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GeoCinema Online: Our changing Climate

3 Sep

Welcome to the third instalment of Geocinema! The focus this week is on climate change and how it impacts on local communities. Sit back, relax and make sure you’ve got a big bucket of popcorn on the go, as this post features a selection of short documentaries as well as trailers of feature length films.

Documenting the effects of the warming conditions on the surface of our planet is the primary focus of many researchers but understanding how these changes directly affect communities is just as important. The two are intrinsically linked and the films this week  highlight just to what extent this is true.

Thin Ice

In this feature film, a global community of researchers, from the University of Oxford and the Victoria University of Wellington, race to understand the science behind global warming and our planet’s changing climate.

Find detailed information of the project here.


High Mountain Glacial Watershed Program

How are communities in mountainous regions affected by significant watershed? In the film, scientist try to find a way to better manage these events.


The wisdom to Survive

What are the challenges of adapting to an ever changing climate? The film explores how we can adjusts to living in the wake of this significant challenge through talking to leaders in the realms of science, economics and spirituality.


Glacial Balance

Humans have depended on supplies of water since the dawn of mankind.  Ever changing weather patterns means supplies of water are shifting and communities are having to relocate to access fresh provisions. Glacial Balance takes us on a journey from Colombia to Argentina, getting to know those who are affected by melting glacial reserves in the Andes.


Enjoyed the series so far? There are more films you can catch up on here and here.

We will explore further facets of our ever changing planet in the next instalment of GeoCinema, stay tuned to the blog for more posts!


Thin Ice: Keith Suez,

High Mountain Glacial Watershed Program : Daniel Byers,

The Wisdom to Survive: Gwendolyn Alston,

Glacial Balance: Ethan Steinman,

GeoCinema Online: The Geological Storage of CO2

27 Aug

 Welcome to week two of GeoCinema Screenings!

In a time when we can’t escape the fact that anthropogenic emissions are contributing to the warming of the Earth, we must explore all the options to reduce the impact of releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The three films this week tackle the challenge of separating CO2 from other emissions and then storing it in geological formations deep underground (Carbon Capture and Storage, CCS).

Infografics of the CO2 Storage at the pilot site in Ketzin (modified after: Martin Schmidt, Credit:

Infografics of the CO2 Storage at the pilot site in Ketzin (modified after: Martin Schmidt, Credit:

Geological Conditions and Capacities

Porous rocks with good permeability have, in Germany and world-wide, the highest potential for geological CO2 storage. Where do these rocks occur? And which further criteria do potential CO2 storage sites need to meet?

Ketzin Pilot Site

At the Ketzin pilot site in Brandenburg, Germany, CO2 has been injected into an underground storage formation since June, 2008. …”. The monitoring methods used at the pilot site Ketzin are among the most comprehensive in the field of CO2 storage worldwide. Of importance is the combination of different monitoring methods, each with different temporal and spatial resolutions. Which methods are used? And what has already been learned?

Scientific Drilling at the Pilot Site Ketzin

Well Ktzi203 offers, for the first time, the unique opportunity to gain samples ) from a storage reservoir that have been exposed to CO2 for more than four years. The film follows how the samples were collected and studied.


You can view all three films and journey through the exploration of CCS here.

Have you enjoyed the films? Why not take a look the first posts in this series: Saturn and its icy moon or some of the films in last year’s series?

Stay tuned to the next post of Geo Cinema Online for more exciting science videos!


All three films are developed as part of the Forshungsprojekt, COMPLETE, Pilotstandort Ketzin. (Source).

Imaggeo on Mondays: Soil and water conservation in the Dogon Plateau, Mali

10 Jun

Velio Coviello, a scientist from the Research Institute for Hydrogeological Protection, Italy, and one of the winners of the EGU 2014 Photo Contest, brings us this week’s Imaggeo on Mondays. He sheds light on his winning image and the problems associated with conserving soils and water in Western Africa… 

This picture was taken on Mali’s Dogon plateau during the dry season, in the course of a late sandstorm day. Between November and March, a hot, dust-laden Harmattan haze frequently persists over the whole of  Western Africa. The Harmattan is a hot, dry wind blowing from the Sahara, carrying large amounts of dust and transporting it for hundreds of kilometers. Here, we see two men drawing water from a deep and narrow well excavated by hand. This latter is a task commonly carried out by children, who climb down to dig the well bottom.

