Geology for Global Development

EGU Guest blogger

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.

The Impacts of Climate Change on Global Groundwater Resources (Part 1 of 4)

barry-christopherChristopher Barry is a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham. He has written for the GfGD Blog in the past – detailing his contribution to water projects in Burkina Faso and fundraising efforts to support such work. We have recently added a briefing note to our website, written by Christopher, describing the role of climate change on global groundwater resources. You can access the full briefing note here.

To help share the contents of this briefing note we are publishing a portion of it’s contents over a series of four blogs (i) Introduction to Key Impacts; (ii) Saline Intrusion, (iii) Effects for Groundwater Recharge of Temperature and Precipitation Charges, and (iv) Effects for Groundwater Recharge of Near Surface Turbidity and Parched Soil/Vegetation. At the end of each blog is a link to the full PDF, where you can read each section in its full context and find a full reference list.


Over the last two centuries, the content of the Earth’s atmosphere has changed, with certain gases, known as greenhouse gases, increasing significantly in concentration.  Carbon dioxide, the most abundant of these, has increased in concentration by about 50%.  They are termed “greenhouse gases” because of their effect of trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere rather than allowing it to be radiated into space, in the same way that a greenhouse traps heat inside of itself.  This greenhouse effect, is necessary for life on Earth, because without it the Earth would be too cold to hold liquid water.  However, due to the unnaturally rapid increase in greenhouse gases, the Earth’s atmosphere is heating at a rate fast enough to unbalance many of the Earth’s climates, ecosystems and ice formations, which gives rise to the term climate change.  These changes have profound impacts on the Earth’s water resources.  This section outlines some of the main threats posed by climate change to groundwater resources across the globe.

The effects of climate change on groundwater are slower than those on surface water.  This gives an advantage for areas trying to adapt to the impacts of climate change on their water resources, in that they have more time.  But groundwater is susceptible to depletion and degradation, so an awareness of the threats posed to groundwater by changing climate is important in long-term planning of water resources for communities.  There are cases where people’s activities may be adjusted to minimise the potential impacts of a threat, such as disposing of waste away from water sources, in light of the increased risk of floods and high river levels.  In other cases, it is useful to be able to predict where groundwater is going to come under unavoidable threat and therefore the limitations of an aquifer’s reliability in the future.  For example, a coastal community relying on an aquifer which is under threat from intruding salt water due to sea-level rise would be wise to limit its development of near-coastal groundwater resources for its water supply.

2. The effects of climate change that relate to groundwater

There are two large effects of climate change that are thought to have serious implications for groundwater resources, by a number of processes.

2.1 Change in temperature

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 estimated that the average temperature across the globe had risen by about 0.7 °C over the 19th century, with an accelerating rate of warming (Trenberth et al., 2007).  The temperature has implications for ice, at the poles and in glaciers, and evaporation of water at the surface.

2.2 Change in precipitation

Seasonal rainfall patterns have been observed to change, as a general trend.  Trenberth (2011) explains that the increase of the temperature of the air increases its capacity to hold water vapour, by 7% for every 1 °C.  Therefore, a greater amount of water vapour is required to form water droplets and hence precipitation and, conversely, there is more water available in the atmosphere during rainfall events, so these become more intense.  The result of this is that rainfall becomes polarised, both in time and in space.  That is to say that wet places and wet seasons become wetter and dry places and dry seasons become drier.

The overall effect is that wet seasons, or winters, are becoming shorter and more intense, while dry seasons are becoming more protracted.  The frequency of storms, floods and conversely droughts are set to increase.

Download the full briefing note (including a reference list) on the Water and Sanitation page of the GfGD website. Parts 2-4 will be published on this blog in the coming days.

Guest Blog: Exploring the Sustainable Development Goals at the University of Tübingen (Germany)

AuthorsSolmaz Mohadjer and Sebastian Mutz, University of Tübingen researchers, recently designed and facilitated a seminar on the topic of Geology and the Sustainable Development Goals. Below, they share some results from their pilot implementation at the University of Tübingen, Germany.

