Geology for Global Development

Bárbara Zambelli Azevedo

Tracking water consumption: how you can help fight climate-change-driven water stress

Tracking water consumption: how you can help fight climate-change-driven water stress

How much water do you think you’re using? When you eat 200 g of beef, you are using more than 3,000 liters of water. Regular blog author Bárbara Zambelli helps us understand how we can alleviate climate-change-related water stress in countries around the world, just through our choices of consumption. [Editor’s note: This post reflects Bárbara’s personal opinions. These opinions may not reflect official policy positions of Geology for Global Development.]

This month our blog theme is resources, and I chose to write about water, not only because it is our most basic need but also as it is the basis of all goods, products and resources that we use.

Freshwater, like any other natural resource, is unevenly distributed on Earth’s surface, leading to physical scarcity in many parts of the globe, while other regions are suffering from floods and heavy rain events. So, we have to deal with water scarcity problems every time that water is too little, too much or too dirty.

The largest share of water is used in agriculture and industry, whilst direct uses (such as drinking, cooking, bathing, cleaning and so on) are responsible for only a small amount

Another reason to be alert is that, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, 47% of the world’s population will suffer from water shortage by 2030. In this article, in order to better discuss sustainable water usage, I want to explore some important concepts in the following paragraphs.

Virtual water is the first one: it is related to indirect water used for different purposes, such as growing crops, energy production or transportation. Let’s take an example from food production – Do you know how much water is necessary to produce 1 kg of beef? The global average is about 15,400 L/kg.

On the other hand, to produce the same amount of vegetables, only 322 L are needed, for cereals 1,644 L/kg and for milk 1,020 L/kg. With that in mind, do you feel you really know your own water consumption? Would you like to find out? In this link, you can calculate your water footprint.

Here we come to the second important concept: water footprint. A water footprint reveals water consumption patterns, from individual to national level, communicating its expenditure in the manufacturing and production of goods. In addition, it reports the amount of water contaminated during those processes.

When a country is exporting some product (cereals, vegetables, oil, ores, clothes, technology and so on), it is also exporting virtual water needed to produce that product.

If we take a look at a list of highest water footprint by country, the United Arab Emirates leads the way, followed by the U.S. and Canada. Brazil appears at number 6.

It is important to point out that nowadays the largest share of water is used in agriculture and industry, whilst direct uses (such as drinking, cooking, bathing, cleaning and so on) are responsible for only a small amount. On this website, you can find many more interesting statistics about virtual water.

Another important concept is the international virtual water trade flow. When a country is exporting some product (cereals, vegetables, oil, ores, clothes, technology and so on), it is also exporting virtual water needed to produce that product.

Big virtual water exporters are most of the Americas, Asia, Australia, and Central Africa while big importers are in Europe, Japan, North and South Africa, the Middle East, Mexico, and Indonesia.

One problem related to this trade happens because the indirect effects of water exploitation are externalized to other countries. Moreover, consumers are generally not aware and do not pay for the water problems in the overseas countries where their goods are being produced.

So, how can we take action, at an individual level, to reduce our water consumption and, at the same time, tackle climate change?

 First of all, we need to think outside the box. Reducing water consumption means way more than closing the tap while brushing your teeth. We need to re-think our lifestyles, diet, our choices for daily commutes and more.

A good start would be cutting off meat one day of the week (meatless Monday, for example). Instead of buying new clothes every year, look for some in second-hand shops, flea markets or swap with friends. Choose public transportation or bikes over private cars. When you need to shop anything, always check for local products instead of imported ones. Overall, always be a conscious citizen!

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

A mining state in Brazil, without geological knowledge? On the value of science communication

A mining state in Brazil, without geological knowledge? On the value of science communication

As the theme of this month is science communication, I’d like to share some of my own experiences with geoscience communication and public perception of geosciences.

I was born and raised in Minas Gerais – the most traditional mining state of Brazil. Nowadays it is internationally recognized for recent environmental disasters such as the failure of the Brumadinho and Fundão tailings dams. I studied Geological Engineering in Ouro Preto – where the Brazilian Gold Rush started, which was responsible for the establishment of the city. Until the present day, mining – especially iron ore – is the most important economic input for the municipality. Despite all the history and mining tradition, many people have no idea of what geology is about. I had no idea before entering university.

A study (Annals page 462) on public perception of geosciences was carried out in Campo Belo, a town located in the southwest region of Minas Gerais with 54.000 inhabitants, almost 400 high school students from public and private schools and their science teachers. The results have shown that the students struggled to answer simple questions regarding geology (such as the approximate age of the Earth or naming one mineral) and they were unable to relate Earth Sciences with the environment surrounding them, which came as a surprise to the teachers. Despite being local, this study may give us a hint on the perception of geosciences in Minas Gerais.

