Seismic Soundoff

Seismic Soundoff

Episode 57 - Transcript

57: Building canals - how science and friendship changed a town - powered by Happy Scribe

undefined: In Zurite, the people are very sensitive to how much water is available to them. And water does not always flow to them. And the farmers would experience that in that they would have to put in a queue to receive water to flow through canals neighboring them so that they could water their crops. And from what I understand the farmers would go out as early as 4 a.m. to go wait in their fields to wait for the water to pass to them. And we as geoscientists and engineers and geophysicists can help find ways to create better canal systems for people in Zurite and similar rural agricultural-based communities. These people might be able to expand their growing area and be able to protect their livelihoods.

undefined: On this episode of Seismic Soundoff, we start on a journey with a team of scientists partnering with a former Inca city in Peru called Zurite. This team will partner with Zurite to find a better way to bring water to the farmers in this community. They will seek to improve life not only for the 120 farmers by building a new irrigation canal but for every generation of Zuritaneos that come after. My name is Andrew Geary and welcome to Seismic Soundoff.

undefined: Zurite is a small rural village of approximately 4000 people in the Andean Highlands of Peru. All families in Zurite rely, at least in part, on agriculture. And the climate is seasonal with rainfall from December to May and a dry season from June through November. Farmers require reservoirs and canal systems to farm through the long, dry season. Zurite is also surrounded by Puna grasslands. The largest city in the region, Cusco, derives 80 percent of its water from Puna grasslands. Despite the importance of this landscape. Little is known about its hydrologic plumbing.

undefined: Zurite is at the edge of a broad flat plain called the Anta plain. And the terrain can be very steep.

undefined: But it's really beautiful. And from where we were up at the top of the watershed, there are places where you can look down to see Zurite and it almost looks like you're hovering above the city of Zurite. The relief is so dramatic in just being up at that altitude, you're at the altitude of the clouds. And so this is something I've always liked about Zurite every time I've been there and the area around Cusco, is that you look out and you're level with the clouds. And so it really feels like you are up in the world that's between heaven and earth.

undefined: That voice is Jasper Oshun, Assistant Professor of Geology at Humboldt State University. He serves as the project manager for the Geoscientists Without Borders project in Zurite. Jasper has a unique history with Zurite. His grandpa was a diplomat and he and Jasper spent a lot of time looking at maps together. Jasper was particularly interested by this provocative curve in the mountain belt of the Andes around Peru and into Bolivia. And first traveled to Zurite in 2003.

undefined: In 2009 he returned to build a canal in concert with Zurite. Jasper and his brother Lucas co-founded a nonprofit called Global Student Embassy. Through conversations with the community, the idea of working on a canal was discovered. One of the many cultural practices that have continued even before the Incas is the practice of allyu, or reciprocity. Residents depend on the labor of one another through allyu to care for their crops, build canals and maintain the good health of the community. The initial stages of the canal project in 2009 brought nearly every family together although the canal would benefit only one part of the community. This left a lasting impact on Jasper.

undefined: And so we as we were walking up towards the beginning of where the canal was going to be. I just remember it, kind of people were coming out of out of everywhere and everyone is carrying a hoe or a pick or a shovel and excitedly running up the hill way faster than I could run at the high altitude.

undefined: And I was with my friend and we were all excited to work. And then I remember. All the people, about 100 people or so spread out along the canal. It was two people every five meters or so. I just remember walking down the length of a canal and every place I thought I was gonna be able to get in there in the canal and work, there were people already there.

undefined: Move ahead to 2018 and Jasper wanted to build on this long tradition of working with the land and the community. And so he wrote a Geoscientists Without Borders, or GWB, project to bring a multidisciplinary cross-cultural study to Zurite.

undefined: I didn't really know what to expect. I had talked to Jasper about the project but had very little expectations other than the altitude was going to be really high and I was going to be working with a bunch of students.

undefined: That is Kristina Keating. She is an associate professor at Rutgers University and serves as the geophysical technical consultant and project leader. She was in charge of the seismic refraction survey.

undefined: We're looking to define what's called the base of the critical zone. So the critical zone is from bedrock to the atmosphere. So it's where water moves and circulates.

undefined: I'm Margaret Lang and I'm a professor in the Environmental Resources Engineering Department at Humboldt State University.

undefined: Margaret serves as the engineering lead and co principal investigator.

