Geology for Global Development


Jesse Zondervan’s January 2019 #GfGDpicks: which climate adaptation methods are on the rise in 2019?

Jesse Zondervan’s January 2019 #GfGDpicks: which climate adaptation methods are on the rise in 2019?

Each month, Jesse Zondervan picks his favourite posts from geoscience and development blogs/news which cover the geology for global development interest. This past month’s picks include:  Why it’s so hard to predict tsunamis, which climate adaptation methods are on the rise in 2019 & opportunities for scientists to solve local challenges with Thriving Earth Exchange.  

Plastic waste in the oceans and on beaches visibly smashes itself back in our faces to trouble our consciences after attempts to dump and hide the consequences of human waste-production. The size of our triggered guilt aside, how does our plastic problem quantitively compare in scale to the problem of carbon dioxide emission? You may be surprised, or not.

More significantly, climate adaptation, rather than prediction or prevention, takes the foreground at the start of 2019. In a long-read worth having a cup of tea over, National Geographic reports ways of adaptation gaining steam, such as the American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange, a sort of tinder for scientists and communities facing challenges related to natural resources, climate change and natural hazards issue (see whether you can help!).

“The American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange, a sort of tinder for scientists and communities facing challenges related to natural resources, climate change and natural hazards issues”

In addition, consider the following about adaptation: if you want to built a sustainable water-energy-food nexus, how do you manage or cope with migration? After all, even though development efforts might be thwarted, migration is a very efficient coping mechanism. Tellingly, both America and Bangladesh have started relocating flooded communities.

In disaster risk, we are looking back at 2018:

When a tsunami triggered by a landslide caused by the Anak Krakatau eruption in Indonesia bypassed the tsunami-warning system put in place to warn for earthquake-induced tsunamis, the world was once more reminded of our inability to predict all hazards, and its consequences.

However, studies like the one which uncovered a historic South China Sea tsunami from the geological record help to dust off our hazy memories of such events. Timely, since large infrastructural projects like the Belt and Road initiative are in full swing planning harbours and nuclear plant locations.

While insurance company Munich Re captured the world’s natural disasters of 2018, the fourth-costliest year since 1980, in numbers, the Bank of England plans to test climate resilience of UK banks.

As usual, there is a lot to check out, so go ahead!

Climate Adaptation

Once derided, ways of adapting to climate change are gaining steam by Andrew Revkin at National Geographic

Water – Energy – Food – Migration Nexus

Water-Migration nexus and the human displacement discourse by Nidhi Nagabhatla at Future Earth blog

Hike in record-dry months for Africa’s Sahel worries scientists by Laurie Goering at BRACED

How technology is helping farmers predict and prepare for El Niño by Michael Hailu at Thomson Reuters Foundation

Sea-level migration

In first, Native American tribe displaced by sea gets land to relocate by Sebastien Malo at Thomson Reuters Foundation

Bangladesh lends land to islanders as water devours homes by Rafiqul Islam at Thomson Reuters Foundation

Bracing for climate change – a matter of survival for the Maldives by Hartwig Schafer at End Poverty in South Asia

Climate Change

The Ocean Garbage Patch Is Tiny Compared to Our Carbon Footprint by Sarah Burns at State of the Planet

Disaster Risk

Why the ‘Child of Krakatau’ volcano is still dangerous – a volcanologist explains by Thomas Giachetti at The Conversation

The Anak Krakatau Tsunami, from the Beginning until Now by Dana Hunter at Scientific American

Scientists say a tsunami hit China 1,000 years ago – and there’s still a risk of a giant wave hitting today by Martin Choi at the South China Morning Post

The natural disasters of 2018 in figures by Petra low at Munich Re

Bank of England plants to test climate resilience of UK banks at Acclimatise

External Opportunities

CfP – 2019 Mexico Conference on Earth System Governance

Multiple positions in the field of climate adaptation governance (post-doc and doctoral researchers)

Seeking Book Proposals on Water, Green Infrastructure, Climate Change Adaptation, and Public Health


Check back next month for more picks!

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

Blog Competition (Highly Commended) – Ekbal Hussain: In the Name Of Allah, the Most Merciful

541489_10151445593846464_1329303192_nFor our Blog Competition 2013, we asked for people to submit articles addressing one of two topics.  Ekbal’s article discusses the role of religion in disaster management, and his entry was highly commended by our judging panel.

Ekbal is currently a PhD student at the University of Leeds. His work involves geodetic monitoring of strain accumulation along the North Anatolian Fault in Turkey. Ekbal received a Ba and MSci in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University. He has a strong interest in science communication and works as the social media outreach coordinator for the Climate and Geohazard Services (CGS) based at Leeds. Ekbal has also worked closely with Geology for Global Development in the past through our University Groups in both Cambridge and Leeds.


