Wednesday, 30 November 2011

In the News: Central and Latin America

The BBC have a number of very interesting stories on their news website relating to Central and South America, with three out of four of them related to legal and illegal gold mining:

NICARAGUA: How rainwater harvesting is helping Nicaraguan farmers... The construction of small earth dams to collect and store rainwater in the wet season is having significant benefits to crop-growers.

GUYANA: How Guyana gold mining threatens its green future... the conflicting prioritisation between economic growth and environmental protection.

PERU: Peru protests at huge Conga gold mine in Cajamarca... Concerns over water and envionmental pollution lead to protests in Peru over potentially lucrative gold mining, despite assurances by the company that they will meet strict environmental procedures and construct modern sustainable reservoirs for local communities.

COLUMBIA: Illegal gold rush sees Colombia's drug barons cash in... The high price of golf means armed drugs gangs are trying to influence and develop illegal mines in Columbia.

Monday, 28 November 2011

GfGD Careers Page

GfGD have a new page on their main website entitled 'Careers' which aims to support geoscience students in the UK to explore options for life after undergraduate courses. The careers page, which will be expanded and developed over time, will give information about possible MSc courses, career profiles and link to any interesting jobs we see advertised.

Last week GfGD uploaded a PDF Information Sheet onto the website with links to a number of MSc courses along the broad theme of 'Hazards, Risk and Disaster Management.' Over the next couple of weeks more of these information sheets will be attached to this page, related to other broad themes (such as hydrogeology, water management and water for developing countries; engineering geology and geotechnics).

For those thinking of studying for an MSc as their next step - it is worth spending some time in the near future looking at websites, getting more information and making applications. Funding is currently not easy to obtain, but many universities do have some general scholarships you can apply to (often awarded on academic merit). Deadlines for these can be fairly early on in the academic year, so spend some time researching soon.

We're also very interested to hear from anybody who has done an MSc, and would like to write a brief review/outline for the blog.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Friday Photo (10) - Small-Scale Mining (Tanzania)

We are well into our Friday Photo series, highlighting the work of geologists and the impacts of their work. Don't forget - if you have a photo you want to share - contact GfGD.

A small scale working of fairly high quality fine-grained sand

(c) Geology for Global Development 2011

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Country Focus: Democratic Republic of Congo

This month, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are holding general elections for only the second time in around forty years. This huge country, around two thirds the size of western Europe, has been in the news for many reasons in recent years - mainly as a result of the conflict and civil war. It borders with several other countries, including Rwanda. Much of the tensions, fighting and genocide in this country have spilled over into the DRC, making increasing and contributing to their problems. The country's significant mineral resources have contributed to this conflict - with groups of militia fighting for control over resources such as diamonds, coltan, copper and gold. 

The inability of the government to establish law and order and fight corruption means they have not harnessed the wealth of the country's vast resources for the benefit of the nation - improving healthcare, education and infrastructure. This has contributed to the country having a life expectancy more than 20 years below the world's average, infant mortality more than two and half times greater than the rest of the world and an adult literacy rate well above the global average.

Source: Cai Tjeenk Willink
Adding to the problems of the country are the natural hazards that the country face. In 2002, for example, a volcanic eruption close to the town of Goma killed dozens of people and associated earthquakes caused further damage. Floods, droughts and landslides are also relevant hazards.

The BBC News have a very helpful article discussing the DRC on their website. One quote within the article that stands out particularly, and which is worth reflecting on:
"While DR Congo is clearly a failed state, Congolese society has not failed. On the contrary it is strong, vibrant, dynamic, tolerant and generous. People have a sense of taking charge of their own destinies."

Monday, 21 November 2011

Resources: Southern African Development Community (SADC) Groundwater Literature

I recently stumbled across quite an amazing archive of literature relating to groundwater resources in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), hosted by the British Geological Survey. This archive of 'grey literature' contains reports, data and maps from across the past century. It is all available to download free of charge, and is a great resource for those wanting background information on previous work carried out in these nations.  

Information exists for the following countries/regions:

Friday, 18 November 2011

Friday Photo (9) - Rocks Down The Microscope

Somebody asked me recently what a rock looks like down a microscope, and so today's Friday Photo explores this. Below is an image of an igneous rock known as andesite, that forms when a certain type of lava soldifies, and some images of a felsic dyke (formed when acidic magma, the name for molten rock below ground or that has not been erupted, solidifies). Both of these rocks were found in the Atacama Desert, Northern Chile.