undefined: I got involved because of my hydrology and hydraulic engineering expertise. So I've been taking on the role of helping with the design of the new canals and assessing the hydraulics of the new irrigation canals.

undefined: So my name is Wyeth Wunderlich. I'm a graduate student at Humboldt State University in the Critical Zone laboratory in the geology department.

undefined: Wyeth was a member of that first trip by Global Student Embassy to Zurite. The one where Jasper helped, or watched, the community build a canal.

undefined: My name is Olivia Helprin and I am currently a graduate student at the University of Michigan and I just graduated from Humboldt State University where Dr. Oshun and Dr. Lange or my professors.

undefined: Olivia and Wyeth were a part of the students that participated in this project. There was also another key participant. This one from Zurite. He's a community leader, teacher and runs logistics for the GWB team. He even opened his home to the team. He's known Jasper for 15 years and served as a central reason to get this project started. His name is Tomas Ruiz Lopez and he helped convince the community this project was important.

undefined: SPANISH

undefined: This project initially wasn't easy to convince the authorities and the different groups of Zurite to take an interest in. But thanks to the support of the folks at Humboldt and their interest in supporting this project and also putting forward some of the funds, we were able to convince them.

undefined: With the team set, Jasper Margaret, and Kristina would lead the scientific team. Olivia and Wyeth represented some of the students and Tomas helped build support within the community. The project was also set: to learn more about how water works in the watershed, determine how to build a canal to help 120 farmers be able to grow year round, and then build it.

undefined: The team set out for Zurite in July 2018. The team partnered with students and professors from the National University of St. Anthony the Abbot in Cusco. Margaret and the engineering students observed successful reservoirs and irrigation canals systems in Zurite and the Anta region. Through topographic surveys, the team explored possible reservoir sites and where the water canals could be built. Kristina went to work to build a water budget and reservoir management plan for Zurite. Tomas and his wife Gladys welcomed several in the team to stay in their home making meals for them every day. Herbal tea. Fava bean porridge. Quinoa mixed with apple. Sometimes the team would play football in the evenings.

undefined: SPANISH

undefined: There are many things that I'm happy about when it comes to this project. But I think the biggest one is that the students who come here come here without fear and they work very hard. And here in my house, and in the food that they eat, and the games that we play that they're like brothers and they're here part of the community.

undefined: And this community had a problem it wanted solved. Zurite does not have a general plan for sustainable water use despite water being a limiting resource for it's livelihood because of the dry and wet seasons.

undefined: Doubling the amount of time that a farmer can work would have huge economic and community benefits. From 1960 to 2017 Peru lost almost 60 percent of its total population to urban cities. This leaves communities like Zurite hurting.

undefined: Similar to other places in the world. There is this movement of youth. To urban settings to seek educational and employment opportunities. And so a lot of times these older folks are left with an enormous amount of labor and not enough resources to tend to their production needs. And so to me our ability to help inform and help secure water security, water sovereignty, within their community is just one more piece of the puzzle that they can breathe easier about in terms of planning for the future and having one less piece of uncertainty moving forward.

undefined: SPANISH

undefined: I think that the biggest, or I hope that the biggest impact, is the development here in Zurite as I said before. We're all agriculturalists here. We all work out in chakra, or in the fields, and bringing the water to the fields so we are able to grow will be a large benefit to the community, financially in the future.

undefined: Jasper's complete technical report has been written both in English and in Spanish. And in quarter three of 2019, Jasper and his team will return to Zurite to continue to work with Tomas and the community. So why are we bringing this story to you now? Well it's nice to be reminded how science can directly impact and improve lives. How classroom learning can have real world impact. We at the SEG represent applied geophysics: applied, useful, actionable. Jasper in partnership with Zurite and GWB helped create a project that will benefit this community for generations. And better understanding the landscape that surrounds Zurite will inform communities all around the world like it to better use this invaluable, limited resource water. Again here's Margaret Lang.

undefined: The local communities know how to do things and what needs to get done. But having an outside entity show up and be interested in helping and providing resources improves the chance, especially of smaller communities, of getting the attention they need and getting the work done. And getting the support for getting the work done. So I don't feel like I'm making a huge impact in terms of this would have never happened and they would have never figured this out if I wasn't there. It's more, being there helps them get things done more effectively.

undefined: Being there. Sometimes we need a reminder that our knowledge, our experience can be utilized around the world. In communities we may have never heard of or even the community we call home. Something that came to mind for Kristina Keating.

