Saturday, July 10, 2021

Meteorological or anthropogenic drought? A recent study illustrates the environmental, social and economic risks

by Silvia Peppoloni*

This article was published in ReWriters Magazine, in Italian and English:

* Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Rome (Italy); Secretary General of the IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics; Councillor of the IUGS - International Union of Geological Sciences; Member of the Ethical Board of ICOS - Intergrated Carbon Observation System; Coordinator of IAPG-Italy; Member of the Board of Directors of the Italian Geological Society. Email:

Silvia Peppoloni
Included among the meteorological phenomena, drought is defined as the lack or scarcity of rain that lasts for an exceptionally long period of time (months to years), during which rainfall is scarce or insufficient to guarantee the balance between the natural availability of water and its consumption by the human being.

In many regions of the Earth, drought is a recurring phenomenon, even with a certain periodicity, and in this sense it can be faced with appropriate strategies and actions. These include marine desalination works, the collection and storage of rainwater, the planting of crops that need low quantities of water, or recycling with purification of water already used.

Drought can cause a serious risk for the territory and the people who live there, as it involves severe environmental (fires, desertification), economic (reduction of cultivated areas, losses in industrial, agricultural and livestock activities) and social (famine, migration) mass, social tensions, wars) consequences. For this reason it should not be considered only an effect of the water deficit, but it should be studied, modeled and parameterized including also the anthropic interactions with nature. It is on this point that the authors of a recent article published in the scientific journal Reviews of Geophysics insist: there is also the “anthropogenic drought”, where it is human activities rather than natural factors that cause or intensify drought and its impact.

But how is it possible to incorporate anthropogenic drought into forecasting models, so that its effects can be planned and mitigated for the future?

Drought: a multidimensional phenomenon

The intensity of the drought is expressed through indices: the most used internationally is the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI), whose value quantifies the surplus or deficit of rainfall compared to the average values. However, this indicator explains the availability of water from a meteorological point of view, but does not consider the bidirectional interactions between human action and the environment, especially it does not take into account the way in which human activities can change rainfall, increase the risk of water stress or altering the microclimatic conditions. It also does not consider the impact of local water demand or land management practices. For this reason the authors believe it is more effective to define and treat drought as a multidimensional and multiscale phenomenon.

The evidence of this methodological perspective is immediate, if we consider the combined effects of climate change and human activities. Multivariate climatic conditions could make the negative impacts of drought events more devastating, as the planet’s temperatures will continue to rise in the coming years, with unpredictable repercussions on water demand and water use, particularly with increases in demand by the agricultural sector. Furthermore, the frequency and distribution of droughts can affect renewable energy production and current and future economic balances which, in turn, can increase the anthropogenic CO2 footprint and subsequently affect rainfall conditions and the severity of the anthropogenic drought, in a negative feedback mechanism. In addition, drought can change the length of the plant growing season, local hydrology and the carbon uptake period.

Making forecasts on drought is in general very difficult, but predicting and planning interventions by introducing anthropogenic drought into the analysis models can be a real challenge for science, due to the different rates of development and the different demand for water that characterizes various countries and regions of the world.

However, despite the gloomy picture, we can be cautiously optimistic: the progress in the development of dynamics models of the water / human interaction system and the Integrated Assessment Models (IAM), that are able to dynamically represent the interactions between natural and anthropogenic components at different scales, for example by inserting climatic data in the analyzes to elaborate future scenarios, are proving effective. In fact, through the use of these models it seems possible to identify scenarios in line with future climate projections, which are very useful for making technical choices and political actions, and for evaluating their possible results in advance.

There are, however, some limitations: the models developed so far are more suitable for investigating large-scale events, which occur over a long period of time, but instead present greater uncertainty in predicting short-term and regional-scale effects (such as local droughts).

The real possibility remains that this new way of studying drought, by introducing the anthropogenic factors that influence it, can come to provide increasingly accurate predictive scenarios, able to guide the environmental and development policies of human communities.

