Geology for Global Development

Communication

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!

 

‘Pompeii’ by Robert Harris – A book review

The restored version of John Martin's Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum

The GfGD blog theme this month is science communication, and so regular blog contributor Heather Britton reviews a book which she believes contains some useful geological and human experience, in the form of a gripping novel.

The Geology for Global Development blog is not a site renowned for book reviews, but when a fiction book embraces geoscience as much as Robert Harris’s ‘Pompeii’ there are few reasons not to write about it on this platform. The book was recommended to me by my petrology professor at university, because, as she put it at the time, it is the only book she had ever read which quotes a geology textbook at the beginning of every chapter. Needing no further encouragement, I began reading, and I’m very glad that I did.

The book is set across the events leading up to, during and after the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Through the eyes of four starkly different members of Roman society – a hydraulic engineer, a scientist, a rich landowner and his daughter – the eruption is recorded in immense detail. As a reader it is clear that Robert Harris has done extensive research on the eruption, but inevitably some aspects, particularly the reactions and experiences of the characters individually, are filled in with more than a little artistic license. Nevertheless, the snippets from textbooks on Vesuvius at the beginning of each chapter match-up with the geological events of the story, reminding the reader that although the book is very much a work of fiction, the experiences had by the characters are representative of those of real people.

The protagonist of the book is Attilius, a hydraulic engineer sent from Rome to southern Italy to replace his predecessor, Exomnius, who has mysteriously gone missing. In the aftermath of an earthquake (an ominous warning sign of the tragedy to follow) the main aquaduct supplying water to the region is damaged, and Attilius is sent out to repair it. It is whilst taking on this endeavour that unusual events begin to occur, both social and geological, with the climax of the action coinciding with the eruption that has made Pompeii famous today. Despite every reader being aware of what the various events described in the book are leading up to, there is more than enough fiction in the story to make the tale far from predictable, with the case of the missing Exomnius taking centre stage and the eruption acting as a dramatic backdrop –and catalyst – of these events.

A further aspect of the books that I enjoyed was the authentic feel of the region around Vesuvius, including the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Misenum. At school I dropped history as soon as I was given the opportunity, but even with only the most basic historical knowledge I found the book very accessible. Robert Harris does well not to overwhelm the reader with incomprehensible Roman terminology and instead the difference between today’s society and that of this era are drip-fed. I found myself learning about the culture of the Romans without realising I was doing so, and appreciate the insight into this ancient civilisation.

And why have I forced a book review upon GfGD blog readers? This month’s blog topic is science communication, and Robert Harris provides an excellent example of how science can be appreciated through works of fiction. ‘Pompeii’ picks out the links between various geological events, such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and combines them with a gripping fictional tale showing the impact that these events have on individuals. I am certain that this text wouldn’t be out of place on the bookshelf of any avid reader of the GfGD blog.

When are Californian earthquakes coming back with vengeance? How does climate-change-induced flooding increase inequality? Lessons from Cyclone Idai; that and more in Jesse Zondervan’s April 2019 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

Aftermath damage of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906

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:

California seems to be overdue for earthquakes, meaning there has been a so-called earthquake ‘drought’ in the last century. Paleoseismic studies show that this hiatus is unprecedented in the last ten centuries. This means we might see a high frequency of earthquakes coming this century, while a generation who hasn’t experienced any major earthquake has passed.

Furthermore, a related article in the San Francisco Chronicle reports the US Geological Survey projects a major quake along the San Andreas Fault would cause more than 98 billion in building damage and kill up to 7,800 people. The main threat, however, is the aftermath with loss of power for at least three days and half of households without water for at least a month. The study highlights the importance of preparing the population for a quake and its aftermath.

Fortunately, this month also saw the publication of a Californian record of two million tiny earthquakes detected by Caltech scientists. This tenfold increase in the earthquake catalogue tells them more about how faults and earthquakes work and get triggered. Greg Beroza, a Stanford University seismologist says “It’s just like if a new telescope comes along and its magnification is 10 times greater”.

Can climate-change induced flooding increase inequality?

The answer seems to be yes, in fact it does. A report published by the Urban Institute in the US showed that people with poor credit scores suffered bigger drops in scores than those starting with high scores. While home-owners receive insurance pay-outs, costs to renters only increase due to increased demand after major storms.

Similarly the New York City Panel on Climate Change reports climate change is affecting everyday life in New York today, and will hit the poorest neighbourhoods in the future.

Consequently, social vulnerability should be considered when risk is modelled and funding allocated, according to RMS flood specialist Nicole Howe.

 

More perspectives this month on the aftermath and lessons from Cyclone Idai which struck southern Africa in March; the challenge of religious resignation to building resilience against natural hazards in Indonesia and what the new bill on the US National Volcano Warning System means to disaster risk reduction.

Go ahead and look through this month’s picks!

