Geology for Global Development

Communication

#EGU15 – Some Sessions of Interest (1) – Education, Communication and Ethics

We’re expecting a strong GfGD presence again at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in 2015. We note below a number of relevant sessions that our readers may like to get involved with.

Deadline for abstracts is 7th January 2015.

Teaching Landslide Dynamics in Ladakh (India).  Credit: Geology for Global Development

Teaching Landslide Dynamics in Ladakh (India).
Credit: Geology for Global Development

NH9.4/EOS19
**Natural Hazards Education, Communications and Policy-Practice Interface**
This session addresses how we communicate and educate students, the public, policy makers, and practitioners about natural hazards. Although we welcome all contributions in this topic, we are particularly interested in: (i) The communication (by scientists, engineers, the press, civil protection, government agencies, and a multitude other agencies) of natural hazards risk and uncertainty to the general public and other government officials; (ii) Approaches that address barriers and bridges in the science-policy-practice interface that hinder and support application of hazard-related knowledge; (iii) The teaching of natural hazards to university and lower-level students, using innovative techniques to promote understanding. We also are specifically interested in distance education courses on themes related to hazard and risk assessment, and disaster risk management, and in programmes for training in developing countries. We therefore solicit abstracts, particularly dynamic posters, on all aspects of how we communicate and educate the better understanding of natural hazards. The ability to have graphic screens at poster sessions is available (if pre-ordered through EGU), as is a location to put hands-on demonstrations or other material. We are initially planning poster (or a PICO) session, combined with opportunity for those who want to orally present to the rest of the group, and ample time for discussion.

EOS8
**Geoethics for Society – General Aspects and Case Studies in Geosciences**
Geoethics consists of research and reflection on the values which underpin appropriate behaviours and practices, wherever human activities interact with the geosphere. Geoethics deals with the ethical, social and cultural implications of Earth Sciences education, research and practice, and with the social role and responsibility of geoscientists in conducting their activities. As scholars and experts on some of the most urgent problems affecting our planet, geoscientists can play a fundamental role in society, thanks to their unique range of skills, by helping to meet human needs and address environmental problems at the local and global scale, and by providing information and expert advice to support informed decision-making and public debate. Education, at all levels, must be re-oriented to give 21st century citizens a better understanding of natural systems and our interactions with them, and to equip them to participate in debate about the challenges of living equitably and sustainably on our planet. Geoscientists have a great deal to contribute to this re-orientation. The conveners invite abstracts on both practical and theoretical aspects of Geoethics, including case studies. The aim of the session is to develop ethical and social perspectives on the challenges arising from human interaction with natural systems, to complement technical approaches and solutions, and to help to define an ethical framework for geoscientists’ research and practice in addressing these challenges.

EOS12
**Geoscientists as Communicators**
Communication of the scientific process and its subsequent results is done to achieve a variety of objectives depending on the stakeholders involved: from generating awareness and stimulating interest in children to influencing policy and practice at national and international levels. Giving the numerous fields that the geosciences encompass, the complexity of the subjects and issues and the debate they can spark, and the variety of audiences that can be targeted, good communication is vital and as such there is a need to develop and share ways of communicating and measuring the impacts of communication and outreach efforts provided by our community. In this session we invite applied and theoretical contributions that cover the following topics: (1) Should geoscientists act as communicators? (2) Communication in practice and (3) Evaluation of communication. We particularly encourage submissions of examples of communication initiatives (via any type of tools from websites to lectures and exhibitions), whether successful or ineffective, to encourage shared learning and development towards best practice. To allow meaningful discussions and debates, we encourage geoscientists from all fields as well as journalists and communication experts to submit an abstract in our session.

#EGU15 – Natural Hazards Education, Communications and Science-Policy-Practice Interface

#EGU15 – Natural Hazards Education, Communications and Science-Policy-Practice Interface

Below we’ve listed details of a session that will be of interest to many of you at the EGU General Assembly, in Vienna, next spring. Many postgraduates and academic staff from across the UK and beyond attend this event, sharing details of the latest research they have been doing. The convenors of this session, including GfGD Director Joel Gill and GfGD Leeds Ambassador Ekbal Hussain, are keen to gather those interested in natural hazards to share experiences relating to education, communications and policy/practice. If you’re planning on attending EGU, why not submit an extra poster and get involved in what will be a lively and interactive session.

“Natural Hazards Education, Communications and Science-Policy-Practice Interface”

Conveners: Bruce D. Malamud, Joel Gill, Ekbal Hussain, Marie Charrière, Solmaz Mohadjer, Faith Taylor

Teaching Landslide Dynamics in Ladakh (India).  Credit: Geology for Global Development

Teaching Landslide Dynamics in Ladakh (India).
Credit: Geology for Global Development

This session addresses how we communicate and educate students, the public, policy makers, and practitioners about natural hazards. Although we welcome all contributions in this topic, we are particularly interested in:

  1. Approaches that address barriers and bridges in the science-policy-practice interface that hinder and support application of hazard-related knowledge.
  2. The communication (by scientists, engineers, the press, civil protection, government agencies, and a multitude other agencies) of natural hazards risk and uncertainty to the general public and other government officials.
  3. The teaching of natural hazards to university and lower-level students, using innovative techniques to promote understanding.

We also are specifically interested in distance education courses on themes related to hazard and risk assessment, and disaster risk management, and in programmes for training in developing countries. We therefore solicit abstracts, particularly dynamic posters, on all aspects of how we communicate and educate the better understanding of natural hazards.

