HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (June 9, 2014) – How do climate change, population change and economic factors affect water resources in Panama?
Seven students from a variety of disciplines at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) are spending two weeks in Panama doing cross-disciplinary field research on sustainability and climate change to help answer that question.
The students arrived Sunday, June 8, escorted by UAH Earth Systems Science Center Research Associate Eric Anderson. On Thursday, June 12, Dr. Rob Griffin, assistant professor of atmospheric science, and Dr. Kyle Knight, assistant professor of sociology, will join them.
"We'll be going to a couple of small communities in the highlands," says Dr. Griffin, who will be on his fifth trip to Panama. The communities are Santa Fe and San Francisco, which are in the Santa Maria Watershed area that will be studied by the research team.
Student team members are Brian O'Neill, a rising biology junior; Tim Klug, a mathematics senior; Megan Carter, an Earth system science junior; Nick Davis, a philosophy senior; Rebecca Chalker, a biology senior; Daryl Ann Winstead, an atmospheric science junior; and Kelly Hodgskins, a biological sciences graduate student.
Geographic information systems are being used by the researchers to overlay research data onto a map of the watershed to understand the state of the environment. The effort will employ the Global Positioning System, satellite imagery and data, and computer analysis to determine the amount of water available and its location, agricultural impacts on the watershed and the available forest cover.
For Dr. Knight, who will be on his first Panama trip, the cross-disciplinary research provides an opportunity.
"I'm an environmental sociologist," Dr. Knight says, "so I'll be in discussions with the students about the different environmental challenges the people in Panama face and the sociological aspects of that."
That resonates with philosophy student Davis. "I just think it's important to keep in mind how people all around the planet live and how their actions influence others," he says, "since we are so fortunate to be living where we are."
Funded partially by a Cross College Faculty Research grant from UAH's Office of the Vice President for Research, the scientific trip is being conducted under a cooperative arrangement between UAH and The Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC). Since 2010, UAH and CATHALAC have cooperated to offer a three-credit research and study abroad program focusing on Climate Change and Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The program offers participants professional training, hands-on learning, cultural understanding and experience with how climate change influences sustainable development in the region. Students learn about research methodologies and the use of appropriate technologies to analyze climate change's impacts on natural and human systems in Latin America and the Caribbean.
This year through OVPR's grant, the research trip is also being examined by UAH as a platform to develop ideas for expanding the university's research and study abroad, says Dr. Griffin.
The students worked in advance at UAH to prepare for their trip. "We have made maps that we are going to use down there," says Winstead. "We've mapped the agriculture, soil, water and forest cover. We've also looked at other points of interest we'd like to explore if there's time."
Besides what they learn from the research, the students are keen to take in as much as they can about Panama as a country, says Chalker, the biology student. "I'd like to see the culture and also the wildlife."