This week I’m struggling with jetlag after a busy time last week in Indonesia and Singapore.
Earlier on this blog, I introduced a project, ToFEWSI, that I’m working on that is developing an early-warning system for wildfires in Indonesia. The need for an operational warning systems can’t be understated. The loss of forest, the impact on the flora and fauna, and the disruption to people’s livelihoods can be devastating to the communities directly affected. There are also wider transboundary effects that need considering. In recent years we’ve seen haze from forest fires affecting not only Indonesia, but neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Singapore, especially during El Nino years like 2015. There is a great wealth of research going on looking at peat fires, haze and emissions – see Tom Smith’s blog for more details.
The challenge of forecasting wildfires is that they combine hydro-metrological factors (fire weather, peatland water tables) and human factors (i.e. ignition sources); this is something I always repeat to my students that wildfires are a socio-ecological issue. This project advances the field by combining both the physical and social sciences into one system.
So, what was I up to last week? Well it all started out with a very long journey from Vienna to Yogyakarta (via Zurich and Singapore). I lost track of the journey length with all the timezone jumps! Although ToFEWSI has been running for a year now, the meeting was the first time that all team members were in the same place. One of the challenges for getting together is that the project team is currently spread over four continents (Canada, UK, Austria, Greece, Indonesia, Australia) and multiple timezones, so meeting up has been incredibly valuable.
We were hosted by Dr Muhammad Ali Imron of Gadjah Mada University (UGM) and his team, and they were incredibly accommodating. The University is set in some magnificent grounds and they are one of the largest green spaces in Yogyakarta so it is not uncommon to see local residents using the space for their morning runs and exercise classes.
Day 1 comprised a series of presentations from team members on their work to date. The project has many moving parts (hydrology modelling, climate modelling, remote sensing data, agent-based modelling, field data collection, socio-economic surveys) so it was very useful to get an overview of the different disciplinary activities. As someone who hasn’t dealt with these types of modelling or datasets before, I slowly understood how it all fits together. Apologies to my colleagues for asking what were probably obvious questions in those fields!
Day 2 kicked off with me leading the discussion about project impact and outputs. This project has been funded under the DIPI-RCUK Newton Fund South East Asia Call, which at its heart aims to straighten links between the UK and emerging knowledge economies. The funding is part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) so requires projects to make long-lasting impact to sustainable development through improvements to local communities through social and economic means. Given the potential to make demonstrable improvements to fire forecasting and therefore local communities and regional transboundary pollution issues, we need to carefully plan how this work will lead to change. Lots of opportunities, but also plenty of challenges. Regardless, we’ll be keeping everyone up to date with a project website that will hopefully be live in the coming month or so, so watch this space!
The final night saw a traditional Javanese meal in the grounds of the Palace of Yogyakarta, an impressive estate and buildings! Unfortunately, I had to travel to Singapore on Day 3, but some of the team (Tadas, Symon, Imron) went to visit Mount Merapi. Next time I’m here I will make sure I’ve got time to escape the hubbub of the city.
The next two days were spend at a workshop at the National University of Singapore titled “Sustainable Transboundary Governance of the Environmental Commons in Southeast Asia”. The meeting, part of the TECSEA project at NUS, was really interesting and focused on the idea of ‘the commons’ as a way of considering environmental governance issues in the region. There were two focal issues for the meeting: biomass burning and haze, and water governance in the Mekong River basin.
Now this wouldn’t normally be the sort of conference I’d attend – I’m much more at home with graphs, statistics and discussion of technical methods – however, the speakers were really engaging and I found myself wondering what sort of research questions we could ask using the framework of the Commons through the ToFEWSI project. It certainly provided food for thought on the long flight back to Vienna.
I managed to get a little bit of sightseeing done in Singapore, including visiting the famous Merlion on Marina Bay. I last saw this over 13 years ago on a five day layover on the way back from doing my undergraduate dissertation in New Zealand. Somehow it looked smaller this time around!
Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be working on the project’s impact strategy, helping develop the project website, and exploring opportunities for citizen science projects in the communities near our experimental sites. Lots to do, but after last week, I’ve now got a better handle on where things are going.