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Natural Hazards

Natural Hazards

Ethics and Geosciences: discovering the International Association for Promoting Geoethics

Ethics and Geosciences: discovering the International Association for Promoting Geoethics

Geoscientists do not have to deal only with technical matters, but have to think also about the ethical implications related to their discipline. To increase the awareness of researchers on the ethical aspects of their activities, it has been created the International Association for Promoting Geoethics (IAPG). To better understand what geoethics and the IAPG are, we interviewed Silvia Peppoloni, founder member and Secretary General of the association. She is researcher at the Italian Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology and her activity covers the fields of geohazards and georisks. She is also elected councillor of the IUGS – International Union of Geological Sciences (2018-2022), member of the Executive Council of the IAEG Italy – International Association of Engineering Geology and the Environment, lecturer to international conferences, editor and author of books and articles,. She has also been awarded with prizes for science communication and natural literature in 2014, 2016 and 2017.

 

Can you clarify what is geoethics?

Geoethics is defined as the “Research and reflection on the values that underpin appropriate behaviours and practices, wherever human activities interact with the Earth system. Geoethics deals with the ethical, social and cultural implications of geoscience knowledge, education, research, practice, and communication, and with the social role and responsibility of geoscientists in conducting their activities”.

This definition includes aspects of general ethics, research integrity, professional ethics, and environmental ethics. It reminds to geoscientists about individual ethical conduct, which is characterized by the awareness of being also a social actor, of possessing a scientific knowledge that can be put to the service of society and employed for a more functional interaction between humans and the Earth system.

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Our first Interview is ready!

Our first Interview is ready!

Today we are happy to post our first interview and to thank our first interviewee, Paola Crippa for her contribution. The topic focuses on mortality from high concentration of particulate matter generated from widespread wildfires. This topic wants to be just the starting point to address another and broader theme: dealing with lack-of-data for research purposes in developing countries.

This will be inspired by one of the most recent researches published by Paola: “Population exposure to hazardous air quality due to the 2015 fires in Equatorial Asia” http://www.nature.com/articles/srep37074

Interview

1. Which problem did you address in your research?

Vegetation and peatland fires occur frequently across Equatorial Asia, as they are used to manage the land, clear vegetation and to prepare and maintain land for agriculture. Wildfires emit pollutants that can cause poor regional air quality and are extremely harmful to human health. As a result, each year thousands of premature deaths occur across Equatorial Asia. In fall 2015, these fires burned out of control in Indonesia as a result of the extremely dry landscape caused by strong El Nino conditions. In our study, we use a state-of-the-art air quality model (the Weather Research and Forecasting model with Chemistry, WRF-Chem) at high spatial-temporal resolution to quantify the impact of these fires on air quality and human health. We found that 69 million people were persistently exposed to unhealthy air quality conditions caused by fire emissions and that this pollution may have caused 11,880 (6,153–17,270) excess mortalities. Our results emphasize the need of a coordinated effort between scientists and policymakers to assess the impact of land use changes and human-driven deforestation on fire frequency, to possibly mitigate the impacts of these hazardous events on human lives.

2. Do mortality estimates from simulations actually agree with the corresponding real data?

We evaluated our model simulations relative to both ground- and satellite-based observations of aerosol properties and we are confident that our simulated results provide a realistic representation of the 2015 wildfires, and hence can be used to infer the impact on air quality and human health. We integrated our hourly maps of pollutant concentrations with population density data and estimated the number of people persistently exposed to unhealthy and hazardous air quality conditions during fall 2015 with respect to World Health Organization and Pollutant Standards Index guidelines. While these metrics gave us confidence in our assessment of population exposure, it was unfortunately not possible to validate our mortality estimates since no local hospitalization data were available for the period of interest.

3. No real data were available? This is certainly a strong limitation for the research community but also for those that deal with risk management. What is your position in this regard?