Men and children drawing water for irrigation in the Dogon plateau during a sandstorm. (Credit: Velio Coviello via

Men and children drawing water for irrigation during a sandstorm. (Credit: Velio Coviello via

Mali has a low population density, most settlements are concentrated in the southern part of the country and along the Niger River, where the climate is less harsh and water availability is higher. In the north, Mali is arid and only those who raise livestock can make a living.

One of the most important tourist attractions in Mali is the Dogon Plateau, which sits in the central part of the country, east of the Niger River. The plateau gently descends westward to the river valley and ends in abrupt cliffs on the southeast. These cliffs reach an elevation approaching 1,000 meters at Bandiagara, the main village of the Pays Dogon (Land of the Dogon). These geological, archaeological and ethnological interests, together with the striking landscape, make the Dogon Plateau one of West Africa’s most impressive sites.

Ensuring the population has safe and sustainable access to water is one of the major challenges in the Sahelian region. Facing recurring drought events and encroaching desertification, Sahelian countries are currently heavily affected by climate change. Extreme rainfall events and high rainfall intensity are the main cause of soil erosion and land degradation. Consequently, high rates of soil transport can lead to reservoir siltation and the reduction of water availability for agriculture. To cope with these issues, traditional soil and water conservation (SWC) measures like hillside terracing, permeable rock dams, stone lines, earth basins, planting pits and earth mounds have been regularly employed in the Sahelian area. The Dogon Plateau is home to a broad variety of these measures, implemented to deal with the acute shortage of soil and water. As the population urgently needs support to preserve soil fertility and reduce soil erosion, SWC measures need to be improved and adopted more widely. However, most donors fund short-term projects without considering the maintenance that is needed to ensure SWC measures remain effective long-term.

The first lesson is that there is much to learn from the traditional ways of doing things and SWC projects should always begin by looking at what the people are doing for themselves. Secondly, the international cooperation actors should set up long-term funding programs improving the participation and inclusion of local communities. The final goal would be to ensure the stakeholders are not permanently dependent on international aids.

by Velio Coviello, Research Institute for Hydrogeological Protection (IRPI) and Italian National Research Council (CNR)

Imaggeo is the EGU’s open access geosciences image repository. Photos uploaded to Imaggeo can be used by scientists, the press and the public provided the original author is credited. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. You can submit your photos here.

Geosciences Column: Could plants be a cheap solution to soil contamination in developing countries?

30 May

There are many ways to remove contaminants from the land, but it is a constant battle for scientists to find better and cheaper ways to the job. Recent research published in Soild Earth suggests plants may present a solution – one that’s particularly promising for poor areas. Jane Robb describes the findings…

Bolivia has a long and complicated mining history, going back to the 1500s. Untreated tailings are commonly left in rivers, causing widespread contamination of waters and soils downstream. These wastes often contain pyrite, which generates sulphuric acid when exposed to oxygen and water, leaching the surrounding rocks of heavy metals in a process known as acid mine drainage. Mines in Bolivia also use sulphuric acid in the mining process, which catalyses production of acid rock discharge. With growing conflict over the rapid environmental degradation that is causing public health problems across the country, the Bolivian government declared an emergency zone in the Huanuni watershed in 2009, just one of the areas in which heavy metal contamination occurs.

Acid mine drainage causing contamination of water and soils in areas close to Rio Tinto, Spain. (Credit: Carol Stoker, NASA)

Acid mine drainage causing contamination of water and soils in areas close to Rio Tinto, Spain. (Credit: Carol Stoker, NASA)

Soil heavy metal contamination has serious effects on microbial life and the taxonomic diversity of soils, not to mention the serious health effects that high concentrations of elements such as As, Cd, Cr, Hg and Pb can have. Other metals like Cu, Ni and Zn are also released, and although they are essential for growth, they can cause problems when present in high concentrations. While heavy metal remediation in soils is a highly researched topic, we can still do more. This year, Jorge Paz-Ferreiro and his team et al have assessed two techniques that use plants for mine waste remediation: adding biochar to the soil and planting hyperaccumulators (plants that can store heavy metals at levels 100-fold greater than common plants without reducing their growth) in the affected area. Both of these techniques could be applied to sites like Huanuni in the future.