Improving the response to future droughts through increasingly effective strategies for managing the demand and water supply of the future, when the climate will be warmer and characterized by numerous extreme climatic events, is not just an issue of economic sustainability. It is also and above all a great safety issue, which affects everyone, since the drought may be accompanied by growing social and geopolitical tensions. Only responsible and farsighted ruling classes and ever more accurate science and technology will be able to try to defuse the effects of the massive anthropogenic global changes taking place.


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IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The IAPG section of Bolivia

Welcome to the IAPG section of Bolivia! 

The section is officially established on 5 July 2021 and will work under the responsibility of Wilfredo Ramos Collorana (Universidad Mayor San Andrés - UMSA, La Paz; President of "Colegio de Geólogos de Bolivia"). IAPG-Bolivia is the 33th national section of our Association.

Wilfredo Ramos Collorana
Wilfredo is 
Professor at the Geological Engineering Department of the "Universidad Mayor San Andrés" (UMSA), La Paz and current President of "Colegio de Geólogos de Bolivia". He is also the Bolivian representative of LAIGEO and IGEO.
He got his PhD at the "Universidad Nacional de La Plata", Argentina. He was Specialist on Environmental Engineering at the "Universidad Tecnológica Nacional, Facultad Regional de La Plata", Argentina. He worked on mining exploration and prospecting in Bolivia, also as researcher, and on mining geology in Argentina and Chile (1998-2015). He was Director of Prospecting and Exploration at the "Servicio Geológico Minero" (SERGEOMIN) from 2014 to 2015. He worked on geology at the "Servicio Geológico de Bolivia" from 1993 to 1997.

Other IAPG national sections: 

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Monday, July 5, 2021

Sustainable Mining – what exactly does it mean?

by David Ovadia*

David Ovadia is an IAPG member, former coordinator of IAPG-UK.

David Ovadia
These days, almost every mining project is described as ‘sustainable’ – an adjective that is being liberally applied to many things including the UN’s sustainable development goals all 17 of which are worthy and important. But is mining something that can be described as being sustainable?  When the commodity is depleted, it does not grow back. The metal, or aggregate, or oil has gone and the extractive activity ceases. Is ‘sustainable’ really the correct term to use?

Many people think it is. Anglo American has published its Sustainable Mining Plan which, quite rightly, refers to the sustainable benefits that come with, and from, mining activities. We should all be in favour of mining that minimises damage to societies and the environment; that leaves behind restored landscapes, agricultural land or forests; that builds and maintains infrastructure and skills that will exist well after the mine closes, and other such noble aims. These describe good mining, but I am not sure that sustainable is really the correct term to use.

Near to my home is to be found the Attenborough Nature Reserve which is a splendid facility for wildlife, walking, leisure, vegetation and water sports created from disused gravel pits on the banks of the River Trent. The gravel has long gone, but the benefits survive and prosper. Would it have been right to call those old gravel pits, when they were being dug out, sustainable mining? Probably not.

Whilst we all understand what is meant by the term ‘sustainable mining’, is there a better term to use? What about ‘responsible mining’?

It has the advantage of suggesting that the mining is not a dig-and-abandon activity. However, it does not strictly imply a positive, beneficial result. I know that I am being pedantic, but an open pit mine that is later filled with toxic waste is the responsibility of someone through mismanagement, corruption or weak legislation. We might want to use the term in a good way, but being responsible for something does not guarantee a positive outcome.

So what else can we use as an adjective that means what we want it to mean? How about ‘ethical mining’? This seems to embrace most of the positives without giving the false impression of renewability or permanence. Good ethics might be linguistic tautology, but the generally accepted meaning of the term includes the technical aspects of the mining itself – much of which is covered by the definition of Geoethics – with the broader social, legal, economic and environmental requirements to behave professionally, properly and sensibly.

We are left with three adjectives to describe mining, none of which perfectly state the things we wish to read into them. Does it really matter which term is used?  Of course not. English is a flexible language; there is no equivalent of the Académie française or the Accademia della Crusca to define the meanings of words. Whichever of these terms is used, and there are probably others that could be selected, what matters is that mining projects are designed, funded and controlled to do as little or no long term damage to the environment or the people they touch. We can all agree on that. 


Other articles published in the IAPG Blog:

IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics

Thursday, July 1, 2021

New IAPG Task Group on Responsible Speleology

This new IAPG Task Group is active from 21 June 2021 and is formed by Mike Buchanan (United Kingdom) and Aleksandar Antić (Serbia).


