Tuesday, 8 September 2015


Volume 4, Issue 2, April-June 2015


  • Chair's Foreword
  • What is an earth Scientist and Other Related Questions
  • Affiliations
  • Earth Science Book Review
  • Earth Science Events
  • References and Selected reading

Chair's Foreword*

Welcome to the seventeenth issue of  the Society of African Earth Scientists (SAES) newsletter.

In the current issue we address one of the commonest of queries for earth scientists from the general public: What is an earth scientist and what does he/she do? It is so frequently raised that the response is worthy of an article of its own. We also entertain other related questions of interest, including how earth sciences may be made attractive as a profession to the youth of today and tomorrow.

"What is an Earth Scientist?" and Other Related Questions

What are the Earth Sciences?

We cannot answer the question: “what is an earth scientist?” without knowing first what the earth sciences are.  The field of earth science includes all areas of study that concern the earth, its atmosphere, its surface, its constitution, and its physical properties and so on. The field of earth sciences is therefore, as one can imagine, vast.

It is not even desired to name every single discipline that qualifies as an earth science here. But we can draw the broad outline. It includes, for instance, meteorology the study of weather, which is also close in nature to the study of the physics of the atmosphere – namely, atmospheric physics. In one important and interesting area of this study, the movement of water vapour and its precipitation into rain is essentially seen as the release of stored energy1.

 Rainfall is a key process studied in many fields of earth science. This of course leads us into considering one of the most essential cycles, the hydrological cycle, and hydrology, the study of the movement of water in earth and atmosphere, and earth surface processes like soil erosion, and wind erosion, where the soil is literally washed away into the rivers and eventually into the sea, and deforestation and land degradation, whereby the land becomes so degraded that it can no longer support growth.

Numerous types of earth scientists other than hydrologists cover these above areas of interest: river scientists, who research into how to protect from, or to predict flooding; and who like soil conservationists, are concerned with the movement of sediment by water flow over the earth's surface, and mathematically modelling this movement. Nor can we miss out the oceanographer or marine scientist. And then there is the more internal view of the earth afforded by the geological sciences, the study of rocks that compose the solid earth and soil science branching into agricultural science and the study of soil fertility. With more internal study of the earth, we move into geophysics, where we study the processes   that lead to shifts in the earth's tectonic plates and earthquakes, volcanic eruptions,  and changes in the earth’s gravitational or magnetic field.  

The Society of African Earth Scientists has adopted a usefully broad interpretation of the earth sciences, in principle and in practice, to include the field of renewable energy and solar energy engineering; as this is the interpretation of earth sciences that best serves the basic needs of African communities.

What Do Earth Scientists Do?

The work of earth scientists, as well as involving the study of the history and formation of landscapes, includes monitoring and looking after the health of the environment and the soil. It includes monitoring the earth’s atmosphere, and the earth’s surface processes, particularly in respect of land degradation. For instance, in the field of soil and water conservation, soil and water are conserved through implementing erosion protection, and improving groundwater storage using various techniques, including planting vegetation, and planting trees. The earth scientist’s work also includes the monitoring of the earth’s internal processes, such as volcanic and earthquake activity, and the prediction of natural events that may lead to loss of life – so called geohazards, which as well as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, include floods,  landslides and tsunamis2.

Some earth scientists conduct scientific researches into these areas we have been covering and teach in universities, or are scientific consultants and advisers.

What Inspires People to get into the Earth Sciences?

As a field of chosen study, earth science can boast to being an area of science that most addresses the needs and utmost concerns of today’s global population: water, soil fertility, energy – both fossil energy and renewables (including wind, hydro, geothermal and solar), climate change and its contributing factors. Earth science is therefore an attractive area of scientific vocation, in so far as it avails itself of the opportunity to be used for the good of human communities.
It is often the case that those trained as engineers, mathematicians or physicists end up working in an earth science related field. Like in other walks of life, people often do not choose earth science as a discipline but approach it through other paths; so even if one pursues a different area of endeavour, it is  possible to find a way into earth science, if there is some link with the earth sciences.  

Earth science is also attractive for the sheer beauty of the subject: the earth. African geological heritage is evident in the beauty of the African landscape. One is drawn to awe-inspiring power of the Victoria Falls,   the beauty of the East African Rift Valley, or the Mambilla Plateau in West Africa. Meanwhile, Africa’s rich geoheritage remains largely unexplored by its inhabitants.

