Geology for Global Development

Geology for Global Development

Why California is least prepared for earthquakes. Increasing pressure on geoengineering. Tackling the challenge of groundwater. Jesse Zondervan’s July 2019 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

Why California is least prepared for earthquakes. Increasing pressure on geoengineering. Tackling the challenge of groundwater. Jesse Zondervan’s July 2019 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

Each month, Jesse Zondervan picks his favourite posts from geoscience and development blogs/news which cover the geology for global development interest. Here’s a round-up of Jesse’s selections for the last month:

Earthquake preparedness in the US

Last month has seen two strong earthquakes in California, and in an interview with CNN seismologist Dr Lucy Jones says California is not as well prepared as it could be, especially compared to places like Japan and Chile. Political scientist Matt Motta attributes this to a low electoral incentive for policymakers to work on preventative policies rather than response to earthquake damage, which leads to the conclusion that communicating earthquake risk to people living in hazardous areas is vital to improving preparedness.

To geoengineer or not?

There has also been some debate on geoengineering, with climate scientists at Harvard and MIT arguing that risks of geoengineering may be overstated, whilst Cambridge scholars warn against the social blinding effect of ‘emissions debt’ through the temporary use of solar geoengineering.

At the same time, there is an increasing pressure from insurance companies for cities to adapt to climate change-related risks, and the threat of Antarctic ice collapse raising sea levels dramatically led to the suggestion of artificially snowing ocean water on it in great quantities.

Ultimately, we need research to understand the risks and efficacy of solar engineering, which is why the newly published map for predicting paths of particles emitted in the atmosphere is a welcome addition.

The challenge of groundwater

The challenge to relying on deeper water aquifers to sustain supply is that deeper strata are generally less conducive to extraction, water gets saltier at depth, and finally, it costs more. A new study finds that Americans are drilling deeper, raising concern over the sustainability of water extraction.

A new method of testing groundwater resources using the tidal effects of gravitation on groundwater addresses the challenge of investigating and managing water resources more sustainably.

More this month, the unwavering resistance of Guatemalans in one of the world’s most hazardous areas, the unnoticed climate crisis disasters happening weekly, and the question of sovereignty as Pacific countries drown.


Simple, accurate and inexpensive: A new method for exploring groundwater at the Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT)

Americans are drilling deeper than ever for freshwater at University of California – Santa Barbara

Climate Change Adaptation

Insurance Companies Push Cities To Take Climate Action by Sarah Lawrynuik at The Sprawl

What happens when a country drowns? By Sarah Munoz at The Conversation

Climate Risk Disclosure Act Is Good for Your Investments by Nicole Pinko at the Union of Concerned Scientists

Arctic ice loss is worrying, but the giant stirring in the South could be even worse at The Conversation


Betting on speculative geoengineering may risk an escalating ‘climate debt crisis’ by Shinichiro Asayama and Mike Hulme

Risks of Controversial Geoengineering Approach “May Be Overstated” By John Fialka at E&E News

Chaos theory produces map for predicting paths of particles emitted into the atmosphere at ScienceDaily

Sea level rise: West Antarctic ice collapse may be prevented by snowing ocean water onto it at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

Earthquake preparedness in the US

She’s been explaining earthquakes for decades. Here’s where she says California is least prepared by Braden Goyette at CNN

Americans focus on responding to earthquake damage, not preventing it, because they’re unaware of their risk by Matt Motta at The Conversation

Hospitals implement quake-ready technology, teams in seismically active areas by Jacqueline Renfrow at FierceHealthcare

Disaster Risk

‘Artificial intelligence’ fit to monitor volcanoes at GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences

Istanbul: Seafloor study proves earthquake risk for the first time at the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (GEOMAR)

History, disasters, and resilience: The story of Antigua Guatemala by Barbara Minguez Garcia and Rodrigo Donoso Arias at World Bank Blogs

One climate crisis disaster happening every week, UN warns by Fiona Harvey at The Guardian

External Opportunities

Law and Sustainability Summer School at the Earth System Governance Project

Opportunity: Senior Research Associate in Policy, Politics and Climate Change at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research


Check back next month for more picks!