There is an African proverb that says “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The road set by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years is long and riddled with potholes. To travel far, everyone needs to join in and do their part. This includes the geosciences community. In October 2015, 130+ from the geosciences community gathered at the Geological Society of London to educate themselves about the SDGs and explore the role of the geosciences community in achieving them. At the conference, I spoke about the role of geohazards research and practice in addressing key sustainable development issues such as disaster risk reduction. The conference emphasized other sustainable development issues that are at the heart of many geoscience disciplines (e.g., sustainable agriculture, water and sanitation, and climate change). Once back in Tübingen, Sebastian Mutz and I created a plan for doing our part as geologists in addressing the SDGs. To hop on the road to the SDGs, we decided to go small and stay local. We designed and taught two sessions on the SDGs with the target audience being our own colleagues.

The curriculum can be downloaded and used for free:
Session 1: Curriculum instruction (PDF) and accompanying presentation (PDF)
Session 2: Curriculum instruction (PDF) and accompanying presentation (PDF)

These sessions are designed to give a brief introduction to the SDGs and the role of geosciences in achieving them. The curriculum is both lecture- and activity-based and can be easily adapted to suit participants from different backgrounds. The curriculum also provides participants with an opportunity to present their current/previous work in the context of the SDGs. The curriculum completion takes about 2 hours per session.

Below we describe an activity that was conducted as part of the second session. We then briefly state the key observations and our interpretation of them.

Inspired by a discussion session that was conducted as part of the 3rd Annual Conference of Geology for Global Development, we facilitated an interactive group activity in the second session during which participants were encouraged to think about how the SDGs should shape geosciences education, research, industry practice and engagement with civil society. Participants were given a series of questions related to the aforementioned categories and were asked to brainstorm and write down their responses on Post-it notes under each question. Participants were then asked to read and discuss all responses and indicate their level of agreement with each response. Red round stickers placed next to a response indicated their disagreement while green stickers showed their agreement (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Participants’ responses on Post-it notes to questions and their level of agreement with each response using round stickers (red: disagree, green: agree).

The three key observations from this activity (as demonstrated in Figure 2) as well as our interpretation are:

  1. High level of participation shows that the participants believed the SDGs can and should shape geoscience education, research, industry practice and engagement with civil society. Participants who are all members of the geoscience community were able to generate suggestions as to how this can/should be done in each category. The large number of ideas generated during this activity highlights the potential and confirms the important role of geoscientists in achieving the SDGs.
  1. While participants were able to generate suggestions to questions listed in all categories, their level of engagement (as reflected by the number of suggestions) across all categories is uneven. This could reflect the background of this specific group of participants consisting of geoscience students and researchers with varying degrees of involvement with industry practice. Therefore, more suggestions pertaining to questions related to these fields (i.e., education, research, and industry practice) were generated. The total number of votes (both negative and positive) in these fields is also higher. This possibly indicates a higher level of confidence in participants’ opinions related to these fields which could be due to this same background. The few suggestions under the civil society category might highlight participants’ limited (or lack of) engagement with civil society (e.g., NGOs). Organizations such as Geology for Global Development are currently working to address this issue by equipping geoscientists with skills and knowledge needed for meaningful engagement in the development field.
  1. Participants seem to have opposing opinions as to how the SDGs should shape geoscience research. This is reflected by the high number of positive and negative votes received in this category. Within this category, participants agree on suggestions pertaining to the following questions: (1) how to better connect researchers with those working in development, (2) how to ensure research outputs are more accessible; and (3) how to facilitate more effective research partnerships globally. Popular suggestions often related to sharing technologies and improving science communication (e.g., open-source software, journals and online knowledge-sharing platforms) and making research partnerships with local institutions mandatory by funding agencies. However, all suggestions related to the researchers’ role in enhancing scientific research in developing countries received negative votes. These suggestions included: funding bi-lateral programs, creating positions that are related to specific developing countries (for example: the work of Institut de recherche pour le développment), and donating old (but still usable) equipment to local universities and research partners.

