to disseminate information as well as gather it, say for education?

The more answers you get, the better the map will be. Intensity maps are easier to understand by communities and the media because they show the distribution of how people felt it, rather than a seismogram, which can be difficult to interpret.

What advice would you give to another researcher wanting to use crowd-sourced information in their research?

First get the word out. Because it’s crowd-sourced, they need to be warned that it does exist. Test your system before you go online, make sure you know what’s out there first and collaborate. Collaborating across borders is the most important thing to do.

Interview by Sara Mynott, EGU Press Assistant and PhD student at Plymouth University.

Koen presented his work at the EGU General Assembly in Vienna. Find out more about it here.

GeoEd: GIFT Workshops at the General Assembly – What the 2016 participants can expect

GeoEd: GIFT Workshops at the General Assembly – What the 2016 participants can expect

The General Assembly (GA) is not only for researchers but for teachers and educators with an interest in the geosciences also. Every year the Geosciences Information For Teachers (GIFT) is organised by the EGU Committee on Education to bring first class science closer to primary and high school teachers.

If you are an educator attending this year’s edition of the GIFT workshop –the topic of which is ‘The Solar System and beyond’ and is co-organised with the European Space Agency (ESA) – you might be asking yourself what to expect. If so, read on, as this post should go some way towards showcasing the important take-home messages which come out of taking part in the workshop.

Anna Elisabetta Merlini, a teacher at the Scuola Dell’infanzia Alessandrini, near Milan in Italy, attended last year’s edition of the GIFT Worksop at the 2015 General Assembly in Vienna. Following the workshop she wrote a report about her time at the conference. Below you’ll find a summary of the report; to read the full version, please follow this link.

“My experience to GIFT workshop 2015 has been a real opportunity to find the connection between schools and the geoscience world,” explains Anna in the opening remark of her report. The 2015 GIFT workshop focused on mineral resources and Anna felt that “the GIFT workshop gave all teachers a new awareness of the presence of minerals in our daily routine” and equipped participating teachers with tools to tackle important mineral ores related topics, carrying out practical and productive activities with students.

As a teacher with a geological background, Anna found that the GIFT workshop allowed her to achieve mainly three different goals:

  • Realisation of new didactic ore related projects

Following the workshop, Anna took some of the things she learnt during her time in Vienna and applied them to ongoing teaching projects she was involved with prior to the GA. In particular, she

Anna (center) with other teachers at the 2015 GIFT workshop in Vienna. (Credit: Anna Elisabetta Merlini).

Anna (center) with other teachers at the 2015 GIFT workshop in Vienna. (Credit: Anna Elisabetta Merlini).

adapted existing teaching activities to highlight the practical connection between daily life and minerals found in objects. For instance, the youngest pupils in the Milan based school enjoyed a more hands on approach to learning about soil by exploring the areas just outside the building gates!

  • New interconnection to other teachers and scientific institutions

During the workshop in Vienna, Anna realised “how important is to involve young generations in geoscience topics in order to grow a more eco-aware generation in the future.” This notion inspired the primary teacher to start the Geoscience Information for Kids (GIFK) programme  to be implemented throughout local schools.

  • New ideas for my professional future within educational area

The GIFT workshop is not only an opportunity to develop new skills and develop new ideas, but also a place to network.  Through interactions with the teachers she met at the GIFT workshop, Anna felt empowered to “improve my skills in teaching geoscience, learning new tools and new strategies to involve students in the best way.”

For example, fruitful discussions with a Malawi based teacher meant she now better appreciates the differences between teaching in two, so vastly different, countries and how that impacts on students.

Anna concludes that the GIFT

“experience opened my eyes about the future, enforcing my conviction that children are our future and educational programs need to involve students at all levels, starting from the beginning.”

The EGU 2016 GIFT workshop ‘The Solar System and beyond’, co-organised with the European Space Agency (ESA), is taking place on April 18–20 2016 at the EGU General Assembly in Vienna, Austria. The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria from 17 to 22 April. Check out the full session programme on the General Assembly website.

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