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Asunto:[CeHuNews] 9/10 - International Institute Integrates Research on Climate Change and Hazards in the Americas
Fecha:Martes, 6 de Julio, 2010  13:31:32 (-0300)
Autor:CeHu News <news>

CeHuNews 9/10


International Institute Integrates Research on Climate Change and Hazards in the Americas


Panama City, Panama



Recent disasters have drawn the world’s attention to the realities of a changing global climate, especially its implications toward increased extreme weather events and natural hazard risks.  These include the impact of tsunamis on coastal areas, effects of sea level rise on biodiversity, rising vulnerability in rapidly growing urban areas, disaster preparation for hurricanes, drought induced fire hazards, altered flooding regimes, and many other critical issues.  While public awareness has lately gained significant ground due to unfortunate high-profile catastrophes, the scientific community has increasingly applied its knowledge and technologies to develop solutions to the problems caused by these events. Especially advanced geographic research and technologies, such as remote sensing, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have enabled new discoveries and complex modeling of how climate change may affect places differently, while Internet mapping and spatial visualization tools such as Google Earth have made information more accessible to teachers, students and lay learners. However, the complexity and uncertainty of scientific realities continue to complicate communication about the subject, and misconceptions persist within classrooms, boardrooms, and legislative arenas.

Facing this challenge, a group of four dozen experts, scholars, and practitioners from different disciplines across the Americas (Canada, US, Mexico, Panama, Trinidad, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil) came together to generate discussions on how to better bridge the gap between their respective sciences about climate change and hazards in the Americas. These discussions generated ideas on how to better educate the public sector about these hazards, information on how to improve current scientific tools, strategies pertaining to better management techniques for these hazards in the present and in the future, and a more thorough understanding of hazards in the Americas related to climate change. The complexities and uncertainties of climate change science were addressed in these discussions and became one of the major themes of the institute.

 Participants self organized into five different working groups to generate ideas about potential future studies based on climate change hazards in the Americas. Working groups were composed of individuals from different parts of the Americas and from different disciplines. Each of these five groups prepared a draft research manuscript from these ideas and presented them publicly on the Technological University of Panama campus.  The draft research manuscripts identified new areas of research in geography, urban planning, engineering, communication, and other disciplines. An integrated research agenda based on these manuscripts and on the discussions that ensued over the two-week institute will be published and made available to the public in the fall.

The event was funded by the United States National Science Foundation under their PanAmerican Advanced Studies Institute (PASI) program.  The Institute for the Integration of Research on Climate Change and Hazards in the Americas thus convened in Panama City, Panama from June 14-25, 2010, and was organized by the Association of American Geographers in conjunction with the PanAmerican Institute for Geography and History of the Organization of American States, the US Geological Survey, the National Communication Association, and the United Nations Environment Program for Latin America and the Caribbean. The Technological University of Panama was the official local host of the institute, contributing logistics, venue, and most importantly, engaging university research staff as participants.  The group was welcomed at the inauguration by officials including the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, the Rector of the UTP, Science Officer of the US Embassy, the Organization of American States, and the United Nations.  International visitors were pleased with the location: “I'm very happy with this great experience. The chosen country of Panama was a great idea.” Technical training at the university also familiarized participants with advanced scientific technologies such as Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing. Site visits were arranged to the Panama Canal Authority and the City of Knowledge, and a few opted for a tour of the Smithsonian’s Barro Colorado Island, where the group was introduced to what the Panamanian community is doing to address hazards related to climate change.

Lectures, workshops, and group discussions spanned a range of topics over the two weeks that crossed national borders and interdisciplinary boundaries. The group addressed how advanced scientific technologies and internet mapping tools can be improved to benefit scientific research on climate change and hazards as well as how they can be utilized in informing the general public of what challenges they will face due to a changing climate. Hands-on sessions also addressed how to better convey climate change information to the general public in areas where access to these technologies is limited. Participants practiced different teaching methods which could be used in both formal and informal education in the Americas to better inform the public of what climate change is, and what they can do to better prepare for it. The sessions were conducted in both English and Spanish in a way that encouraged sharing perspectives and experiences from across the Americas.

 Among the critical discussion topics that emerged, participants addressed what in practical terms could be done to better prepare for climate change hazards.  The group emphasized that “community participation is very important in hazards mitigation and adaptation to climate change” and elaborated methodologies and practices towards engaging stakeholder participation from the beginning of scientific endeavors.  The urgency of hazards preparation was seen as one way to overcome inaction that may be precipitated by the uncertainty involved in climate change science.  Moving ahead, recommendations based upon the collective knowledge of the group centered on linking how mitigating the effects of climate change are closely related to ways of living and developing more sustainably in any case.

Many more scholars and students participated in the institute as lectures and workgroup presentations were broadcasted online via webcast and through the collaboratively authored (wiki) knowledge environment (  In the days leading up and during the event the knowledge environment received over 10,000 page views and 1,740 visits by more than 446 persons from 20 countries.

             Participants expressed that one of the most important outcomes of the experience was “the chance to make connections with scholars both inside and outside of their disciplines”. This allowed for a “deeper understanding of their own fields of study.”  Working with people from different countries and disciplines also created networks which will facilitate future collaboration on research and projects related to climate change and hazards.  As one participant explained, “This institute was phenomenal. I feel incredibly honored to have been a part of it. I have come away from this experience with a new way of thinking.”