How Much Institutional and Government Support for Earth Science Research and Development in Africa?

There is growing recognition of the importance of the earth sciences in African development. The newly established universities in Africa, the Pan African University3 with an Institute of Water and energy Science in  Tlemcen, Algeria; and the African University of science and technology with departments based in Ghana, Benin and Nigeria among a diversity of locations4 are, in a way, a statement of intent of African governments, not to ignore the earth sciences in Africa’s development, as shown by the keen representation of the earth sciences in their programmes..

There is lots of activity in research and development. In Nigeria, Imo University of Technology in Owerri, has had a long established research programme into local sheet and gully erosion5. And a few hundred km north of this University of Nigeria Nsukka, has a research program including the study of organic solar cells such as pond weed (mimosa pudica), which has been found to have solar electric properties6.  In Ethiopia, there is some support of solar research (including research into organic solar cells and the use of polymers in solar research) and also soil and water conservation research. In South Africa there is active solar and wind energy research. Much modern solar research in Africa is aimed at discovering new solar materials, including organic materials, which could potentially lower the cost of solar electricity. Hence, we are seeing forays by African scientists into the research of the solar properties of plants and polymers and looking at the potentials of nano-technology.7

On the development side, there is some continuity of research leading to the development of infrastructure. In South Africa,  the first large scale wind farm in the country became operational in November 2014, whilst others are in the planning and construction stages.8 Nations such as Morocco, Ghana, Ethiopia and South Africa, among others are investing in the development of solar plants to generate local power, whilst Nigeria, now has a functioning solar panel manufacturing plant. In fact, there are at present five solar panel manufacturing plants in Africa, located in Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa.

How Can We Make Earth Sciences Attractive to African Youth as a Career?

Quite simply, if we can create gainful employment in the earth sciences, the youth will be attracted to it as a career. Already, we are seeing how off-grid solar  energy installation is boosting the job prospects of young Africans who strive to work in this area. The various areas of renewable energy  have substantial potential to invigorate youth employment prospects in Africa. With the introduction of plants where Africa is set to manufacture its own renewable energy accessories, with the production of solar panels being a case in particular, this trend is set to grow.

No doubt the Internet and electronic age will bring new industries into Africa, both urban and rural. But many, many jobs will need to be produced in the near future to employ Africa's army of unemployed youth; without which the very stability of the continent is threatened.  So radical new thinking is needed. Wangari Maathai, through her green belt movement gave us a glimpse of one solution to this problem, when she created  a scheme offering mass paid employment for rural people in Kenya through her environmental programme to alleviate soil erosion and degradation through the mass planting of trees. As well as being paid a small stipend for this labour, the local people were able to sell timber produced by the reforestation to supplement their income.

Maathai defined real poverty in terms of environmental degradation; for when you do not have land that is productive you are clearly destitute. It would appear the solution for Africa’s underemployment and unemployment requires mass employment of Africans on the land and there are some of the belief that agriculture  and work on the land can provide the mass employment that Africa needs. Agriculture would appear to be the only industry in which this could be done; so that mass African employment in the future would appear to depend on the developing relationship of African people with the land.

Work can be created sustainably from the land, and this can include soil and water conservation work, as well as food and crop production, as Maathai’s Green Belt Movement has shown9.

Affiliation and Association with other organisations
SAES is affiliated to the African Association of Women in the Geosciences, Young Earth Scientists South Africa, the Yemeni Geology and  Stratigraphy Network, Solar Sister, and is a supporter of Stop Land Grabbing, a facebook group dedicated to raising awareness of and countering the threat of land grabbing in Africa.

Earth Science Book Reviews

 Wave Mechanics for Ocean Engineering
 by P.Boccotti, Elsevier, 2000.

This volume covers both the deterministic and the statistical mechanics of sea waves. The book also introduces the reader to recent progress in the dynamics of random wind-generated waves. The text is mainly aimed at researchers and graduate students.

Earth Science Events

28-30 October 2015
Fifth Conference on Climate Change and Development in Africa “African Sustainable Development and Climate Change: Prospects of Paris and beyond"
Venue: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Vision: Annual conference designed to bolster linkages between climate science and development policy, by promoting transparent discussions between key stakeholders in the climate and Development. A review that will reflect on African climate change experiences under Kyoto Protocol, and to seek to inform the emerging Paris framework.

