A lizard basks on top of a very uncomfortable looking dolomitised grainstone.
This dolomitised layer is part of a sequence of platform carbonates that formed 550 million years ago. Only some of the layers are dolomitised, and it is unclear whether the dolomite is primary, or formed secondarily, possibly as a result of Mg-rich fluids flowing along small faults.
Helen Ashcroft is currently a DPhil student at the University of Oxford. She blogs for the Bang! Science Magazine (Planet Blog) and is also a STEMNET Ambassador, working to promote science, technology, maths and engineering to young people. Jim Cust, a graduate student in economics, presented this term’s Oxford University Group GfGD seminar. In addition to his research Jim is also a director of the Natural Resource Charter, an organisation which gives guidance to societies and governments on natural resource extraction. Helen has written for the GfGD Blog before, about career paths in the development sector, and today she shares some of the lessons from Jim’s seminar with us.
Hearing an economist’s perspective on the mining of natural resources was very interesting to me as a geologist. I discovered it isn’t as simple as extracting the resources and benefitting from their sales; Jim pointed out some of the long-term economic issues that I hadn’t really thought about before.
In developing countries, the discovery of a new natural resource, oil or minerals for example, can seem like a gift, as it offers the potential for independent economic development for the country. However, observations of the economic growth of countries within Africa has shown that countries which are rich in natural resources actually exhibit less growth than resource poor countries – this phenomenon is known as the ‘resource curse’.
Obviously factors such as population size and the ability to efficiently extract the resources affect the economic growth of a country, but a systematic investigation was needed in order to understand this ‘curse’. There are several steps in the successful extraction and usage of natural resources, which are complicated by the rising prices of commodities across the globe, as well as taxation laws.To reap the maximum benefits a set of guidelines needs to be emplaced.
One thing which I hadn’t considered before was the rate at which the resources should be extracted and what should be done with the profits – i.e. how the development can be made sustainable. When resources are extracted, the profits earned from their sale can either be spent immediately or invested into long term projects or ‘produced capital’ (hospitals, roads, education etc.). Different countries have different requirements due to the differences in capita, for example Norway is rich in natural resources and produced capita, and so it can look at ways to maximise its profits, whereas lower income countries like Nigeria would be better investing their profits into building a stable infrastructure or produced capital so that if the global market crashes they have some financial security.
One difficulty with all of these considerations is that it can be difficult to give advice to a country, and communication between governments and the public needs to be effective. For example the profits made from copper mining in Chile are partly put into savings, which was not a popular choice during an economically wealthy time period, however when the prices of commodities crashed, the Chilean population were relieved that they had put aside money for a ‘rainy day’.
Jim’s talk emphasised the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to improving global development, and pointed out that it is the geologists’, geographers’ and engineers’ role to effectively and efficiently extract resources with minimum damage to the local environment and to the community, but that it is the role of economists to aid countries in the investment of the profits gained. As a true economist, Jim pointed out that the extraction of natural resources should be considered as a cost balance with respect to the damage done and the profits gained, and suggested that it is worth extracting natural resources if the profits gained can then be put to good use in development and repair to damage already done.
The importance of international guidelines and support is particularly important at the present, due to the rise in prices of commodities, the improvement and advances in the identification of new natural resources especially in regions which have low incomes, and the growth of China which has led to Western civilisation having less money to give as aid to developing countries. Therefore is imperative that we enable these countries to build economically as this will provide them with more wealth now and in the future.
Placements give students a valuable opportunity to get an insight into the international development sector, consider what key skills they need to develop to contribute to such work, and better understand the role of geoscience in fighting poverty. Following successful placements with the NGO CAFOD, GfGD are delighted to announce two new placement opportunities for UK-based geoscience students – both taking place this summer.
The successful candidate for this placement will be working with Tearfund’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Environment Adviser. The focus of this two week placement will be the completion of a literature review relating to water management in coastal Bangladesh. The successful candidate will use their critical literature skills and scientific understanding to investigate what others (both academics and multilateral organisations like the World Bank) have been writing and thinking on this topic. You will also have the opportunity to converse with some specialists in Bangladesh. These findings should then be synthesised into a short report.
This placement will also give the successful candidate a preliminary insight into the development sector, and the importance of disaster risk reduction. The student will have the opportunity to hear about a range of projects being undertaken by the organisation and find out more about a career in this sector. It will also give the student an opportunity to make a valuable contribution in the fight against global poverty.
Requirements: The successful candidate should have completed at least two years of study at undergraduate level, and have an interest in water management and/or disaster risk reduction. Experience of completing an extended literature review as part of your study/training is desirable and should be noted in your application.Tearfund is a Christian organisation, but applications for this placement are welcome from those of any religious affiliation or none
This placement will be jointly hosted by Humanitarian Futures Programme/King’s College London (Mon – Tues) and the British Geological Survey (Edinburgh Office, Weds – Fri). Due to the extra travel involved in this placement, GfGD are making available a small bursary to the successful student. This will consist of an advance purchase train ticket for the journey from London to Edinburgh on Wednesday 3rd July (the student must have a 16-25 railcard) and a contribution of £25 towards the return travel/further expenses. The Humanitarian Futures Programme will also reimburse the student for travel costs within London on the Monday and Tuesday of the placement.
