Geology for Global Development

Cities

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?!

The ethical questions behind the school climate strike. Do we have a place in earth’s ecosystems? Jesse Zondervan’s February 2019 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

The ethical questions behind the school climate strike. Do we have a place in earth’s ecosystems? Jesse Zondervan’s February 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. This month’s picks include: The ethical questions behind the school climate strike; Military worries about the fight against sea-level rise – how will you help? Do we have a place in earth’s ecosystems?

School climate strikes

As school climate strikes inspired by Greta Thunberg spread across the world in the past month, adults are starting to ask ethical questions.

If one would prefer climate activism to focus on conventional electoral politics, rather than civil disobedience, Rupert Read argues one should question the premise that our societies are fully democratic. If adults have failed, how can we support and listen to our children rather than telling them what to do?

The idea that young people are the key to making positive change to the way we live in our environment is not a new one, but did you ever wonder why? Steve Cohen at Columbia University’s Earth Institute considers how the experiences of the next generation support a survivalist ethic and a change in environmental politics.

The fight against sea-level rise

If the urgency displayed by our children leaves you hungry to roll up your own sleeves, paradoxically it may appear you could help by joining the army to help fight sea-level rise. At a conference on climate change and security at The Hague defence leaders from around the world expressed worry not only for a risk for conflict risks but also of stress on military capacity in all countries with a coastline, not just the poorer nations.

Alternatively, if you have a more entrepreneurial spirit, I would recommend looking at entrepreneurial opportunities for addressing climate change in the developing world.

Sea-level rise and it’s cost is a hot topic this month, with climatologist Radley Horton testifying on capitol hill about sea level rise.

“There has been a lot of focus on whether worst-case scenario for 2100 is 4.3 feet, six feet, or even eight feet of sea level rise,” he said. “Even the most optimistic scenario imaginable—of one foot of sea level rise by 2100—would have direct and profound impacts.”

Indeed, the house market has already responded and cost US coastal home owners nearly 16 billion in property value. Buyout programs in flood-prone areas are becoming more common, even as they come with their own shortcomings.

The insurance industry recognises that investors, lenders, insurers and policymakers undertake significant risk management efforts to minimise rising losses from climate-related hazards. Might more geoscientists be needed here?

As usual, I have many more interesting topics on offer for you, such as: humans have been present in ecosystems for a long stretch of time, so is there a place for us? Check out all stories below!

School climate strikes – an ethical debate

School climate strikes: why adults no longer have the right to object to their children taking radical action by Rupert Read at The Conversation

Youth Strike for Climate and the Ethics of Climate Policy by Steve Cohen at State of the Planet

Climate Adaptation

How Entrepreneurs Can Help Developing Countries Hard Hit by Climate Change by Georgina Campbell Flatter at Entrepeneur

Prepare now for accelerating climate threats, military officials warn by Laura Goering at Thomson Reuters Foundation

There’s a place for us: New research reveals humanity’s roles in ecosystems from the Santa Fe Institute at ScienceDaily

Sand from glacial melt could be Greenland’s economic salvation from University of Colorado Boulder at ScienceDaily

Climate Change Is Having a Major Impact on Global Health by Tanya Lewis at Scientific American

How pollution and greenhouse gases affect the climate in the Sahel by Alessandra Giannini at The Conversation

Investors and lenders need better tools to manage climate risk to homes, mortgages and assets, finds new research at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

The fight against sea-level rise

Lamont Climatologist Testifies on Capitol Hill About Sea Level Rise by Marie Denoia Aronsohn at State of the Planet

Rising Seas Soaked Home Owners for $16 Billion over 12 Years by Thomas Frank at E&E News

Leave No House Behind in Flood Buyout Programs, Group Says by Daniel Cusick at E&E News

What rising seas mean for local economies from Stanford University at ScienceDaily

Predicting impacts of climate change

The Ocean Is Running Out of Breath, Scientists Warn by Laura Poppick at Scientific American

Disaster Risk

Large-scale hazard indication mapping for avalanches at the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF

Norway’s Arctic islands at risk of ‘devastating’ warming: report by Alister Doyle at Thomson Reuters

Observing Volcanoes from Space by Emily Underwood at EOS Earth and Space Science News

The U.S. May Finally Get an Early Warning System For Volcanoes by Robin George Andrews at Earther

Deep sea mining

Deep sea mining threatens indigenous culture in Papua New Guinea by John Childs at The Conversation

 

Check back next month for more picks!

