When the Environmental Defense Fund asked me to measure how biogas cook stoves were changing the lives of farmers in rural India, there wasn’t a word in that question with which I was comfortable. Having just graduated from the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development, I had never done fieldwork; and the concept of a biogas digester, which turns cow dung into natural gas through anaerobic digestion, was itself a mystery. I had no idea that this was the beginning of a steep learning curve into low-carbon development at a large scale. But even more, that it would provide a window into the lives of families whose existences have permanently improved thanks to the clean cooking stoves.
Eight hundred years ago, relatively small armies of mounted warriors suddenly exploded outward from the cold, arid high-elevation grasslands of Mongolia and reshaped world geography, culture and history in ways that still resound today. How did they do it?
A new two-year climate change initiative, led by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society aims to help farmers in Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Bangladesh reduce their vulnerability to climate risks.
Earth Institute research expeditions investigating the dynamics of the planet on all levels take place on every continent and every ocean. Most projects originate with our main research center, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and are often run in collaboration with other institutions.
The last part of our river work was on the Jamuna River, as the Brahmaputra is called south of where if diverges from its former course. It shifted up to 100 km to this course about 200 years ago. We visited Sirajganj where an embankment protects the city from the migrating river and Aricha near the confluence of the Jamuna and Ganges. We ended our journey by standing with one foot in each of these two great rivers.
We traveled to the Brahmaputra River, one of the most active on the planet, to continue our fieldwork. We visited two places while working our way downstream and saw the rapid changes in the river bank and chars (islands). At one ghat (dock) the river had eroded a mile of the coast while in the other it added a similar amount. The chars had moved, appeared, disappeared and reemerged. In this changing environment, the resilient Bangladeshi char people shifted and adapted with the land.
For the final part of my journey, we will be visiting numerous sites, mainly on the main rivers of Bangladesh. The samples and field data will ground truth and calibrate satellite data improving our analyses. We first stopped at an area that had converted from shrimp farming to rice, then spent two days on the mighty Ganges River.
Due to the speed at which the two Scotts were able to repair the compaction meter, I found myself with two extra days in Dhaka. Besides numerous quickly planned meetings, I got to see the celebration of the arrival of Bengali Spring and the growing protest movement against the light sentence for Islamists convicted of collaboration during the 1971 revolution. This Occupy Dhaka has tangled traffic in an already clogged city.
I headed east to Comilla for 4 days to train 6 Dhaka University students and graduates to use the resistivity imaging system we bought for the project. The system will send electric currents into the ground to map the distribution of sand and muds. The 1000s of measurements will create a catscan-like image of the rocks under the profiles. Together we all learned what worked and didn’t in Bangladesh.
Able to drive again, we wrapped up the last few days of the conclave with more outcrop geology, drilling wells through the sediments, 3D filming and a barbeque. The conclave turned to be an extremely successful means of getting us excited due to the tremendous cross-fertilization that occurred.