The student placement will be within the stream of HFP work focused onstrengthening the dialogue between those with scientific and technological knowledge and those engaged in efforts to support community resilience. The placement will specifically focus on providing support for, participating in and reporting on a collaborative workshop being undertaken joint by a number of UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Knowledge Exchange fellows, the BOND Disaster Risk Reduction and InterAgency Resilience Groups and the UK Collaborative in Development Science (UKCDS).
In Edinburgh you will work with Dr Susanne Sargeant (BGS Seismic Hazard Analyst, NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow, GfGD Advisory Board), giving you an understanding of how hazard potential from earthquakes is monitored and assessed. Susanne has undertaken work in a number of contexts, including Bangladesh which she wrote about on the GfGD Blog recently, and is part of the Earthquakes Without Frontiers consortium, working to increase resilience to earthquakes in Central Asia, China and Nepal.
Requirements: The successful candidate should have a particular interest in (i) geohazards from either a geology or geophysics background and (ii) efforts to make science useable for supporting community resilience, including by strengthening the dialogue between those with science/technology expertise and those engaged in efforts to build resilience. They should be an enthusiastic and energetic individual, with a willingness to get involved in a wide variety of tasks.
Interested students should review the full placement information available on our website, which includes full details of each placement and how to apply. The deadline for all applications is midday on Sunday 2nd June. The successful candidate will be required to sign a Memorandum of Understanding and write a short report for GfGD describing your work, what you learnt and how it benefitted you.
A new generation of scientists are embracing the chance to interact with each other and the public through social media (twitter, facebook pages and blogs). We’ve looked around and picked out some of our favourite geoscience blogs. Why not consider starting a blog for yourself or your research group? You could write about your own research, the best bits from your lectures or items in the news that you think could benefit from some analysis from a geoscientist. A good starting point can be to guest blog for somebody with an established blog. We accept guest posts on relevant topics, as do many other blogs.
Climate and Geohazards Services, based at the University of Leeds, aim to raise awareness of current research and developments in the fields of climate science and natural hazards and help translate these into real benefits for people and organisations. The blog was established earlier this year and posts so far have covered flooding in Bangladesh, earthquakes in Istanbul and melting glaciers. This blog is managed by PhD student, Ekbal Hussain, and he welcomes guest submissions on relevant topics (email cgsleeds[at]gmail.com)
The government Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR), is a rapidly growing group of PhD students, post-docs, lecturers and professors based at University College London (UCL) researching various topics in risk and disaster reduction. They maintain a group blog, where the various members contribute pieces on their field work and research. Recent posts cover Arctic field training in Svalbard, a visit to Tohuku University and field work in Abruzzo, Italy.
Professor David Alexander, a member of the IRDR at UCL, has his own blog where he writes about managing disasters from ship wrecks to nightclub fires. Some of David’s own research centres around L’Aquila, and this is evident in his blog posts. The blog is available in both English and Italian.
The Landslide Blog is an old favourite of ours, and it is run by Dave Petley, the Wilson Professor of Hazard and Risk in the Department of Geography at Durham University. His blog provides a commentary on landslide events occurring worldwide, including the landslides themselves, the latest research, and the outcomes of conferences and meetings.
China has boosted its aid contribution to the African continent. Whilst the total is still low compared with the US aid budget, the trend signifies a wider partnership between the two giants. In the UK, international aid is mainly spent on protecting our national interests. China is emerging as an economic superpower and as a major aid donor, and this raises the question – what interest does China have in Africa?
China’s interest in Africa is thought to stem from its insatiable desire for natural resources; China consumes half the world’s output of refined aluminium, coal and zinc. However, they may have spotted a wider opportunity. Whilst Europe struggles with an ongoing recession and political fall-outs, Africa is booming. They have seen continued economic growth over the past decade and (relatively) high stability. The world’s economic centre of gravity is moving towards Africa. The opportunities for innovation and growth as millions of Africans lift themselves out of poverty will be huge.
The Chinese are building relationships across Africa, and expatriate communities are developing to host the Chinese citizens that live and work there. Is this arrangement benefiting Africans? I heard it first hand from geoscience professors whilst undertaking fieldwork in Namibia last year. Put simply:
“The Chinese are suddenly everywhere in southern Africa. They’re taking over all the mines. It’s causing some problems as lots of the local people don’t like it.”
Chinese investment is particularly visible in the mining industry. We talked about this before in a blog post focussed on China. The guardian have produced a video looking at the cost of the gold mining industry in Ghana (below), which I highly recommend watching. The Chinese government have given Ghana a three billion dollar low-interest loan to develop their infrastructure, and up to 10,000 Chinese immigrants are arriving into the country every year hoping to make some money.
