Geology for Global Development


Are we ready for water stress? The potential locations for undiscovered water sources. Investment in earthquake resilience in Tokyo and China. That and more in Jesse Zondervan’s June 2019 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

Are we ready for water stress? The potential locations for undiscovered water sources. Investment in earthquake resilience in Tokyo and China. That and more in Jesse Zondervan’s June 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:

As temperatures in Europe surge, one may not find it difficult to imagine water will be in demand. However, nearly one-fifth of the world’s population lives in a stressed water basin. A study published in Nature Sustainability points towards the inflexibility of our water demands. To ensure resilience to climate-change driven droughts, we better start looking for opportunities to save or build elsewhere or look for other sources.

On a positive note, this month such a new source was found off the coast of the US Northeast. Mapping of the ocean floor with electromagnetic waves revealed aquifer of fresh water underneath the salty ocean, starting at 180 m beneath the seafloor, extending 50 miles to the edge of the continental shelf. Similar deep offshore aquifers might be waiting to be found elsewhere in the world.

Tokyo and Sichuan – Earthquake resilience in Asia

This week The Guardian explores Tokyo, naming it the world’s riskiest city and one of its most resilient. The scale of the city, its risks and its efforts to build resilience are evident in the way Tokyo deals with the prediction of day X. Experts estimate a 70% chance of a magnitude 7 hitting Tokyo before 2050. With the added pressure of the 2020 Olympics Tokyo is preparing evacuation plans, and decided to cut the number of spectators for the sailing event to be better able to deal with the tsunami risk.

Over in China, a magnitude 6 earthquake struck Sichuan this month. Professor Wei Shengji considers whether human activities might have increased seismic activity, a topic also discussed in South Korea’s Pohang where there seems to be no doubt a geothermal energy project is to blame. The impact of disaster risk reduction efforts is unmistakable in the case of Sichuan, where forward thinking and the installment of an earthquake early warning system saved hundreds.

More this month, how citizen scientists can help predict and prepare for disasters,  how airlines decide whether to fly near volcanoes and the challenge of dealing with the risk of tailings dam failures in the mining industry



Combination of water scarcity and inflexible demand puts world’s river basins at risk at UCI news

Scientists Map Huge Undersea Fresh-Water Aquifer Off U.S. Northeast by Kevin Krajick at State of the Planet


‘This is not a “what if” story’: Tokyo braces for the earthquake of a century by Daniel Hurst at The Guardian

Tokyo 2020 organisers cut crowds at sailing events over tsunami risk by Justin McCurry at The Guardian


Earthquake Early Warning System Saves Hundreds in Sichuan by Kristen Wang at The Nanjinger

Commentary: Is Sichuan more prone to earthquakes? By Wei Shengji at Cnannel News Asia

Climate Change Adaptation

Mountain-Dwellers Adapt to Melting Glaciers Without Necessarily Caring About Climate Change by Sarah Fecht at State of the Planet

Stanford-led study investigates how much climate change affects the risk of armed conflict by Devon Ryan at Stanford News

How Climate Change Impacts the Economy by Renee Cho at State of the Planet

Past climate change: A warning for the future? At ScienceDaily

Disaster Risk

How Qantas and other airlines decide whether to fly near volcanoes by Heather Handley and Christina Magill at The Conversation

Boston Built a New Waterfront Just in Time for the Apocalypse by Prashant Gopal and Brian K Sullivan

Risk and the mining industry after the Brumadinho tailings dam failure by Cate Lamb at global environmental disclosure charity CDP

Five ways in which disasters worsen air pollution at UN Environment

Citizen Scientists Can Help Predict and Prepare for Disasters by Jackie Ratner at State of the Planet

Future tsunamis possible in the Red Sea’s Gulf of Elat-Aqaba at ScienceDaily

Lessons from Pohang: Solving geothermal energy’s earthquake problem at ScienceDaily

External Opportunities

The APRU Multi-Hazards Program in collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is calling for research papers and case studies of “Non-Events” to share global success and investment in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)


Check back next month for more picks!

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

Friday Photo (90): Eruption at Sakurajima, Japan


An eruption at Sakurajima, in Japan on 25th July 2013. Explosions of this type occur almost daily at this volcano.

Our Friday Photos for the following few weeks will all be of volcanoes visited by Rick Wall during research for his PhD at UCL. Credit: Rick Wall

 (c) Geology for Global Development 2013

In the News (March 2013)

A look at some of the issues that have caught my eye in the news recently

Deep sea mining: Speculation surrounding the possibility of mining metal rich seafloor nodules has been going on for decades. These nodules grow slowly, so they adsorb high concentrations of metals from seawater, including the increasingly valuable rare earth metals. This resource has not been widely exploited before now because mineral deposits available on land are cheaper and easier to access. Last week, a British company secured a UN permit to explore a large area of the Pacific seafloor.