Why is connecting the community with geological knowledge so important?

Geology is the basis of everything! To produce the food we eat we need soil, water, mineral fertilizers. For housing, we need resources such as steel, cement, gravel, sand, and we need to choose appropriate sites for construction, avoiding areas with a high risk of geohazards like earthquakes, landslides or flooding. We need mineral resources for developing technologies and green energy. Some places on Earth depend almost exclusively on groundwater – so hydrogeological knowledge is crucial. Summing up – geology is in everything!

Bringing this perception to society is vital to promote conscious consumption and recycling practices (since resources are finite), improve communities’ resilience, help urban planners… just to cite a few.

So, how to communicate science effectively?

In my context (Minas Gerais – Brazil), I see that geology is not tangible for the biggest part of the population. Besides, communication is neglected by scientists. Therefore, after researching, attending conferences and talking to people from diverse backgrounds I think the best way to bridge scientists and population is, first of all, to understand the target audience (background, language, culture, customs, etc). After that, decide if you are the most appropriate person to access that community. Try to simplify the vocabulary and avoid jargon. Make a presentation that is clear, simple, illustrative, fun and scientific, if possible.

Science communication has the power to shorten distances, connect people, empower communities, work towards disaster risk reduction and promote the value of geological resources and heritage. Let’s bring geological knowledge beyond the university walls!

 

Rainfall related geohazards: floods, landslides and mudslides in Rio – A dangerous combination of nature and human-related factors

Rainfall related geohazards: floods, landslides and mudslides in Rio – A dangerous combination of nature and human-related factors

Rainfall-related geohazards in Brazil’s poorer, mountainous city margins could be mitigated using better urban planning and communication. Our own Brazilian blogger Bárbara Zambelli Azevedo explores the problem and possible solutions.

I come from Brazil, a country well-known for its beautiful landscapes, football and carnival. Ok, some stereotypes are true, indeed.

Situated in the middle of the South American tectonic plate and away from geohazards such as earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis, this tropical country may seem like paradise to some. However, we are not completely safe from geohazards.

Every year during the summer, which is a heavy rain season, many lives are lost, and people are displaced by floods, landslides and mudslides all over the country. I want to give a particular focus on the state of Rio de Janeiro, where a summer storm killed at least 6 people on the 6th of February this year. I should mention that it was not an isolated event at all.

The situation of the state of Rio de Janeiro is complicated, and its analysis should take into consideration the geomorphology of the area, its climate and – importantly – urban planning.

According to the Brazilian Geological Survey, the bedrock in the area is composed mainly of igneous and metamorphic rocks, and the relief is characterised by steep mountain slopes over 2,000 m, alternated with sedimentary basins.

In 2011 floods, landslides and mudlslides resulted in 903 deaths and over 2,900 people had their homes destroyed

These mountains are a part of a major structure named Serra do Mar (Sea Ridge), a 1,500 km long system of mountain ranges and escarpments parallel to the Atlantic Ocean, running from Rio de Janeiro State until Santa Catarina, in the south of Brazil. Geomorphological features seen today started to form during the opening of the Atlantic Ocean during the Cretaceous, were consolidated throughout the Tertiary and still are modified by erosional and sedimentary events.

The climate is described as tropical in coastal areas such as Rio de Janeiro City and Angra dos Reis. It is warm and humid all year round, with a mean temperature around 23°C and an average annual precipitation of 1,300 mm. The rain season occurs in the summer (Dec-Mar) when 45% of precipitation falls.

In mountainous areas such as Nova Friburgo and Teresópolis, the climate is characterised as temperate. Temperatures are milder at an annual mean of 18°C and the average annual rainfall is 1700 mm, with 59% falling in the summer months of December to March. Therefore, extreme rainfall events are not rare, and they are usually associated with floods and landslides.

The worst weather-related natural hazard-induced disaster in Brazil happened in January 2011, when it rained 166 mm in a 24 hour period in the Serra dos Órgãos region, which is a local denomination of Serra do Mar. Six cities were affected by floods, landslides and mudslides: Teresópolis, Petrópolis, Nova Friburgo, Bom Jardim, Sumidouro and São José do Vale do Rio Preto. These flows resulted in 903 deaths and over 2,900 people had their homes destroyed.

A year earlier the state of Rio had been the scene of another tragedy. It was New Year’s Eve and the city of Angra dos Reis was full of tourists. After intense rainfall, many mudslides were triggered and left at least 44 people dead. Such events repeat themselves every year.

Satellite imagery of the 2011 mudslides in Nova Friburgo - before and after. Via Google Earth, collected in 2019.

Satellite imagery of the 2011 mudslides in Nova Friburgo – before and after. Via Google Earth, collected in 2019.