25–27 November 2015

Human and Environmental Security in the Era of Global Risks

Venue: Agadir, Morocco
VISION: Lives and livelihoods of millions of people worldwide, especially in the Global South, are being severely threatened by numerous global environmental/climate, economic, geopolitical, societal and technological risks whose impacts reveal our shared vulnerabilities and heighten the recognition that insecurities are widespread, cross-cutting, and increasingly associated to intractable and interrelated crises. Also, it’s being gradually perceived that these impacts will be felt not just in the immediate region and by affected generations, but also across the international community and by future generations.

1-7 October 2016
8th Conference of the African  Association of Women in the Geosciences
Venue: Sibiu, Romania
VISION: The African Association of Women in Geosciences (AAWG) is supporting the development of Earth Scientists in Africa by providing opportunities for networking and promoting the application of geosciences for sustainable development. To meet these challenges, AAWG is organizing numerous activities in and out of the African continent. Biannual International Conferences are being organized to address various challenges that the African continent is facing and to which Earth Sciences could make a contribution. In order to strengthen the collaboration between our African and non-African members and also to increase the visibility of the Association, the 8th AAWG Conference is being organized for the first time out of the African continent. To meet these objectives, we choose as a title for the 8th conference "Building bridges between Earth Scientists Worldwide: A Way for Promoting Peace and Strengthening Integration". This conference is organized locally by the Geological Society of Romania and is hosted by Astra National Museum Complex, Sibiu.

References and Selected Reading

  1. Makarieva, A.M, V.G. Gorshkov, DSheil, A.D. Nobre, and B.L. Li, Where do winds come from? A new theory on how water vapour condensation influences atmospheric pressure and dynamics, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 13, 1039-1056, 2013.
  2. Nyiragongo Volcano Eruption 2002,  http://nyiragongo.com/2002.html; Eze, C.L., Uko, D.E, et al, "Mathematical Modelling of Tsunami Propagation", Journal of Applied Science and Environmental Management, Sep., 2009, vol. 13(3) 9-12; Singh, R., Forbes, C., Chiliza, G, et al, Landslide Geohazards in South Africa: Landslide susceptibility Mapping, Socio-economic Impacts Mitigation and Remediation Measures; Msilimba, G., "A Comparative Study of Landslides and Geohazard Mitigation in Northern and Central Malawi", PhD Thesis, Faculty of Agricultural and natural Sciences, University of the Free State, Malawi; Sassa, K., Rouhban, B, et al. Landslides: Global Risk Preparedness, Springer, London, New York, 2013.
  3. Pan African University:  http://pauwes.univ-tlemcen.dz/
  4. http://www.aust.edu.ng/
  5. Igwe, C.A., Gully Erosion in South Eastern Nigeria, in Godone, D and Silvia Stanchi (eds), Research on Soil Erosion.
  6. Vanguard, Nigerian Develops Solar Cells from Weed, http://www.vanguardngr.com/2013/05/nigerian-develops-solar-cells-from-weed-mimosa-pudica/
  7. African School on Nano Science for Solar Energy Conversion, Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) may 3-7, 2010: https://portal.ictp.it/energynet/african-school-on-nanoscience-for-solar-energy-conversion
  8.  “Wind Power in South Africa”: https://www.sait.org.za/indy/ener/wind/af/sa/index.htm
  9. Maathai, W., Unbowed, Arrow Books,  London, 2008.
  10. Jordan, et al (eds), Land & Power:  Sustainable agriculture and African Americans - A collection of essays from the 2007 Black environmental thought conference. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), 2007.
  11. Gupta, S.K., Modern Hydrology and Sustainable Water Development, Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, 2011.
  12. A link on “Groundwater and Rural Water Supply in Africa”: http://www.iah.org/downloads/occpub/IAH_ruralwater.pdf
  13. Link to Journal of African Earth Sciences: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-african-earth-sciences/

*Board of the Society of African Earth Scientists: Dr Chukwunyere Kamalu (Chair - Nigeria), Osmin Callis (Secretary - Guyana/Nigeria), Ndivhuwo Cecilia Mukosi (South Africa), Mathada Humphrey (South Africa), Dr Enas Ahmed (Egypt).

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