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

Demonstrating the Importance of Geoscience in the Transformation Towards Sustainable and Resilient Societies

Next week the UN Annual Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will discuss the science required for “transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”. Discussions will focus on SDGs 6 (water and sanitation), 7 (energy), 11 (sustainable cities), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 15 (life on land).  

This forum will bring together member states, civil society, the private sector, the scientific community, and United Nations entities. It 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. We believe it is critical that the global geoscience community is represented, and will therefore attend and ensure a clear voice for geoscience at the heart of global development decision-making.

The natural environment is a key pillar of sustainable development. Research, innovation and improved communication and use of geological science (or ‘geoscience’) is therefore essential to delivering sustainable and resilient societies. For example,

  • Mapping and Understanding the Sub-Surface. In a sustainable and resilient society, interactions between the surface and sub-surface are understood and integrated into urban planning to ensure that development is safe, hazards are mitigated against, and environmental impact is minimised. Geological maps, geophysical surveys, and the integration of geoscience data to develop ground models can generate an understanding of the sub-surface and support effective urban planning.
  • Resource Management. In a sustainable and resilient society, everyone has sufficient and reliable access to energy, clean water, and the materials required for sustainable, resilient cities. This requires the identification and careful management of natural resources, including water, minerals, and building aggregates. The transition to renewable energies, such as solar panels and wind turbines, and electric transport will require a wide range of minerals, such as cadmium, lithium, molybdenum, selenium, and tellurium, as well as rare earth elements.
  • Waste Management. In a sustainable and resilient society, less pollutants are generated, and those that are generated are better managed to reduce the environmental impact of society. Pollutants can take many forms, and these can impact both the surface and sub-surface. For example, while mining may be necessary to supply the materials needed for green technologies, this can generate large amounts of waste which needs to be managed carefully to avoid chemicals leaching into groundwater.
  • Reducing Disaster Risk. In a sustainable and resilient society, the focus is on reducing risk (and preventing disasters), rather than accepting or increasing risk (and responding to disasters). Resilient communities, water supplies, energy infrastructure, and terrestrial ecosystems require effective disaster risk reduction. Research on the processes and potential impacts of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, landslides, subsidence, and other geological hazards can help stakeholders to understand and reduce risk.

Sustainable and resilient societies, therefore, depend on access to geoscience information and the expertise to interpret this, as well as meaningful engagement by the geoscience community. The networks and partnerships being developed at the UN next week, to identify how scientific cooperation and innovation can support the SDGs, need to include geoscientists working across a broad array of specialisms.

Since the SDGs were agreed in 2015, we have been at the forefront of mobilising and equipping the geological science community to engage and help deliver this vision. We are proud to continue our international leadership on this topic, and will be a champion of the geosciences next week at the UN Headquarters.

Follow updates on Twitter – #GfGDatUNHQ

Read more about this event: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/18157Forum_Concept_Note_April_26_draft.pdf

Read more about Geology and the Sustainable Development Goals: http://www.episodes.org/view/1835

What would you do in the minute before an Earthquake? Do our planet’s environmental limits hamper socio-economic development? Find out in Jesse Zondervan’s Feb – Mar 7 2018 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

What would you do in the minute before an Earthquake? Do our planet’s environmental limits hamper socio-economic development? Find out in Jesse Zondervan’s Feb  – Mar 7 2018 #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:

In the late afternoon of 16 February people in Mexico City celebrate Chinese New Year when they hear an earthquake alarm. If you ever wondered what it is like to experience an earthquake, you should watch the videos in Austin Elliot’s The Trembling Earth blog. What do people do in the 78 seconds of earthquake early warning?