Andesite, seen under cross-polarised light (field of view = 4.4mm) 
(c) Geology for Global Development 2011

Felsitic dyke material, seen under plane-polarised light (field of view = 4.4mm)
(c) Geology for Global Development 2011
Felsitic dyke material, seen under cross-polarised light (field of view = 4.4mm)
(c) Geology for Global Development 2011

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Archive: Diamonds in Zimbabwe

GfGD have written a series of posts about the controversial decision by the Kimberley Process to allow diamonds to be sold from the Marange fields of Zimbabwe. You can read our full series of posts here.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Nyamuragira Volcano, Democratic Republic of Congo

This video, from the Guardian Natural Disasters and Extreme Weather page, highlights the growing activity of the Nyamuragira Volcano in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). You can find more recent footage of the eruption, which volcanologists believe is not a threat to the local population or gorilla community on the BBC website.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Guest Blog - Attachment with the Geological Survey of the Solomon Islands

This week we have a very interesting guest blog written by Laura Rose Wilson, a geologist at Leicester University, who spent time with another geologist from Leicester  working with the Geological Survey in the Solomon Islands.

"During the summer (2011) I worked in the Solomon Islands for 5 weeks with a friend, Sarah, as an attachment to the Solomon Islands Geological Survey.

The Survey, based in Honiara on Guadalcanal Island, is very basic, with intermittent electricity. The book cases and drawers full of maps and years of work on the Solomon Islands are very old, mixed up and poorly looked after. The rock sample store is falling down and many of the sample locations are missing. This is all a result of lack of staff, money and government input.

My work involved research on both Simbo volcano and the 2007 tsunami which affected the western province. Simbo volcano is in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands and is inhabited by approximately 1400 people. It is unknown whether this volcano is extinct or dormant and has had very little research carried out on it.  It was my job to research and collate as much data as possible in order to put together a hazard assessment of Simbo and bring the potential hazard to people’s attention. I found a lot of work had been started on hazard and disaster management, especially since the 2007 tsunami, however, this work does not progress fast, nor does a lot of it get finished. It is also very difficult to educate local people on potential disasters due to clashes with science and religion.

Sarah on the other hand did work towards establishing the uplift rate of the coral reefs on which Honiara is built and the surrounding hills. Sarah headed out into the field to examine the terraces and note their thickness and fossil content as well as bringing samples back to the office ready for sending to the UK for analysis.

The work ethic in the Solomon Islands is very laissez faire; when the electricity is on, computer games is often their pastime; when the electricity is off the staff head in to the run down, busy town centre. I therefore believe being there on an attachment was as beneficial to them as it was to us as it showed them a different work ethic; when we needed some information or a particular report, we made sure they would get it to us by the next day rather than 3 weeks later – this didn’t always work out though. We quickly developed patience as a key survival strategy.

Whilst working for the Survey we were allocated a member of staff to work with us as a counterpart. John Tuga from the island of Malaita (the most populous of the Solomon Islands) was assigned to help us out should we need it. This was very valuable to him as he was only an assistant geologist learning A-level standard Geology through a course with the Solomon Islands sector of the University of Papua New Guinea (PNG).  John hopes to go to the University of PNG in the next academic year to attain a degree in geology therefore our presence and knowledge gave him a head start. We taught him skills in the field such as rock recognition and description, recording and measuring key observations etc., as well as leaving him with geological books, dictionaries and charts which had been of use to us in the first few years of our degree and are not available to students out there. He showed a real interest and thirst for knowledge and was one of the few people there who was really dedicated to proving not all Solomon Islanders sit around day to day.
Throughout our stay in the Solomon’s we stayed with a local family in a small village outside of the town. This was a very interesting experience and we learnt about their way of life, which was much simpler than an average ‘Western’ household. The toilet and shower was outdoors and exposed and the kitchen was small with the food being cooked over hot stones. The daily meal was rice and cabbage with the rare treat of tuna or chicken. We were also very lucky being only one of two houses in the village to have electricity for a couple of hours each night. The family were very welcoming and the children were extremely excited and interested to see us.  They told us we were the first ever white people to come to their village. We learnt their traditions in exchange for helping some of the family members to improve their English.

Overall, as well as getting a lot from this trip for our own benefit and studies I feel we were also a great help to the staff at the Survey. We brought them new ways of thinking and an idea of how we work in England. The work we are doing will also give the Survey a head start on this research so that they can continue to develop and improve their knowledge in the future.

I believe attachments such as this are very important to share geological knowledge around the world and especially to the third world countries so that they can then continue the work themselves."

Friday, 11 November 2011

Friday Photo (8) - Geotourism (Chile)

Many come to this location in Chile each year to watch the sunset over this dynamic landscape
(c) Geology for Global Development 2011

Don't forget, if you have a photo you'd like to share with our readers for Friday Photo then get in touch by e-mail! 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Resources: EGU Open-Access Journals

The European Geosciences Union has a number of open-access journals on their website, that may be of interest to readers. Of particular interest may be the Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences journal and the Hydrology and Earth System Sciences journal although there are a number of others.