The relationship between religion and natural hazards is nothing new. Religion plays an important role in how societies and cultures view and respond to disasters. However, very often religious customs and beliefs are ignored by people when approaching disaster risk and response.

The science


The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hits a beach in Thailand. Credit: Wikicommons

The ‘Boxing Day tsunami’ was a result of a magnitude 9.2 earthquake, one of the largest ever recorded in the instrumental period, off the western coast of Indonesia. The earthquake occurred on a plate boundary where the Indo-Australian plate is subducting beneath the Indonesian arc. The ruptured fault was nearly 1200km long with an average displacement of around 20-30m. This sudden offset of the sea floor resulted in a devastating tsunami. Most of the ~225,000 recorded deaths were due to this tsunami. The people of Banda Aceh, the provincial capital of Sumatra, reported the highest percentage of fatalities.


The religion

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation with 87.2% of its 237 million people following the Islamic faith (2010 figures). The Islamic religion is not unaware of earthquakes. Sura 99 in the Qur’an is titled ‘The Earthquake’. The first eight verses speak of the events preceding the Day of Judgement. Najeeb-ur-Rrahman, an imam at the World Islamic Mission in Oslo, explains: “Major earthquakes will take place. The whole universe will collapse. Everything will be laid to waste. Everything will pass away.” 

It is no surprise then that the 2004 disasters caused many people to look for solace in their religion.

Twenty nine year old Sinta, an English graduate, used to love listening to Boyzone and wear jeans and tight tops. ‘But when I saw on television what happened, I promised to God I would be a good Muslim until the end of my life. Since the tsunami, I’ve dressed properly and prayed five times a day.’

Mahudin was Banda Aceh’s best known comedian. ‘Art is nonsense, it’s nothing, trivial, worthless. I am going to be a preacher or something.’

Mahudin and Sinta were not alone in this change of thought. Across the world many people from various religions saw the disaster as a wake up call to correct their ways and come back to God.

In Aceh, the survival of mosques in destroyed villages was seen as an injunction from Allah to pray.


In Turtuk, Kashmir, the local mosque was one of the only buildings left standing after a devastating flood. A second mosque is now being built in the town. Credit: Rosalie Tostevin

So why do we see this pattern? I believe that people seek answers to events that have had a profound impact on their lives and the people around them in things they are familiar with. Religion is ideal in this respect. It provides an answer, in that the disaster was God testing one’s faith or punishing the sinners. All He requires in return for peace and solace is faith. Village leader Bunchia answers: ‘It was God putting us to the test. He is trying to make people better. If we are not tested, we can never improve.’

Religion, therefore, plays a pivotal role in people’s approach to comprehending a disaster. Organisations out in the field after such events must be aware of the sensitive nature of some religious customs in their post-disaster recovery and aid work.

Perhaps this is also an opportunity for us to get simple hazard concepts and ideas to the rural populations in these countries? I believe it is time we increased our efforts for disaster risk education and raising awareness through mosque imams.


Recommended Reading

The end is Nigh: A History of Natural Disasters, 2009 – Henrik Svensen

An in depth article in the Guardian from Jason Burke


In the News (June 2013)

We highlight some of the items that have caught our eye in the news recently


Volcanic History

Smoke escapes from Mt Etna. Credit: Robin Wylie

In a recent study, published in IOP Science, Irish historical records were used to trace the impact of volcanic eruptions on climate over a 1200 year period. Geological events are recorded by geochemical proxies and physical changes within the rocks – these are the lines of evidence that geologists are trained to interpret. It is important to remember, however, that any changes at the Earth’s surface that affect humans, such as natural disasters and changes in climate, will be recorded in historical records too. Working alongside historians can help us to understand the behavioural patterns of dynamic features such as volcanoes.

You can read the research paper or the BBC article explaining the importance of the findings.

There are multiple different ways that people can die as a result of a volcanic eruption. They include the direct effects of the hot ash and poisonous gases, as well as the knock-on effects such as mud flows resulting from rapid melting of glaciers.

The BBC explain these here.


Oil and Natural Gas in East Africa

Sudan and South Sudan are no strangers to oil and gas exploitation, but the rest of East Africa has never had a large resource sector. Recent sizeable finds in five East African countries (Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and Madagascar) will undoubtedly affect the whole region. The US Energy Information Administration, who provide independent statistics and analysis, have released a report on oil and natural gas in East Africa.


Metal or Water – which would you rather have?

Clean water is becoming an increasingly precious resource – so why are we letting some water supplies become contaminated by mining companies in pursuit of metals? The people of El Salvador have been asking this question loudly, and they may become the first country to permanently ban metal mining from their land. This move would be welcomed by the majority of the population, who have witnessed the San Sebastian river run orange as it has been polluted through acid mine drainage.