In order to estimate the number of premature deaths occurred as a result of exposure to degraded air quality conditions, epidemiological evidence to link pollutant concentrations and hospitalizations and mortality data are needed. Unfortunately, in Equatorial Asia, as well as in most developing countries, these cohort studies have never been performed, or at least those data are not available to scientists. In our work, we used exposure-response functions developed from studies conducted in Europe and United States where pollutant concentrations are much lower than those registered during the events we studied. Therefore, our mortality estimates are likely conservative. This is indeed a big limitation not only for scientists but also for policymakers when trying to reduce the negative impacts of natural hazards since no robust evidence of the magnitude of those events is available. If local governments would be able to collect, organize and release these data, this would allow scientists to better serve the community by providing better mitigation strategies.

4. Do other countries invest more in data collection allowing for a better coupling between simulations and ground-truth data?

In Europe and United States, epidemiological studies linking exposure to mortality and, most importantly, hospitalization data are easier to access. While still not as easily accessible as most publicly funded satellite and climate model repositories, we hope that Western governments would implement a standardized national or international database that can be used to produce considerably more reliable exposure maps. This would allow a better assessment of mortality in polluted areas such as London, but the level of exposure in less developed countries is on a different level of magnitude, with millions of human lives at risk, including children and elderly citizens. Since any extrapolation of Western data in these areas is problematic, the international community must invest in the development of local studies and data collection.

5. Do you think that simulations like yours can be useful not only in a post-disaster phase but as a risk prevention tool? 

One of the great advantages of using numerical models such as WRF-Chem is that they can be also used in forecasting mode, meaning that they can be used to predict where and how fast pollution would be transported from emission sources and consequently provide information for reducing population exposure. They can be also used to make projections as a function of emission scenarios. This is particularly important in regions subject to rapid land use change and human-driven deforestation, such as Equatorial Asia or South America. An example of successful integration of numerical model forecasts with mitigation strategies can be found in Santiago de Chile, where the government declares alert days based on numerical weather model forecasts of unhealthy pollution. This is the result of a close and constructive collaboration between scientists and policymakers.

 

Doing and wandering of NhET at the EGU’s General Assembly

We used this poster to catch the attention of young scientists, interact with them and understand if they were interested in joining the network. More than 20 researchers left their contact details and were willing to actively join the Team. Credit: Valeria Cigala.

If you were wondering what a group of young scientists such as NhET does in its free time, this is the right post for you to read!

In between doing exciting fieldwork on an active volcano, writing an inspiring paper on landslide monitoring and applying that complicated algorithm for the analysis of earthquake return times: we organize events at the EGU’s General Assembly (GA) targeting Early Career Scientists’ (ECSs) interests. Can you believe it? Since the deadline for sending an abstract for the 2018 GA is getting closer (January 10), why not telling you a bit of what we did during EGU’s 2017 GA and try to make you believe.

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The risk of a Natural Hazard blog is now real, be prepared!

The risk of a Natural Hazard blog is now real, be prepared!

Hello and welcome to the blog of the Natural Hazards division! Starting from today we will try to enrich your readings every two weeks on Monday morning with a new blog post!

Our division encompasses and intersects various topics in geoscience. For this reason, we will aim to diversify the content from post to post, each time focusing on a different aspect of the complex natural hazard world.

We have structured our blog to feature either the Interview of the month or the Paper of the month. The former will give you the chance to dive into the perspectives of both young and established scientists regarding research activities and state of the art applications for managing/understanding natural hazards. The latter will be a review of important articles that have significantly contributed to the hazard science. Due to the wide breath of the division, we will balance the posts to keep the scientific content and make it clear to a wide readership.

Updates regarding natural hazard activities for ECSs (technical trainings, courses, summer schools and much more) will also be posted on a regular basis giving you the chance to stay up to date with our division.

Similarly, we aim at giving you the chance to check job offers and career opportunity though our page.

If you would like to receive a notification whenever we post something new, feel free to “Subscribe to blog” us by adding your email clicking on the right.

We belong to a huge division and being few we may overlook some topics of your interest. In such case, feel free to suggest any discussion alongside with any other suggestion you may have to improve our blog. If your interest goes even beyond, you are welcome to contribute with a blog post. In both cases, you can contact us at

  1. our email: nhecsteam@gmail.com
  2. our google group: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/nhet

 

Once again, welcome to our blog and we hope you enjoy readings!

The Natural Hazards Early Career Scientist Team (NhET).