Monday, 7 November 2011

GfGD University Groups - Introducing GfGD Cambridge

As mentioned in previous posts, we are working to establish GfGD groups across UK universities, to raise the profile of development within the geoscience community. GfGD university groups are ‘mutual interest groups’ gathering people with a shared interest and commitment in using their geoscience knowledge and skills to fight poverty and improve the lives of some of the world’s poorest people.

Tim Middleton,
GfGD Ambassador (Cambridge)
These groups, led by one or two GfGD Ambassadors, will be at the centre of GfGD’s work, vision and objectives. Through seminars, discussion groups, assisting in producing resources and other activities these university communities will inspire, inform and engage many geologists with the importance of their work to sustainable international development.    

Claire Fyson
GfGD Ambassador, Cambridge
I am delighted that Cambridge is hosting our first university group – led by the very capable and enthusiastic Tim Middleton and Claire Fyson (both fourth year students in the Department of Earth Sciences). You can read more about the group in Cambridge and the Ambassadorsleading the work on our website – if you are a geographer, geotechnical engineer or geologist in Cambridge then why not get in touch and see what events theyare planning!

If you are based in a UK university and interested in establishing a GfGD group then please do get in touch with our Director, using the form on our website. Don't forget you can also download and print a GfGD poster for your university department notice board.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Friday Photo (7) - Applied Geological Mapping

Analysing exposures of rock to determine the likelihood of drilling into water-bearing units.
(c) Geology for Global Development 2011

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Listening, Communicating and Diplomacy - The Importance of Geologists Developing Soft Skills for Effective Development

Last week I was at a very interesting seminar at King’s College London, given by Dr Katie Oven of Durham University. She spoke about her PhD work, building resilience to geophysical hazards in rural areas, particularly looking at landslide prone areas in Nepal.

One of the key issues to come out of the seminar was the balance between community participation and expert knowledge. When should discussions with communities about, for example, where to place a road stop and the expert judgement of engineering geologists begin? It seems this is a very difficult but important balance. In the case outlined above, the Engineering Geologist has an important understanding of many of the challenges in determining a road route. From the rock mass quality, to groundwater and drainage questions, to issues of slope stability – their knowledge and study when correctly applied can help increase the quality, effectiveness and sustainability of the project.

In the same manner, however, local communities must also be consulted and heavily involved at all stages of the project. They have understanding of local issues, cultural practices, high risk areas and the quality of local materials that is very useful to the geological and engineering teams. An expert working closely with the community can learn a lot, and also impart knowledge and understanding that will help the community.
Whilst working on water projects I came across many similar issues. Local water engineers would want to use divining methods to assess for the potential of water, whilst my western mind-set would find this very difficult to accept. We would also have to work closely with the wider community in order to understand their problems with water, and encourage a sense of community-led demand for clean water. Without this approach water projects were failing as the community felt no sense of ownership or responsibility for them. Somebody had come and talked to a couple of people (normally to a couple of the men – who don’t normally collect the water anyway!) and then put a well in. They had then left with no training or support for the community in how to manage and maintain their water source.

It seems to me that these two examples highlight that geologists wishing to work on successful, effective and sustainable development projects need to work on a number of ‘soft’ key skills as well their more well-practiced ‘hard’ skills (such as hammering rock, measuring dip and strikes and mapping landslides)!
LISTENING: It is essential that geologists learn to listen to what communities are telling them – ensuring that they get the opportunity to explain their needs, thoughts and opinions about projects. Geologists should try and listen to as wide variety of people as possible, especially remembering particularly vulnerable groups (such as women, children, the elderly and disabled). This listening exercise should be (i) genuine, not just a token, ticked that box thing; (ii) active – researching culture, customs and aspects of language to understand more fully what you are being told and what you see.
COMMUNICATION: Geologists need to learn to communicate clearly – explaining their ideas simply but effectively. Their communication needs to respond to what they have heard from the community and local authorities, it needs to encourage and strengthen the community’s sense of involvement and ownership of the project.
CREATIVITY & DIPLOMACY: In terms of the balance between involvement and expert knowledge, I believe those involved in projects where these can conflict need to work to present feasible options to communities and get their input on where to proceed. There is a strong need for creativity in presenting ideas in order to win communities over, whilst also having the humility and listening skills to genuinely accept that the communities knowledge can help develop and improve a project.
It would be very interesting to hear of any other thoughts about certain ‘soft skills’ that geologists require for working on development projects? Also I’d very much recommend a paper written by Mike Petterson et al (2008), Communicating Geoscience to Indigineous People: Examples from the Solomon Islands – which is available in the Geological Society (London) Special Publication on Communicating Environmental Geoscience (Ed. Liverman, Pereira and Marker). This paper looks at best practice for communicating geoscience knowledge relating from gold mining to volcanic hazards, and draws out many helpful points.