Tools for Undergraduate Research in Environmental Science and Field Biology:
(Note: As of Fall, 2013, only Units II and III are active. Other Units will be added over the coming months.)

I. Scientific Inquiry: How to identify a research topic, question and hypothesis

II. Fundamentals of Field Sampling: How to design a field study

III. Graphing and Statistics: How to interpret your data using MS Excel

IV. Communicating Your Results: Tips for writing effective papers and making clear presentations

  maps of region where we're living

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October 20, from Munsiyari: Bamboo Shelter Workshop

Some of you may have heard about the floods that happened last June here in the mountains of northern India . . . literally tens of thousands of people died, and many more were left without homes. Of course the biggest story is the human tragedy, but there's also an interesting environmental story about the causes of the flooding (more on causes at the bottom of this post).

Because so many people lost homes and property, there's an immediate need for shelter before the mountain winter sets in. To try to help address this need, the local organization that we're connected with - Himal Prakriti - just sponsored a workshop on the construction of bamboo and tin shelters in the hope that these structures will be a quick, low cost solution for the hundred or so families that lost their homes in the Munsiyari region. And, it turns out, the workshop and construction of the model shelter took place in our back yard.

The back of our house where the shelter is being constructed:

The pile of bamboo to be used as building material:

Most of the bamboo poles are quite long:

Construction activity above, cooking below the tarp:

Shaving and smoothing the nodes of the bamboo:

The architects (center and right) learning to use the hand-drill:

The hand-drill:

The cooking operation supporting the construction of the shelter:

The hand-cranked blower to provide air to the fire:

He's turning the blower to heat up the fire:

Signs of the sponsoring organizations, Himal Prakriti and Maati:

Just after the meeting to formally open the workshop - if you look closely, you can see pigment on foreheads:

April entertaining some of the kids by blowing bubbles:

A form for pouring cement:

The cement pouring operation:

A couple of examples of what the bamboo joints look like:

The structure of the wall - a mixture of dung and plaster will be used to finish it off:

The plastering has begun!:

Causes of the recent floods

We've heard a variety of stories about the causes of the intense flooding that caused so much damage. Clearly there were unusually high rainfall events (even by monsoon standards) in the mountains here, and people have nicknamed the event the "Himalayan Tsunami," a name which to some implies a natural event beyond human control. The catch is, the highest rainfall was up-river from the worst damage, and, such rainfall events have likely occurred many times in the past without causing such incredible damage. So what's changed recently that could account for the extent of the damage? While I'm no expert on the local watersheds and extreme monsoon events, we have spoken with a variety of local people who've been living in and studying the region for decades. Four main factors (all related to human actions) stand out as contributing to the disaster:

  1. The construction of hydroelectric dams resulting in

    • waste debris that got caught up in floodwaters and became part of the problem,
    • access roads that were built along the river that also contributed to debris and altered the flow of the flooding river,
    • the holding back and then letting go of immense amounts of water (some of the dams were entirely obliterated once they failed - in some cases, it's impossible to find any remnants of the dam).

  2. Roads and changing land-use (including deforestation) that have altered the way flood water moves through the valleys.

  3. The building of homes in less stable locations closer to the river due to the combination of population growth and the displacement of people by hydroelectric dams.

  4. Increased runoff from melting glaciers as a consequence of climate change.
I will save more on hydroelectric dams for a future post, but understandably, local environmental groups are very opposed to the hydroelectric projects being proposed for the Gori River along which Munsiyari is located.

This site created and maintained by
Dr. Rhine Singleton
Associate Professor of Biology & Environmental Science
Franklin Pierce University, Rindge, NH 03461
You can contact me at: singler at franklinpierce dot edu