Meera Karunananthan writes more about this issue in an article for the guardian.


Hearing tsunamis

We may not be able to predict earthquakes, but we could potentially use earthquakes to predict tsunamis. Researchers at Stanford University have studied the waveforms produced by the 2011 Japanese undersea earthquake. They believe that if the waveforms had been properly interpreted at the time, they would have known to expect a large tsunami, allowing early warning systems around the coastline to be activated sooner.

You can read the report here.

GfGD at #EGU2013: Day one

The GfGD team have landed in Vienna for the European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2013! You can find Joel (GfGD Director), Rosalie (GfGD Blog Manager) and Faith (GfGD University Groups Officer) in sessions on hazards, water and climate (see our schedule highlights for the general plan!). We will be tweeting and blogging about the latest research from the press centre.

Hard at work in the EGU press centre

Dangerous Phenomena

I spent the morning in session 9.12, which included talks from a range of people involved in modelling dangerous phenomena; from lightning strikes on equipment that cannot afford to undergo failure, such as facilities at the Atomic Weapons Establishment, to the effect a nuclear war would have on agriculture.

Stuart Fraser, a geographer now based in the department of Civil Engineering at UCL, has been working with the GNS tsunami team to optimise evacuation planning for local tsunami hazards in New Zealand. His talk was a great example of integration of social and geophysical data, and we chatted to him more after the session.

The south coast of New Zealand is seismically active, and some earthquakes are capable of generating tsunamis. However, the repeat time of major tsunamis is unclear. There is some palaeo-seismic evidence suggesting they could be as infrequent as every 600 years, but other evidence suggests a repeat time of 70 years, with the last event being in 1947.

“With such a  short recorded history, we don’t really have a handle on when the next one will occur”

New Zealand is somewhat prepared for a tsunami hazard: they have evacuation maps drawn up, warning systems in place and there are good channels of communication with the public. However, there are gaps in structural building codes that could expose some people to higher risks unnecessarily.

The basic protocol after a tsunami warning is to move people to higher ground. This could mean a skyscraper that has been deemed structurally sound, or a nearby hill, or even a purpose built artificial platform.

Stuart’s group are working on a complex model that integrates data on geophysical hazards with social data such as demographics and traffic flow, to determine the shortest time to reach a safe location and define the optimal places to take refuge.

“This model is still in development, the least evacuation time model has been used in the US, and I’m working with the geographers at the USGS that developed that.

“In Japan they have put in a community engagement programme as they are further down the line than we are in New Zealand. They have the go ahead to build an artificial platform, in an area where there is no existing safe evacuation route. We see this as a good model for New Zealand.

“These models take a lot of time and computational power to put together. The pot of money that is required to do a full probabilistic study, rather than just planning for the largest event, even some local councils in New Zealand do not have the budget for, so we have to do the best we can with the resources available.

Models this complex that integrate social and geophysical factors give people the greatest chance of survival in a tsunami. They are only available in places that can afford to fund this level of research. Tsunami hazard zones in developing countries such as Sri Lanka and India do not have the same level of protection.

Could climate change increase thunderstorms and in-flight turbulence?

This afternoon’s EGU press conference focussed on some of the lesser known effects of a changing climate.

Eberhard Faust (left) and Paul Williams (right) brief the press on some of the more subtle impacts of climate change at #EGU2013

The cumulative effects of subtle responses of the Earth to a changing climate can be just as devastating as headline grabbing disasters.  Some of the effects of a changing climate will be unpredictable and unexpected.

Fear of flying? Climate change is intensifying the jet stream, resulting in more in-flight turbulence. Trans-Atlantic flights could be bumpier by the middle of this century. Stats suggest that there could be a 10% increase in “greater turbulence” – shaking at the more extreme end of the scale. Put it this way, the captain would have to take more action that just switching on the seatbelt sign. Turbulence can lead to injuries and so flights may have to take alternative routes. This would result in more fuel consumption, and yes, even more greenhouse gases – what geologists like to call a positive feedback. We could also see rising flight costs, making it harder to nip over to California for a conference…

Read Paul Williams and Manoj Joshis paper here, published today in Nature Climate Change.

In another paper in Nature Climate Change, Eberhard Faust has mapped economic losses from thunderstorms since 1970, and thinks that a rise in humidity is increasing environments that nurture thunderstorms. In 2011, losses from thunderstorms in the US were on a par with the damage caused by hurricane Sandy.  The trend is consistent with an anthropogenic warming forcing.

Who knows what other effects of a changing climate may await us?


It’s great to see so many young geoscientists presenting their research in the poster sessions. We’ve been talking to people about a range of topics, including Active tectonics, crustal deformation in Africa, modelling of dangerous phenomena, vulnerability assessments and the societal implications of seismic hazards.