The ability to have graphic screens at poster sessions is available (if pre-ordered through EGU), as is a location to put hands-on demonstrations or other material. We are initially planning poster (or a PICO) session, combined with opportunity for those who want to orally present to the rest of the group, and ample time for discussion.

Details and Abstract Submission: http://meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EGU2015/session/18749

Field Research in Guatemala (3) – Environmental Hazards at Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan (Credit: Joel Gill)

Lake Atitlan (Credit: Joel Gill)

Today Joel Gill (GfGD Founding Director) continues his live reporting from Guatemala, whilst undertaking interdisciplinary field research relating to natural hazards and disaster risk reduction. This fieldwork forms part of a NERC/ESRC funded PhD, supervised by staff in the Department of Geography at King’s College London

Lake Atitlan is a beautiful location, created by a significant volcanic eruption around 85,000 years ago. As large amounts of volcanic material was erupted, the surface load became too great and it collapsed inwards, creating a depression known as a caldera. This depression soon filled with water, and three new volcanoes developed: San Pedro (believed extinct), Toliman (believed dormant) and Atitlan (active/dormant). These processes have created a dynamic and beautiful landscape, creating a location popular with international and Guatemalan tourists today.

Lake Atitlan (Credit: Joel Gill)

Lake Atitlan (Credit: Joel Gill)

As idyllic as the images above look, however, there are a range of environmental hazards currently impacting this region. Guatemala is susceptible to many natural hazards (hence me being here!), including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, floods, tropical storms and hurricanes, heat waves, droughts and geotechnical failure. There are though some unusual hazards around Atitlan that are disrupting the lives of local communities.

There is a limited scientific literature on these hazards around Lake Atitlan (with much more work to be done). What I have found very interesting, however, is the amount of information that I have been able to gather through informal interviews with those who have lived there for decades (including the information passed down by their parents and grandparents) and the differences in ideas, reasoning and understanding conveyed. It is the information from these conversations that I’ve noted below and focused this article on. A few simple discussions with people who have observed change around them can enhance the design of research and formation of hypotheses. I’d definitely recommend interested individuals explore what has been written in the published literature to complement the ‘stories’ outlined below:

Rising Waters of Lake Atitlan (Credit: Joel Gill)

Rising Waters of Lake Atitlan (Credit: Joel Gill)

Rising Waters in Lake Atitlan

The first issue, evident to anybody visiting the area, is the rising water inundating houses close to the shoreline. Through a series of interviews it was suggested that the water has a cyclical rise and fall (with the last high about 50 years ago), and has been doing so for as long as people have a collective memory. This understanding has benefited many of those whose families have lived around the lake for generations, they have chosen to build their properties up the slopes and away from the shore. Many tourists, however, have constructed bars, cafes and hotels close to the lake edge and found out the hard way over the past few years why this is not always a good idea.

What reasons did people put forward as to why this was happening? Although my interviews were not extensive, not once did anybody mention the possibility of it being related to volcanic activity in the area (which the Lonely Planet guide suggests is a ‘more authoritative theory’). Instead opinion centred on two key factors (i) an increase in sediment entering the lake (due to deforestation, landsliding, and agriculture), and (ii) the interaction between the lake water and groundwater. The two theories are indeed linked, with the idea that increased sedimentation blocks the fractures that allow natural drainage out of the lake into groundwater aquifers (the only major output of water). Further evidence of this relationship comes from the significant drop in lake level after the 1976 earthquake, likely due to new fractures opening up facilitating drainage.

(As a side note, it is interesting that the Lonely Planet promotes the volcanic theory as being an authoritative explanation, I’m struggling to find any published material on this theory – so do leave a link to a paper if you come across one!)

Cyanobacterial Blooms

A second significant issue in the region is the relatively recent development of an annual cyanobacterial film across the lake. Those I was interviewing suggested this happened almost always in October (the end of rainy season), and had occurred annually for the past 3-5 years (there is published work suggested an initial bloom was observed in 2008 and a larger one in 2009). They also noted that prior to this, they remember the lake being very clean and not seeing such pollution. In their opinion the bloom was linked with a decrease in fish, as well as negative impacts on human health.

The cause of the bloom was attributed by some interviewees to a sharp increase in motor boats on the lake, with the resulting oil/petrol input generating the bloom. This contrasts with some of the literature that is worth exploring a bit more. Global Nature named Lake Atitlan the ‘most threatened lake of the year’ in 2009 because of the bloom. In their report they note the sudden increase in raw sewage entering the lake after a treatment plan was destroyed during Hurricane Stan. They also note a big problem with litter and uncontrolled waste deposition in the area. Waste leachate, agricultural fertilisers and sewage enter the lake, and promote the development of cyanobacteria through the process of eutrophication. It is interesting to note the much broader, holistic explanation of the blooms (incorporating multiple facets) given by the conservation agencies and academics – in contrast with the ‘single-point’ causes often raised by individuals.

Some Reflections

Interviewing prior to starting research can be a fascinating (at times difficult) thing to do. It often raises more questions than it answers, and it can only ever be part of an investigation into something such as an environmental hazard. It is, however, a very valuable use of time and effort. Through these introductory interviews I learnt information I couldn’t find anywhere else, developed a set of questions to ask other people and had some thoroughly enjoyable discussions centred around applied geoscience that helped to promote sustainability and hazards education.

The example of the cyanobacteria in particular highlights the room for more public education and the limitations of just relying on non-expert interviews, good scientific fieldwork and analysis is also required. However, the latter things are normally our strengths as geologists and the interviewing a rarely practised skill. There is so much to gain from an informal interview process – especially when in a context, setting and culture that is new. It can be a powerful tool for education and understanding, in both directions (researcher-interviewee).