Just like Rio, most Brazilian cities lack urban planning and settlements are segregated socio-economically. Usually an impoverished population is pushed to marginalised areas of cities, which are usually steep and mountainous areas where the risk of landslides is higher.

In this article geologist and former president of the Institute of Technological Research of São Paulo Álvaro Santos states that only few Brazilian geohazards are triggered exclusively by nature.

In fact, most of our geological and hydrological issues are, somehow, led by poor land-use management, both in cities and in the countryside. Santos also explains that tragedies related to rainfall are usually caused by a lack of land-use planning and housing, and inefficient government communication.

We must learn from our own history and examples from other places like Indian Chennai and Tamil Nadu to tackle the challenge elevated hazard risk in city margins. A good starting point is raising the awareness of the population living in high-risk areas by using geoscience education and science communication.

Geoprevention aims to raise the awareness of the local community about geotechnical and environmental risks such as floods, landslides, infiltration, river erosion and sedimentation and waste disposal

We have a good example from the city of Curitiba, where students from the Federal University of Paraná developed a project titled GeoPrevention. This project aims to raise the awareness of the local community about geotechnical and environmental risks such as floods, landslides, infiltration, river erosion and sedimentation and waste disposal. The students use didactic material like folders, manuals, booklets and provide mini-courses and lectures about these topics with a playful character that is easily understood.

This initiative is important because it provides an interdisciplinary dialogue between a university and civil society, in particular, the population affected by those geohazards, to recognise and avoid them at the individual level.

At a higher level, we need governments and policy-makers to take action on effective urban planning and risk management, and invest more in the prevention of rainfall-related geohazards than on their remediation.

In addition, the active participation of civil society and the private sector is crucial to building resilient societies. Technological innovations such as the internet of things and dashboards should also be used to improve disaster prediction and population warning.

The city of Rio de Janeiro has two big data operation centres, the Operation Centre and Integrated Centre of Command and Control, both launched before World Cup which granted Rio the title of “World Smart City” in 2013.

The centres improved disaster management by mapping areas with high risk of flood-related landslides and implementing a critical early warning and evacuation system for Rio’s favelas. However, according to this article, they have failed at “go[ing] beyond high-tech marketing rhetoric and help[ing] real people living in the city”.

Even though it is very complicated and takes time to solve the problem of rainfall-related hazard risk in city margins, it must start sometime: why not now?!

Speleology and local development

Križna jama cave, in Slovenia

Many of us seek adventures, new experiences and sights in far flung places, but very often there are beautiful wonders right on our doorstep. In today’s post, Barbara Zambelli Azevedo highlights how the promotion of local geological regions can be a valuable and effective way to encourage development and instil a sense of pride in local communities. 

Plato said in the Allegory of the Cave that men could only be free from ignorance when they leave the shadow world and see the real world outside. For me, caves have the opposite meaning. My first time in a cave at the end of 2011 changed me forever. To see the beauty hidden in the dark, countless endogenous species and curious formations in such a delicate and unique environment, thrilled me.

I was touched by speleology and I think that other people may feel the same. Even though karst areas are common throughout the world, still many people don’t know anything about caves, nor have they ever been in one. I believe in valorisation and promotion of speleological heritage in karstic areas as a way to promote sustainable territorial development. This could be done combining four different approaches:

Tourism: Implementation of a speleological management plan allowing and regulating public visitation, seeking at the same time the conservation of the cave, its surroundings and its attributes (physical and biological) as well as the transformations it might need to receive the general public. These transformations could be stairs, handrail, lights, bridges and walkways. It is important to consult the local community before starting any kind of business to know if the chosen cave has a special meaning, if it represents a sacred place or it is part of their culture.

Conservation: Conservation practices must be adopted to ensure the preservation of the speleological heritage. Cave guides should come preferably from the local community. They must receive appropriate training and instruction about security during exploration and conservation of the karst. In Brazil we use the motto:

“In a cave nothing is taken away except photographs, nothing is left but tracks and nothing is killed except time.”

Parks: Implementation of parks in areas where caves are concentrated in a given territory. This territory can be at local or regional level, and the park administration takes charge of the preservation and management of the speleological heritage.

Education: Promote local empowerment through science communication and environmental education. As I mentioned before, there are not a lot of people who know about speleology. In this context it is important to assess the knowledge of the local community when it comes to karst, caves and their formation, as well as their unique fauna, the delicate and complex hydrologic system. When a population is aware of its heritage, is more likely they will ensure its preservation.

Finally, it is crucial to highlight that before starting any kind of business regarding speleology, many different interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary studies must be carried on the areas, in order to select the most appropriate ones for developing tourism or any other activities.