Aftermath and Response to Cyclone Idai

Cyclone Idai shows why long-term disaster resilience is so crucial by Channing Arndt and Claudia Ringler at The Conversation

Cyclone Idai is over – but its health effects will be felt for a long time by Kerrigan McCarthy and Lucille Blumberg at The Conversation

Responding To Cyclone Idai requires a more robust approach by Peter Kamalingin at Oxfam International

Earthquake risk in California

Reassessing California’s Overdue Earthquake Tab by Mary Caperton Morton at Eos Earth & Space Science News

What a major earthquake would do to San Francisco by Kimberley Veklerov at the San Francisco Chronicle

Scientists Uncover California’s Hidden Earthquakes by Shannon Hall at Scientific American

Flooding and inequality

How natural disasters can increase inequality by Gretchen Frazee at PBS

States are turning to data and interactive maps to help residents confront and manage flood risks by Shannon Cunniff at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)

Disaster Risk Reduction: Avoiding the Inevitable by Nicola Howe at RMS

New York’s Poor and Ethnic Minority Neighbourhoods to be hit hardest by Climate Change finds NYC Panel on Climate Change by Will Bugler at Acclimatise

Climate Adaptation

7 American cities that could disappear by 2100 by Aria Bendix at Business Insider

Improving Water Resources Management with Satellite Data by Aaron Sidder at EOS Earth and Space Science News

Central America: Climate, Drought, Migration and the Border by Lieutenant Commander Oliver-Leighton Barrett at The Center for Climate & Security

Disaster Risk Reduction

Living with natural disasters – how to change Indonesia’s culture of passive resignation by Juliana Wijaya at The Conversation

Major geological survey hopes to make Indonesia more resistant to deadly tsunamis by Tim Pilgrim at Brunel University London

Hurricane Harvey provides lessons learned for flood resiliency plans at ScienceDaily

US National Volcano Warning System Gains Steam by Forrest Lewis at Eos Earth & Space Science News

External Opportunities

Register for Science and Policy Forum of 2019 Global Platform for DRR at Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR)

The Art of Resilience – Call for art helping build society’s resilience to natural hazards at GFDRR

Register to attend or watch online – Disasters: impact on child poverty and development at the Overseas Development Institute

Teaching Assistantship Applications Open for Sustainable Development Undergraduate Courses at the Earth Institute, Columbia University

Summer 2019 Teaching Assistantship Available in Environmental Science and Policy Program at the Earth Institute, Columbia University

 

Check back next month for more picks!

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

Planning for future cyclone Idais; Cloud seeding in the Philippines; Climate Change Getting you Down? This and more in Jesse Zondervan’s March 2019 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

rain drops on leaf

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:

The UN World Meteorological Organization called cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique this month, “possibly the worst weather-related disaster to hit the southern hemisphere”. Civil Engineering professor Ryan P. Mulligan discusses what climate science tells us about the future of storms like this.

Cyclone Idai paralysed the city of Beira and is a reminder that communities can really benefit from more investment in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

On that note, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction announced that experts and representatives from 33 countries agreed to establish a Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI). The coalition targets the challenge of safeguarding infrastructure against climate change enhanced disaster risks, as our dependency on infrastructure increases in the 21st century.

Cloud Seeding

As Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan discusses whether cloud seeding is a viable solution for drought, the Filipino Department of Agriculture announces it will start using the geoengineering technique in areas hit by El Niño.

Rather than geoengineering the climate, cloud seeding is a softer approach to force water out of clouds, which need to be present before cloud seeding can work. The Philippines might offer an insightful example.

Further topics include the exciting climate solutions pioneered by African leaders, laid bare by an expedition on Mount Kenya; and coping strategies for climate change anxieties.

Cyclone Idai

Coalition for Resilient Infrastructure takes off by Denis McClean at UNISDR

Hurricanes to deliver a bigger punch to coasts by Ryan P. Mulligan at The Conversation

Cyclone Idai: why disaster awareness and preparedness matters at the United Nations Environment

Climate Adaptation

Mount Kenya: A View of Climate Impacts and Opportunities at The World Bank

Cloud Seeding, Will It Save Us From Drought? – OpEd by Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan at Eurasia Review

Filipino Department of Agriculture to start cloud seeding by Eireene Jairee Gomez at Manila Times

Climate Change Getting You Down? Here Are Some Coping Strategies by Sarah Fecht at State of the Planet

How to make effective climate policies? Make citizens lead by Kiara Worth at the Tyndall Centre

Novel tool unveiled for climate risk profiling and adaptation at the Climate and Development Knowledge Network

Climate change

Mapped: How climate change affects extreme weather around the world at Carbon Brief

Disaster Risk

78% of older teenagers in Japan anxious about natural disasters, survey says by Magdalena Osumi at the Japan Times

Himalayan hydro developers wilfully ignore climate risks by Beth Walker at India Climate Dialogue

The Dangers of Glacial Lake Floods: Pioneering and Capitulation by Jane Palmer at American Geophysical Union’s Eos

External Opportunities

Deadline for Submitting Voluntary Commitments approaching at UNISDR

Summer 2019 Internship Opportunities at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment

Summer 2019 Earth Institute Internship Opportunities

African Climate Risks Conference 2019

Vacant PhD positions in Sustainability Science at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies

 

Check back next month for more picks!

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