Prevention is the best way to fight soil and water contamination from mining, but in countries such as Bolivia, the political and cultural environments can present barriers to progress in this area. The country’s history of low economic diversification, corruption and political instability (democratically elected governments only began in 1982), and rapid inflation have continually hindered development. In addition, low population growth, high incidence of disease and low life expectancy exacerbates the country’s economic position – 86th out of 179 countries in the World Bank’s GDP ratings in 2012. Bolivia’s principal commodity for export is natural gas, but until the 1980s mining of tin and silver were its top economic exports. Although mining is not as prevalent in the country as it was in the past, the country still suffers from the impacts hundreds of years of mine tailings have brought to the environment. For Bolivia, prevention is a small part of what needs to be done to tackle the problem of soil and water contamination.

The extraction, filtration or stabilisation of heavy metals using hyperaccumulators (a process commonly known as phytoremediation) is nothing new. In fact, it has been studied and used for years as a remediation technique with varying success. But with costs that are a fraction of that spent on traditional remediation techniques – at a few cents per square metre for cleanup or removal of material compared to up to $300 per square metre– phytoremediation could be a viable option for countries such as Bolivia.

Mining in Bolivia in 1981. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons user Meister)

Mining in Bolivia in 1981. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons user Meister)

Paz-Ferreiro’s team are the first to assess the possibility of using biochar in combination with phytoremediation to remediate heavy metal contamination in soils. Phytoextraction uses hyperaccumulators to take up heavy metals and transfer them to aboveground tissues, such as stems and leaves. This process takes the contaminant from the soil to the plant, providing a way to extract economically valuable metals while improving soil – and therefore crop – quality. Phytofiltration sequesters pollutants from waters through the plant’s root system, and phytostabilisation limits the mobility and bioavailability (availability to plants and animals) of polluting substances by immobilising them. While phytoextraction is the most common and promising technique, both filtration and stabilisation help remove contamination from soils and reduce the probability of heavy metals being stored within crops.

Although phytoremediation is currently used and holds a lot of promise, there are still issues associated with this technique. For instance, phytoremediation may not be suitable in areas of elevated contamination, as plants could begin to suffer from the soil’s toxicity, and many known hyperaccumulators produce low amounts of biomass, meaning that heavy metals are removed slowly. Information is also missing on how climate change could impact the ability of phytoextractors to take up heavy metals. Most importantly, research on phytoremediation has, to date, focused on laboratory tests – more data from field experiments is needed to inform scientists about the impacts of microclimate and soil type on the effectiveness of phytoremediation.

Modern mining in Seite Suyos, Bolivia, devastates the surrounding environment. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons user Mach Marco)

Modern mining in Seite Suyos, Bolivia, devastates the surrounding environment. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons user Mach Marco)

Biochar is formed from burning other organic materials – ranging from plants to manure. Biochars act on the bioavailable heavy metals in soils, reducing the amount that can be leached from the soil by crops. Heavy metals stick to the surface of biochar, and because they have a high surface area, they are the ideal medium for this task. Some biochars can also stabilise heavy metals by helping them precipitate as carbonate, phosphate and sulphate compounds. Unlike phytoremediation, biochar does not reduce the amount of heavy metals in the soil, but instead reduces the bioavailability of these elements.

As biochars effectively stabilise heavy metals, they reduce their ability to be taken up by plants, preventing phytoextractors from doing their job. This means that the use of biochar and phytostabilisors would be a more useful remediation approach. Paz-Ferreiro and his colleagues indicate that it could be possible to use biochar and phytoextractors together, if the biochar and phytoextractors target different heavy metals in heavily contaminated soils. Much larger, long-term trials are needed to see how well the two methods work together – something that will need to be tested in the lab and the field.

Today, the scale of mine-related contamination in Bolivia and the emergency zone of Huanuni is still staggering. To remediate contamination not only does the government need to address the continual contamination of soil and water, but also historical contamination. Paz-Ferreiro’s team have brought together two methods for soil heavy metal remediation that can help address historical contamination in areas such as Huanuni, and have hopefully paved the path for more research with these combined remediation techniques in the field.

By Jane Robb, Project Assistant, University College London


Paz-Ferreiro, J., Lu, H., Fu, S., Mendez, A., Gasco, G.: Use of phytoremediation and biochar to remediate heavy metal polluted soils: a review, Solid Earth, 5, 65-75, 2014.


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