Follow Jesse Zondervan @JesseZondervan. Follow us @Geo_Dev & Facebook.

Event Report: UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum 2019

In May 2019, we led an international delegation of early-career Earth scientists to the UN Forum on Science, Technology, and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Download our full event report here.

The annual UN Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) aims to facilitate interactions, networks and partnerships to identify and examine needs and gaps in technologies, scientific cooperation, innovation and capacity-building to support the SDGs. The forum is attended by member states (official national representatives), civil society, the private sector, the scientific community, and United Nations entities (e.g., UNESCO, UN Water).

The 2019 Forum theme was ‘science, technology and innovation for ensuring inclusiveness and equality’, exploring SDGs 4 (quality education), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 10 (reduced inequalities), 13 (tackling climate change), and 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

Through engaging, we hoped to increase the visibility of the Earth science community in sustainable development discussions, championing the importance of understanding the natural environment, enhancing public understanding of Earth systems and resources, and building strong professional communities of Earth and environmental scientists. We did this by coordinating and leading an international delegation of early-career Earth scientists, working in diverse contexts (e.g., Central Asia and Latin America). Together we helped to draft formal interventions delivered during plenary sessions, and organised a side event on Earth and Environmental Science Education for Sustainable Development.

We are grateful to the International Union of Geological Sciences and IUGS/UNESCO International Geoscience Programme Project 685 for their support.


GfGD Annual Report 2018

Our 2018 Annual Report highlights our achievements last year, how these link with our strategy, and presents an overview of our finances.

We had many exciting opportunities in 2018 to influence the global sustainable development agenda and represent geoscience in places where it otherwise would not have been included. For example, we contributed a commissioned paper to the 2nd International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice Report outlining how geoscience graduates can be integrated into sustainability programmes. We also attended the 3rd UN Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs at the UN Headquarters in New York, advocating for the importance of geoscience in dialogue about cities, energy, water, and responsible production and consumption.

Our 6th Annual Conference focused on water and sustainable development and was opened by Lord Ian Duncan, the UK Government Minister for Scotland and Northern Ireland. Building on this theme, we launched a new international programme, partnering with The Eleanor Foundation to evaluate the sustainability of water programmes in Tanzania. We generated a small surplus in 2018, allowing us to commit to this new project.

We published a briefing note with other UK partners to demonstrate how geoscience is critical to the SDGs, and continued to invest in our network of University Groups around the UK that collectively engage hundreds of geoscience students through talks, humanitarian and development mapathons, conference visits and fundraising activities.

Download our 2018 Annual Report to read more.
You can access all of our Annual Reports on our website.

Flooding in some of the world’s most at-risk cities

Flooding in some of the world’s most at-risk cities

What are cities doing to mitigate rising sea-levels? What are the numbers behind the related challenges? In our August ‘Coast’ month, Heather Britton focuses on sea-level rise in the coastal cities of Jakarta, Lagos and London, where barriers and new islands are likely proposed solutions, even if they seem inadequate. [Editor’s note: This post reflects Heather’s personal opinions. These opinions may not reflect official policy positions of Geology for Global Development.]

It is safe to say that the impacts of climate change will be felt in some parts of the world more than others, and that in many regions these impacts are already making themselves apparent. One of the inevitable consequences of global warming is rising sea levels, caused by the dual effects of melting ice caps and the expansion of water volume in the oceans with increased temperatures, amongst other factors. In this week’s blog, I intend to focus on three cities which are under threat from flooding due to sea-level change, and look at how they are coping with the problem of sinking into the sea.


Jakarta is the world’s fastest sinking city, sinking on average 15 cm every year.