Taken all together, participants seem to recognize the importance of forming effective global research partnerships as a means of implementation for all the SDGs, and that innovative solutions for enhancing scientific research in developing countries should look beyond providing traditional technical assistance and support.


Figure 2. Participants’ participation per discussion topic. Blue indicates the number of ideas generated per category, red indicates the number of negative votes received in each category; green indicates the number of positive votes received in each category. The numbers shown at the top of each column correspond with the number of ideas/votes per category. SDGs: Sustainable Development Goals.

The key point we hoped to convey during the seminar was to encourage our colleagues to think more broadly about their research findings and their role as researchers in solving global issues. “The seminar activities helped me realize why I should care about the SDGs and the applicability of my research to real world problems,” commented Dr. Karim Norouzi. The seminar was considered to be a great experience by Dr. Karl Lang. “[This is] something we should be doing regularly, but seminars like this help to stretch our thinking and consider new perspectives,” said Dr. Lang on the importance of thinking critically about the underlying motivations for scientific research. For others like Jessica Starke, the seminar was a good starting point for learning about the SDGs. “I recommend that the seminar be repeated for other students and members of the scientific community so that they are familiar with these important goals.”

Guest Blog: Autumn Reflections

Cecilia Reed (aka Lady Rock) is a volcano and geology enthusiast, film-maker and communicator based in London, UK. She has previously published a really interesting series of videos relating to volcanic activity, culture and the local environment in Central America. Cecilia has kindly allowed us to republish this post from her Tumblr site, introducing her latest video series and reflecting on the nature of geology around us. 

AutumnAs autumn truly sets in, the downpour of gold and orange leaves drift along with the wind and the irregular cold showers encourage us to stay indoors, dry and safe. In my case, with a warming cup of tea and slice of cake! One cannot deny that this season is the perfect time for reflection. Reflection on the past and things that have been. Reflection on the here and now. Reflection on the things that could be.

Taking a leaf out of Beatrix Potter’s many colourful children’s’ storybooks, I find myself in the Lake District, in the North of England – doing exactly this.  What better place to reflect than hiking along a fine ridge path surrounded by ancient, rugged, awe inspiring mountains, babbling brooks and thunderous grey clouds. I find it wondrous to think that the land underneath my feet was once a breadth of impressive volcanic activity; suffocating these lands with aggression, power and energy. Calmed over the course of time by the gentle persuasion yet strength of water and ice tirelessly reshaping this landscape. I wonder how it might look in the future and am grateful to the wonderful work of geologists like Hutton and Lyell who have given us the grounding to understand and better predict our future.

Knowing that the present is the key to the past, and therefore potentially the future; I choose to reflect on my now. My current present is living in London City. A very different scape to the one I have chosen to reside in for the Half Term holiday season. Yet, one that also has its own vibrant geological stories. A hedonistic mix of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks from all around the globe have inspired me to create my next video web series, “Secrets of London”. The thousands of city workers who trudge through the city streets, often in their own thoughts, whether it be on the past, present or future often have no idea that they are walking past the belly of a volcano, or that they’re whatsapping through a phone that wouldn’t work without certain core minerals. A vital connection with mother Earth has sadly been lost and forgotten.

After attending this year’s Geology for Global Development’s annual conference, I felt inspired to write this piece. It was stimulating to see so many women and men who clearly understand very well their own connection with our earthy planet; sharing their current work in helping to develop a more sustainable future for our society and world. It left me wondering what others can begin to do, who maybe don’t have any prior geological knowledge, to help produce the same sustainable goals. A quote from the Dao de Jing sprang to mind. ‘Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.’ The answer is in front of us everyday. It’s in the very paths we walk along and the buildings that surround us. It’s in the water we drink and wash in as well as the very food that nourishes our bodies. Only by understanding and appreciating what we have in the present, can we possibly move forward and progress in life. To me, Geology is like Pylades, the Ancient Greek silent friend – always there, always strong, ready to teach us on the journey of life when we are open, willing and ready.