There are few aspects of the human experience that are such worldwide phenomena as the use of caves and few natural features in the landscape that have so excited the imagination … Cave use is an activity that spans the full temporal range of Homo sapiens, extending over half a million years from the present. (Tolan-Smith, 2004, p. 426).

​Through time, humans have used caves for habitation or shelter, storage, various economic activities, as sites for art, inspiration, recreation, entertainment, and religious rites, or burial. In particular, caves have attracted explorers, without whom much of our current understanding of caves would not be possible.

The use of caves for scientific research is a relatively recent phenomenon. Although many cultures have recognized caves as being special features within the landscape, speleology (the study of cave science) has highlighted not only the incredible potential for scientific research associated with caves, but also the exceptional sensitivity and vulnerability of many caves and their associated ecosystems, values and resources to human-caused disturbances – including disturbances caused by cave research. We are only now becoming more fully aware of some of the unintended consequences our use of caves can have.

Human activities have damaged or degraded caves, often unintentionally. Explorers and recreational caving organizations were among the first to respond to this problem by developing “caving codes of ethics” aimed at minimizing or mitigating damage or degradation to caves. More recently, tourist cave managers and various other organizations have also worked to develop “best practice” strategies for a similar purpose. 

More often than not, a key underlying premise of many best practice guidelines is that that caves will be entered and explored. Whereas such guidance provides strategies for minimizing impacts to caves while engaging in certain activities, it often does not consider whether or not those activities should be occurring. In other words, the guidance tells us how to conduct such activities in caves but is silent on whether or not we should conduct them. 

The purpose of speleoethics is to consider this question. A key premise of speleoethics is that as our knowledge of the sensitivity of caves increases, so does our responsibility to preserve these special places. Given that almost every visit to caves results in impacts and in some cases, incremental, unintended, irreparable or long-lasting damage, the purpose of this IAPG Task Group is to consider whether a) there can be such a thing as “ethical speleology” and b) if so, what it might look like. We seek to develop guidance on whether a particular cave should be entered; under what circumstances, and for what purpose.

These questions are especially timely now that technology allows humans to expand their activities beyond Earth. Rather than rushing to explore pristine caves or cave-like environments, whether on other worlds or our own planet, we have a responsibility to carefully weigh the pros, cons and potential unintended consequences of doing so. Speleoethics can provide a useful framework for this.

The IAPG Task Group has formed to present a defined way forward, by the drafting of an essential White Paper that will provide guidance to the global speleological community. Including those who conduct research within caves and on host karst systems.

Works cited:

Tolan-Smith, 2004. Human occupation of caves. In: J. Gunn, ed. 2004. Encyclopedia of Caves and Karst Science. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, pp. 426-428

Members of the IAPG Task Group on Responsible Speleology

Mike Buchanan (United Kingdom)
He has thirty years' experience as speleologist, karstologist. He has focused his interest on the management and conservation of karst groundwater systems and their subterranean component. He has professional experience in the exploration of caves and confined spaces; groundwater tracing and vulnerability mapping of karst freshwater aquifers, in relation to catchments; pollution point source identification by chemical analysis. He was co-author of The Management of Karst Landscapes and Caves for UNESCO Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site 2002. He is member of the IAPG Board of Expert for Geoethics in Speleology.

Aleksandar Antić (Serbia)
He is born in Požarevac, Serbia in 1994. He is currently a PhD student and researcher at the University of Novi Sad, Faculty of Sciences, Department of Geography Tourism and Hotel Management. Moreover, he is working as Assistant Editor for the MDPI publisher. His research includes the management of geoheritage, geoconservation and sustainable geotourism destination development, with a special focus on cave management and show cave tourism and speleology. He has published over 10 papers in international scientific journals and has attended numerous international conferences. He is a member of European Geosciences Union and Serbian Geographical Society. 

Picture credits:

- Cerjanska Cave, Southern Serbia (Photo by Aleksandar Antić)
- GB Cave, The Mendips, United Kingdom (Photo by Mike Buchanan)


Other IAPG Task Groups:
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