Jakarta is the world’s fastest sinking city, sinking on average 15 cm every year. Situated next to the Java sea, and home to 30 million people, there is a very real danger that this city will soon be completely submerged. The source of the problem is not, however, purely sea-level rise, but also to the fact that the city itself is sinking. This is not a purely geological issue and relates to a lack of sources of clean drinking water in the capital. The surface drinking water sources are too polluted to be considered safe places to drink, and a significant number of people are forced to dig their own illegal wells in order to access the cleaner, groundwater reservoirs. Draining the aquifers on which the city rests is causing the gradual subsidence of the region, but until clean drinking water is available to even the poorest of Jakarta’s residents, the problem is likely to continue into the future.

Current measures to combat the flooding are minimal, although various government officials have tried and failed to make a difference, for example by beginning a clean-up of waterways in the city and setting out plans to develop at least a rudimentary sewage system. The city’s most ambitious move has been the construction of the city’s coastal wall (which will likely be submerged itself by 2030). This has been constructed in collaboration with the Dutch government in a project called the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development program. A further idea associated with this project is to put an even larger sea wall off the coast of Indonesia, essentially cutting off Jakarta from the rest of the Java sea. Critics, however, say that without solving the problems that are leading to flooding within the city, building larger and larger barriers to keep out the sea is likely to be ineffective.


A large-scale idea to grow the economy in Lagos is to create a new financial centre, on a new ‘island’ called Eko Atlantic.

Lagos (Portuguese for lakes) is one of the most populous cities in Africa. Climate change has contributed to extreme storms, rainfall and rising sea levels, aggravating a flooding problem that has severely affected this country for decades. The people of Lagos are living on what is essentially a series of islands. Much of the city was built on top of swampland, which has since been reclaimed and settled, destroying one of the barriers which would have protected the city from the ever-encroaching ocean. Poor infrastructural planning has meant that most of the ground surface in the city is impenetrable, and water simply has nowhere to go but remain on the surface, taking days to drain away and leaving thousands impacted by flooding year upon year. One example of this is the terrible flooding that the city experienced in 2012.

A large-scale idea to grow the economy in Lagos is to create a new financial centre, on a new ‘island’ called Eko Atlantic. Plans for this island have, to some extent, considered the flooding risk – the centre will be surrounded by a sea wall – but this would likely worsen the flooding situation elsewhere. The effect on the poor, who make up 70% of the city’s population, would be greatest, as the slums of the city sit in the city’s lagoon regions where floodwater is most likely to pool and cause the greatest disruption to residents.

The Thames barrier in London, Stevebidmead on pixabay.

When constructed, it was thought that this barrier might be closed every 2 – 3 years. The current rate of closure is currently double this, at 6 – 7 closures a year, and this is only likely to increase.


During the last ice age, the North of the UK was weighed down under the weight of the ice that was amassed there. After this ice melted, isostatic rebound has resulted in the uplift of Scotland by ~ 1 mm, accompanied by the sinking of the south, including the UK capital city of London.

The Thames Barrier was constructed in response to the flood risk in London and was made operational in 1982. The structure is designed to protect the city against 1 in 100-year flooding events. When storm surges combine with high tide, waters can rise by up to 2 m, making this one of the regular causes of flooding in the city. When constructed, it was thought that this barrier might be closed every 2 – 3 years. The current rate of closure is currently double this, at 6 – 7 closures a year, and this is only likely to increase. With the impact of climate change, sea levels could have risen up to 115 cm by 2100, if emissions continue at the current rate.

There is hope that this prediction will not be the case, however. The UK has committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and is the first country to do so. This demonstrates the ambition to combat climate change and minimise warming, but many argue that a 2050 target is not ambitious enough to prevent most of the adverse impacts that we are already beginning to see materialising around the world today.

Cities are going to have to adapt to increased flood risk if they are to survive in a world that has warmed by 1.5 degrees Celsius or greater, and these examples are just a few of those that are at risk. In achieving UN Sustainability Goals 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and 9 (Industry, innovation and Infrastructure), flood adaptation measures will be more essential than ever before.

**This article expresses the personal opinions of the author (Heather Britton). These opinions may not reflect an official policy position of Geology for Global Development. **