As geologists we know that the seafloor is home to a wide range of complex processes: redox gradients, bioturbation, microbial communities, mineral precipitation… Can we really be sure of the consequences if we remove significant volumes of metal rich nodules from the seafloor, cutting through and churning up the sediment? As well as environmental concerns, mining could potentially lead to political and economic problems. These nodules offer an untapped source of easy money, and along with it all of the same problems that the resource extraction industry on land faces. Who will get the profit? Which country has right to tax that particular bit of seafloor? Will the resources be managed and traded fairly? These questions need to be considered before we dive in to the modern gold rush.

Read more: BBC news article and a more detailed report from the Lloyds Register Educational Trust in collaboration with the University of Southampton .

Methane hydrates have been nicknamed “burning ice”
Source: USGS

Methane hydrates: Workers in Japan have successfully extracted natural gas from methane hydrates. The gas is pumped up from 300m below the seafloor in water depths of up to 1000 meters.

Natural gas extracted from methane hydrates is a novel energy source; one that could improve Japan’s energy security and reduce their dependence on imported gas. Japan’s internal energy production has dropped since they turned away from nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

There is a possibility that the difficult extraction process in these uncharted deep water territories could destabilise the methane deposits, allowing them to leak into the atmosphere before being converted to CO2. Methane is a far more effective greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, trapping up to 20 times as much heat over a hundred year timeframe.

Read more: Huffington post article 

World Water Day: This Friday is World Water Day. The Guardian are focussing on access to clean water in their monthly development podcast. You can contribute your ideas to the thread through comments on their article, or contact them through twitter or email. It would be great if we could together emphasise the need to incorporate good geoscience into water management programmes.

What can we Learn from the Great Eastern Japan Tsunami?

Over a year and a half on from the Great Eastern Japan Tsunami, and there are still boats lying overturned at the side of roads. Recovering from such a major national catastrophe is a slow process. We hope to be able learn from this tragedy and use it to lower vulnerability to future disasters, both in Japan and around the world’s coastlines.

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake on the 11th March 2011 was one of the largest five earthquakes on record. The shaking triggered a tsunami forty metres high that travelled as far as ten kilometres inland across Japan. Over fifteen thousand people lost their lives as a result.

Energy map of the March 2011 Pacific Ocean tsunami, originating off the East coast of Japan.
Source [NOAA]

Japan has a long history of earthquakes; records stretch back to 416AD. There are large earthquakes approximately once in a generation. The experience of the Japanese people means that they are better prepared for earthquakes and the associated tsunamis. The death toll could have been even higher if it were not for the collective awareness of the public.

The Hellenic arc in the Mediterranean experiences large, tsunami-generating earthquakes with a repeat time of ~800 years. How many people remember the last one, in 365 AD? A European tsunami today would result in a comparatively high death toll because neither the public nor the authorities would be prepared. Experience can be life saving.

Along Japan’s East coast large earthquakes do not always precede a tsunami, so some waves arrive without warning. Dan McKenzie and James Jackson, two prominent seismologists at the University of Cambridge, suggested that this is because a tsunami can be triggered by the accretionary wedge (the sediment that piles up above the plate boundary) ‘popping back up’. In 1896 a silent wave resulted in 22,000 deaths.  In 2011 the death rate was comparatively low, because the shaking acted as a natural early warning system.

However, there were factors in the 2011 event that worsened the death toll. The tsunami was higher than any in living history, and so many people relying on indicators of previous peak water height did not retreat far enough inland. People also put too much trust into engineered structures. In one case, a wall designed to block the wave was stationed directly in front of a hill. People could easily have climbed to higher ground but chose not to as they had faith in the engineered structure – and it failed.

One of the challenges in this region is designing buildings that are resistant to both earthquakes and tsunamis. The latest solution is to build composite structures where the lower floors are made from hard concrete, to protect against tsunamis, and the upper floors are built of lighter concrete or wood, to allow flexibility during earthquakes. The foundations must also go deeper and be more flexible in order to provide sufficient resistance.

The Japanese authorities are working to educate people about the best response, and what to expect, during a tsunami. They are distributing everyday items such as scarves with helpful information printed onto them. Such a scheme could easily be mimicked in developing countries as a cost effective way of informing people about natural hazards.

The vulnerability of a community to natural hazards can be reduced through collective experience and advanced preparation.

Anawat Suppasri, associate professor of tsunami risk evaluation at Tohoku University, demonstrating a tsunami information scarf