A high-level assignment: fieldwork in the Peruvian Andes

During my two-week fieldwork trip to Peru this summer, I visited two of my PhD study areas, the Ancash District and the Chillón Valley. The Chillón Valley is home to one of the three main rivers that provide water for Lima and activities in this valley can have major effects on Lima’s water supply. Ancash on the other hand is home to two of the main mountain ranges in Peru, the Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca, so called because the former is unglaciated whilst the latter is formed of a number of glaciated peaks. It is thought that the Cordillera Blanca may one day look like the Cordillera Negra if glacial retreat continues at its current rate; this contrast between the two was interesting to see as the absence/presence of glaciers also affects the availability of water for irrigation and farming.

Whilst in Ancash we held a community workshop with representative from the local communities around the village of Pamporamas, in the Cordillera Negra, and a representative from a local NGO focused on rural development. This workshop discussed the issues surrounding water availability, and changes in this availability, as well as agricultural productivity within the highly sensitive Cordillera Negra. Following our workshop we visited a number of sites within the Cordillera Blanca, this involved visiting farming communities and seeing how agriculture is practiced today but also saw evidence for past agricultural practices in the form of relic terraces and field systems which would have been in cultivation during pre-Columbian times. We also interviewed local farmers whilst in the field to discuss the present day issues effecting agriculture productivity and sustainability within the study areas. This was an excellent opportunity to record local oral histories about changes in farming practices within living memory, to go alongside the deeper history perspective provided by the sediment core records we also collected.

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‘Backwards research’ to move forwards with policy

This post originally appeared on the Walker Institute community blog: http://www.walker.ac.uk/news-events/backwards-research-to-move-forwards-with-policy/

Just before Christmas last year I was offered a place on the first Climate Services Academy Training (CSAT) programme. As someone who has been interested in the science-policy interface for a long time, particularly around climate issues, I was delighted with my early Christmas present from the Walker Institute (@WalkerInst on Twitter).

When the programme kicked off in mid-January, I knew I was in for a treat. The first two weeks were spent at the University of Reading where we were taken on a whirlwind tour of the topics we’d need to understand to work on ‘climate services’ (think ecosystem services, but for the climate). Topics included communication for development, international risk management law and governance, livelihoods analysis, politics and political economy, and knowledge exchange. This was followed up by a week of intense ‘scenario days’ where we were given a real-life climate or environment related issue that is currently ongoing in one of the programme’s partner countries (Senegal, Malawi, Ghana and Uganda) to read up on and report back on at the end of the day. I learnt an enormous amount in those two weeks, but we were just getting started.

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Summer in Bolivia-Fieldwork experience

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A sunset in the field. Richard and Frank returning at sunset from coring Laguna San Jose

This summer I went on my first fieldwork season to the tropics. It was definitely an experience! Since I’ve come back everyone who I’ve spoken to about it has said how wonderful it must have been, and how lucky I am to be able to do this as a job. And I completely agree; it was an amazing opportunity to work in such a different and exciting environment, and to see/touch the vegetation that I study and discuss all the time from afar. I also got the chance to experience Bolivian culture and improve my Spanish speaking skills (which really needed it!).

 

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Sunlight on Laguna San Jose

 

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The road to one of our sites, Tumichucua

However it was also a lot of hard work, and definitely not a free holiday. We were often up early and working in the 34 degree heat and humidity all day, staying out as long as the sun was up and then sometimes processing samples in the evenings. But I knew that was going to happen. I think the most important lesson I learnt about fieldwork, especially in the tropics, is the amount of time that needs to be spent on logistics, organisation and communication once you’re out there. You can’t set out on your fieldwork with a completely fixed idea of what you’re going to sample and where. Of course it is important to have a plan, but you need to accept that everything can change once you’re out there. You can’t hope to understand the logistics of accessing a site using googlemaps alone! Local knowledge and co-operation are absolutely key, and we were lucky enough on our trip to have some great help from colleagues and locals.

 

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Richard and I covered in orange road dust after riding on the back of the truck

We are out there to do work, and get the samples that will form the backbone of our research for the next few years (hopefully!), but it is also easy to get lost in the work and forget how beautiful the place you are working in really is. One day after a hot day digging a soil pit in the dry forest near Concepcion we decided to go swimming in a local lake as the sun set. It was beautiful and cold(ish) but sadly we didn’t pay quite enough attention to the large sign with a sad face on it next to the lakeside. We paid for it dearly the next day, when I came down with a pretty rough intestinal infection and left the others to dig the soil pit without me!

So my first experience of tropical fieldwork was challenging, but also incredibly inspiring and enjoyable. I hope I get the chance to go again!

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Commuting to work…

by Heather Plumpton

Fun and field work

If you wonder how the life of a Palaeoecologist is in the filed, look below for graphic scenes.

 

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How about this for a tree? Prof Mayle at the Rainforest in Acre, Brazil. Courtesy of Prof F. Mayle

 

Best transport system for coring equipment, 4×4. In Bolivia. Courtesy of Prof F. Mayle

 

 

John Carson and the piranha

Proteins are not scarce in the field. Piranha for lunch. John can’t wait to sink his teeth!. Bolivia. Courtesy of Prof F. Mayle

 

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As it was 2,000 years ago, eating Pinhao (Araucaria tree seed) in the field at Santa Catarina State, Brazil. Courtesy of Prof. Mayle