Chinese firms are industrialising the small-scale gold mines that were established by local people. Small amounts of gold are left behind by the bigger machines and Ghanaians are flocking into the mining region to process this gold by hand. In some instances children are dropping out of school to make up the workforce. The rush to profit from the minerals has resulted in chaos and conflict.
One Ghanaian working in a Chinese gold mine is not positive about the impact on his community:
“Since we started mining, our drinking water is polluted and our farm land is no good. We’ve seen no benefits”
Mining can benefit the people living on the resource rich land if the industry provides fair employment for local people, but the Chinese firms are bringing Chinese workers with them into Ghana. Only local people can be given licenses for small scale mining, but thousands of Chinese immigrants are in the country doing this work illegally. The Chinese are being driven out of China by their own domestic problems, a lack of jobs and opportunities, and are arriving into Ghana to make some easy money. Gold mining is particularly profitable right now.
A chinese miner works under dangerous conditions at a mine in Anhui province, China
Some of the extraction techniques used in these informal mines are also very dangerous. The Guardian’s video shows one man who has broken his leg whilst using industrial equipment, and later two children using mercury, an incredibly hazardous material that we’ve banned from schools in the UK, to extract gold with their bare hands.
Pollution and waste water contamination resulting from mining can be detrimental to people living close by. Mines operating in areas that are not properly regulated may be tempted to cut corners. The Ghanaian government claims that the drinking water supplies are being poisoned by chemicals used in the mines, such as mercury and cyanide.
The Chinese-African relationship includes aid, business partnerships and immigration. This arrangement has the potential to benefit both parties if it is well managed. The guardian documentary about the gold mining industry in Ghana, however, exposes the dark side of this partnership. We hope that the Chinese companies operating in Africa are making sure that the local people have access to resources, fair employment and an unpolluted environment.
Baboons cling onto a steep cliff face on the Hoogland member, Nama group, southern Namibia.
Our new Friday Photo series will take a look at some of the wildlife you’ve come across whilst out in the field. Submit your favourite photos, along with a sentence or two about the photo, to firstname.lastname@example.org
The GfGD blog moved to its current home, hosted on the EGU blog network, in September. Since this move our readership has been recorded in detail by ‘google analytics’, telling us the nationality of visitors, the website that referred them (mainly twitter and facebook) and the length of time they spent on the site (averaging one and a half minutes – looks like people are staying long enough to read through the whole article!).
Most of our readers are UK based, but we have had people from almost every country in the world visiting the blog at some point, with a few notable exceptions – noone has seen our site in North Korea. After the UK, we are getting the most hits from the USA, western mainland Europe, Canada, Australia and India. This is not surprising as these are all very populous areas with high levels of internet access. We seem to have some core readership in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Iran, South Korea and South Africa. We’ve also had the odd hit from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Timor-Leste, Bhutan, Syria, Mongolia…
Map of the world showing where our readers are based. Darker shades of blue indicate higher number of visitors from that country. Grey indicates no visitors recorded from that country.
Hello to all of our readers. We welcome contributions and participation from all communities. You are always welcome to leave comments on blog posts or contact us through twitter or facebook. You could even submit a guest blog to us on an issue that interests you. With the GfGD readership around the world, we must have an incredible wealth of local and specialised information – why not share it with us?
The GfGD University group at Leeds recently held a series of short talks to launch itself within the department. With financial support from the Student Experience team, the event consisted of three short talks from three members of the school, including the head of the department, followed by informal snacks and wine to allow students to mull over the topics discussed.
The speakers raised the issues of risk and resilience in natural disasters and how geoscientists can mitigate against these in developing nations; the unnervingly earthquake-prone Istanbul and whether this historic city is really under threat; and how corporate responsibility and ‘soft skills’ are important in major mining operations in sub-Saharan Africa.
With approximately fifty students attending, the speakers addressed students from disciplines across Geography, Sustainability, Environmental Science and Geology creating an interesting mix of opinions and considerable interested from all years in this new University group.
The evening proved very successful and helped develop partnerships with academic organisations within the School of Earth and Environment. Thanks must be made to the speakers: Dr Richard Phillips, Ekbal Hussain and Professor Andy Dougill, to Climate and Geohazards Services and to the department for the provision of refreshments to follow the talks. An enjoyable night was had by all and will hopefully allow the group here in Leeds to achieve much more in the coming years.
Welcome to Geology for Global Development’s blog, a series of articles, discussions, photos and links - all relating to the application of geoscience to international development. Geology for Global Development (GfGD) recognises the significant contribution good geoscience can make fighting poverty and improving lives across the world. This blog aims to discuss, promote and broaden understanding of this contribution, whilst working to support young geoscientists in the growth of appropriate skills and knowledge in order that they make a positive, effective, and greater contribution to development throughout their careers. Find out more at www.gfgd.org.