Next to stories on risk of landslide-induced floods in Papua New Guinea, the cost of waiting for a volcanic eruption to happen and other disaster risk discussion, this month is full of good articles on sustainability:

Earth has environmental limits, can we all live a good life in it?

Dan O’Neill from the University of Leeds notes that to achieve social thresholds, countries have needed to exceed multiple biophysical boundaries. He asks how we can ever live well within our planet’s natural boundaries and what this means for sustainable development.

Professor Steve Cohen at Columbia University’s Earth Institute sees a trend that may help with this sustainability problem. An increasing number of young people are drawn to sustainability education and the role of the sustainability professional is emerging. Steve argues these sustainability professionals must be scientifically literate and focus on the physical world.

More in this month, entrepreneurs start seeing opportunities in predicting climate change risks, geologists have found rock containing plastic, and a new massive open online course (MOOC) encourages its students to play a disaster risk reduction game.

As always, there’s a lot to read this month. This time I highlighted in bold the articles I think you should read first, so go ahead!

Sustainability

Is it possible for everyone to live a good life within our planet’s limits? By Dan O’Neill at The Conversation

The Emerging Sustainability Professional by Steve Cohen at State of the Planet

What does climate change hold in store for European cities? Creating a guidebook for the future & Envisioning climate-friendly cities at Future Earth

Geopolicy: Combating plastic pollution – research, engagement and the EU Plastic Strategy by Chloe Hill at EGU’s GeoLog blog

How can studying the past, such as life in Maya cities, help the world to solve modern problems? See ‘Creating a guidebook to the future’ Credit: VoY-TeC (distributed via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

Climate Change Adaptation

What Land Will Be Underwater in 20 Years? Figuring It Out Could Be Lucrative by Brad Plumer at The New York Times

Why scientists have modelled climate change right up to the year 2300 by Dmitry Yumashev at The Conversation

Can Soil Help Combat Climate Change? By Renee Cho at State of the Planet

The Challenges of Drought Prediction by Zengchao Hao at Eos

What are the challenges of drought prediction? Credit: PublicDomainPictures/18042 images (distributed via Pixabay [CC0 1.0])

Education/communication

New Massive Open Online Course on Natural Disasters at Eos

Citizen outreach and river education in India by Beth Fisher at Little River Research

The Complex Interface between the Public and Science by Cary Funk at Scientific American

Volcanic risk

Rehearsing for eruptions by Jessica Ball at the AGU’s Magma Cum Laude

The Costs Of Waiting For A Volcano To Erupt by Dr Peter Ward at Forbes

Earthquake risk

78 seconds of Earthquake Early Warning by Austin Elliot at the AGU’s The Trembling Earth

Damage Assessment by Laser Could Focus Postearthquake Response by Laura G Shields at Eos

How do you plan for volcanic hazards? How much does it cost? Credit: Kanenori/260 images (distributed via Pixabay [CC0 1.0]). 

Disaster Risk

An emerging crisis? Valley blocking landslides in the Papua New Guinea highlands by Dave Petley at the AGU’s The Landslide Blog

Creeping danger: Landslide threatens Peruvian village, especially when the earth quakes by Jane Palmer at Earth Magazine

Geophysicists and atmospheric scientists partner to track typhoons’ seismic footprints at Science Daily

UN launches effort to collect data on disaster losses at UNISDR

External Opportunities

Online Course Environmental Justice starts 12 March at Earth System Governance

Call for Papers – 2018 Utrecht Conference on Earth System Governance at Earth System Governance

Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment Seeks Interns for Summer 2018 at State of the Planet

New and Returning Employers at All Ivy Career Fair Indicate Growth in the Sustainability Job Market at State of the Planet

Check back next month for more picks!

Follow Jesse Zondervan on Twitter: @JesseZondervan.
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@Geo_Dev) & Facebook.