undefined: I found it quite inspirational actually. You know in my day to day research I am usually working in the US. And it was just really amazing to be in a new place, doing something that felt really impactful, working with people who were really enthusiastic and made me come back to my office and to do more of this kind of stuff. I think if you have the opportunity to do projects like this then get involved. Be enthusiastic. I think you learn so much from it that you don't in just a classroom setting and that type of practical learning that happens really makes you a better scientist. It makes us a better geophysicist having that experience.

undefined: I think that from my experience with Geoscientists Without Borders, I think that it's really amazing that geoscientists at most career levels can work together on these societally important projects that otherwise wouldn't receive attention and wouldn't have the funding to be performed at all. I also learned from the community members I think in that you work really hard during your work hours and then at the end of the day you make sure that you spend time with your family and that you celebrate with your whole community when you do have times of relief.

undefined: Sadly, Zurite is not currently in a time of relief. On March 20th Tomas gave word to Jasper that a major landslide occurred in Zurite. No one was hurt, but the fields in which the team was to build the canals are covered in mud. Existing canals have been destroyed. This GWB project set out to help a community understand one of its most valuable resources and then use that knowledge to directly benefit 120 farmers and the entire community by understanding more about its surrounding geology. Now after this tragic landslide, this GWB team will partner with Zurite yet again to start at the beginning.

undefined: We will return to this story to tell you what happens as the community of Zurite works to recover from this natural disaster. Will they be able to rebuild the destroyed canals? What is the status of the new canal? How are Tomas and the community recovering? As you go back to your desk. Get in your car to head to work. Speak with your daughter about possible careers. Keep in mind that your expertise, where you go, and what you learn could be used to help improve your community and the world. And when we work together, and try to solve problems, listening to one another's knowledge, wisdom, and experience, great things can be achieved.

undefined: If you look around the state of our world is not too sunny in many parts. And so I think that, we all scientists or not scientists have a responsibility to make the world a better place if we want to continue living on this world. And I think that we all have something to contribute in terms of making the world a better place. Geoscientists have a unique perspective in that they look at landscapes, or they look at processes acting on landscapes, and they see the effects of time. We're trained to do that. And so we can look at landscapes and see and imagine and visualize in four dimensions. And I think that that is very useful. And at this point in time, very pertinent to planning and protecting our natural resources in a way that is equitable and sustainable.

undefined: In other parts of Peru there are big disputes over the privatization of water, and I like the fact that in Zurite they currently have ownership over their water resources. By better understanding the science behind their water resources, I think they'll be better equipped should some plan come up in the future to privatize its water resources, they can say, look we understand what's going on here. We have the tools to manage it.

undefined: I see Geoscientists Without Borders as a wonderful opportunity for geoscientists that are interested in doing their science with a specific and lasting benefit to the community in which they work. Through this project and projects like this I do hope to inspire my colleagues and others in the geoscientists community to always think about ways in which their science might benefit the community.

undefined: There are these thoughts amongst people that are not scientists about what scientists are doing and are they doing anything to benefit society and is it a waste of money to fund these projects. And I think that the more we can do to communicate our science in terms that are understanding to the general public, in ways in which the general public sees what we're doing and says, "Oh yeah I understand the direct benefit of that or I understand why that's a worthwhile pursuit." That's a benefit for for all of us.

undefined: We encourage you to share this episode with a friend colleague or manager. Your recommendation is the single best action you can take on behalf of SEG's podcast. To see photos and video of the landslide in Zurite and learn how you can help the community rebuild, visit this episode's web page at

undefined: SEG is celebrating ten years of its humanitarian work around the world with Geoscientists Without Borders. This program uses the specialized knowledge and technical skills of geoscientists to mitigate natural hazards by connecting universities and industries with local communities.

undefined: GWB is sponsored by Schlumberger. As the founding sponsor of GWB Schlumberger believes in the science of geophysics to effect positive changes in communities facing environmental hardship and natural hazards.

undefined: Music in this episode courtesy of Epidemic Sound. This episode was hosted, edited, and produced by me, Andrew Geary. The SEG podcast team is Jennifer Crockett, Ashley Rodriguez, Ally McGinnis, and Mick Swiney. Special thanks to Katie Burk and Linda Ford. Thank you for listening. This is Seismic Soundoff, signaling off.


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