So, whilst I develop this future series by reflecting on what surrounds me in the here and now, I ask you to reflect too. What do you have in the present that may have been temporarily forgotten and needs a little appreciation?

You can follow Cecilia’s work on her Tumblr site. If you’d like to learn more or contribute to Cecilia’s video series “Secrets of London” then please do get in contact through our website and we’ll be sure to pass on the message. 

Guest Blog: Micronutrients, Hidden Hunger and Geology

DSC_0494In January 2015, GfGD took a small group of members to a discussion event hosted by the British Geological Survey, on best practice in international development. Ben Clarke and Eleri Simpson, then final year undergraduates at the University of Leicester (UK) joined the event to share about their fantastic work in Vanuatu. Here they write a guest blog about one presentation that caught their interest… 

Mélanges, magmas and micrites are all familiar terms in geology, but what have micronutrients got do with anything? Quite a lot it appears. This is one of the least known aspects of study that the British Geological Survey (BGS) undertakes, and formed one of many fascinating discussions held between BGS and GfGD on a rainy day in January.

Micronutrients are the substances we all need, in small amounts, to develop properly; from Vitamin A to Zinc they decide whether we develop and maintain an immune system, a fully functioning brain and even whether we can see or not. It seems imperative therefore, that we get enough of them. This isn’t the always the case, in fact it’s estimated that in excess of two billion people on Earth don’t receive enough 1. What’s more is the effect can be measured economically: economic loss associated with micronutrient deficiency (or hidden hunger) is thought to amount to 2.5% of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) 2; to bring this into perspective this amounts to about £15 billion in 2007. But why? If children don’t receive enough Iron or Iodine, their cognitive development is impaired, they don’t achieve academically at school and they don’t become the scientists, doctors and business-people that the country needs to flourish. If adults don’t get enough Iron or Vitamin A, they become tired and are ill more regularly, straining any medical system that may exist and reducing productivity. It seems not just because of the day-to-day effects of such ‘hidden hunger’ on humans, but also the economic effects on entire countries to be in everyone’s interest to tackle the problem.

Picture5So where do we get these substances from? This is where geology comes in. We receive micronutrients from the foods we eat, but the concentration of them in food depends on the soil it’s grown in. If you want to understand the soil, speak to a soil scientist. Dr Michael Watts, a geochemist at the BGS works in partnership with scientists from universities in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe to study the problem and to find simple solutions that can be easily implemented on a local level. Methods such as using enriched fertilizers and planting crops that more readily absorb micronutrients in the soil have the potential to vastly change lives on a local level, and if scaled up may produce enormous regional impacts. But for such schemes to be sustainable, it requires local initiative, and because of this the BGS aims to fund doctoral training programmes and PhD exchange schemes for African students so that in time these countries have the expertise to tackle the problems themselves.

It’s great to see that research like this is being so thoughtfully and effectively undertaken by the BGS but we can’t sit on our laurels, micronutrient deficiency isn’t just a problem in Africa: Bangladesh, Honduras, India and many other countries also suffer. Far more work is still required by the next generation of geologists, biologists, chemists and anthropologists to enrich our diets. It’s surprising what you might learn on a rainy day in January.

1 Kennedy, G., Nantel, G., Shetty, P. 2003. The scourge of “hidden hunger”: global dimensions of micronutrient deficiencies. Food, Nutrition and Agriculture (FAO). 1014-806X, (no.32) p. 8-16.

2 Stein, A., Qaim, M. 2007. The human and economic cost of hidden hunger. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, vol. 28, no. 2, p. 125-134

Dr Michael Watts will be joining the 3rd GfGD Annual Conference (Friday 30th October 2015, The Geological Society, Burlington House, London). He will be joining a panel discussion on geology and the Sustainable Development Goals. Information and registration details here.

Editors Note (3:10pm, 4th Sept 2015): There is an excellent blog on the BGS website also discussing this theme.