EPFL news: “EPFL scientists set out to explore microbial life in glacier streams”

Scientists at Ecole Polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland will spend at least the next four years studying some of the world’s biggest glacier-fed streams. By collecting microorganisms from the streams and extracting their DNA, they hope to better understand how these creatures have adapted to their extreme environments. The project, Vanishing Glaciers, is being led by Tom J. Battin, professor of ecohydraulics at EPFL. Slated to start on Aug. 1, 2018, the project will be the inaugural research program for the Alpine and Polar Environment Research Center (Alpole) at the EPFL Valais Wallis campus in Sion.

On an unprecedented expedition, the team of scientists will set out to answer the question, What else besides water do we lose as glaciers vanish? The scientists will travel to the world’s largest mountain glacier systems, collecting microorganisms from hundreds of glacier-fed streams and analyzing their genomes. Through a combination of environmental sciences, life sciences and geology, they hope to learn how these microbiomes have adapted over the millennia to the extreme conditions they are exposed to.

Vanishing Glaciers is being supported by the NOMIS Foundation.

Additional news on the Vanishing Glaciers project
L’EPFL part étudier au pied des glaciers (FR)
Forscher nehmen mikrobielles Leben unter Gletschern unter die Lupe (DE)

Süddeutsche Zeitung: The meaning of poverty

NOMIS scientist Wolfgang Fengler of the World Data Lab (WDL) is making a case for an absolute reference value when it comes to assessing poverty. In his Süddeutsche Zeitung article, “Was Armut bedeutet” (“The meaning of poverty”), he shows how crucial the distinction between absolute and relative measures of income is when addressing poverty, which is why, on a global level, these different measures are incorporated in different development targets, namely poverty (Entwicklungsziel 1) and inequality (Entwicklungsziel 8). Blending these measures confuses the discussion: For example, in Germany, the at-risk-of-poverty threshold is measured relatively, counting those who have less than 60 percent of the national average income. In 2015, this was 1,033 euros per person per month. But if you take this amount as an absolute measure and compare it to income worldwide, a person with this income would be in the middle class. Which measure one takes in the end depends on one’s understanding of economical processes and on political preferences, but any informed discussion needs to be based on properly understood data.

Fengler is an economist at the World Bank in Vienna and part of the WDL, which, along with its research partners, will deploy new methods in data collection, data curation and dissemination, laying the groundwork to advance social and economic research on poverty in the most underdeveloped regions worldwide. NOMIS is funding their collaborative project, Converting Geospatial Observations into Socioeconomic Data, enabling the development of the first-ever sub-national income model for Kenya, which, when developed, can be subsequently adapted for other countries.

PEGASuS grant recipients announced

On August 15, 2017, Future Earth announced the winners of the first round of grants for the Program for Early-stage Grants Advancing Sustainability Science (PEGASuS). The winning projects include topics such as the impacts of the cocaine trade on protected areas in Mesoamerica, the collection of indigenous knowledge of threatened native pollinators in Bolivia and sustainable farming in Malawi. They were selected through a global search that attracted dozens of proposals from over 50 countries.

The winning projects are:

“Drug trafficking and Central American protected areas: Focusing on participatory governance to conserve ecosystem services and biodiversity,” Bernardo Aguilar González (PI), Fundación Neotrópica
Sixty percent of total deforestation in biodiversity hot spots in Central America is linked to cocaine trafficking. The project will assess the impacts of drug transit on ecosystems services, biodiversity and environmental governance, and catalyze a regional observatory for continued monitoring of this alarming phenomenon.

“Farmer-led agroecological research in Malawi (FARM) for biodiversity,” Rachel Bezner Kerr (PI), Cornell University
The project will study the impact of agroecological farming methods on crop pest abundance and the biodiversity of beneficial insects and birds. If such farming practices increase wild biodiversity there are positive social and ecological implications for rural African communities.

“Toward biodiversity-related opportunities for sustainable development: A global social-ecological mountain comparison,” Markus Fischer (PI), GMBA and University of Bern
Mountains provide water to half of humankind, host one-third of terrestrial species and are home to more than 10 percent of the human population. This social-ecological research project will compare mountain ranges all over the world to identify opportunities for sustainable development related to mountain biodiversity.

“Nurturing a shift towards equitable valuation of nature in the Anthropocene (EQUIVAL),” Unai Pascual (PI), ecoSERVICES and Basque Centre for Climate Change
The state of biodiversity depends to a great extent on people’s behavior, which in turn is primarily determined by their perception of nature’s contributions to their well-being. The project will evaluate whether there is a positive relationship between equitable value articulation of nature and the effectiveness of nature conservation initiatives.

“Cross-pollinating knowledge systems: exploring indigenous local knowledge about native bee diversity and ecology,” Wendy R. Townsend (PI), University of Florida
Information is needed for planning and management of threatened Bolivian native pollinators because they service about 70 percent of tropical forest plants; losing the pollinators could negatively impact tree species diversity. The project will gather and analyze information about threatened native pollination systems in at least two indigenous territories in lowland Bolivia.

Project winners will receive a combined total of $600,000 in support from PEGASuS over a one-year period. The PEGASuS partners will announce a second round of grants, focusing on ocean sustainability, in the spring of 2018. A third round, addressing water, energy and food, is expected in early 2019.

The PEGASuS program is supported in part by the NOMIS Foundation. NOMIS funding ensures the inclusion of social scientists in these interdisciplinary projects.

Public Space Democracy

The reality of democracy and accordingly its ideals are changing over time. Recent political movements like the Gezi movement in Istanbul or the Maidan movement in Kiev constitute a new form of political participation, which cannot be understood within established theories of democratic engagement. Against this background, Public Space Democracy investigates a new concept of public space, which models cumulated interactions of borderless and egalitarian citizens and governmental agencies within an urban environment.

The research will be undertaken by five study groups, each of them combining different scientific expertise within the social sciences and the humanities, located at the L’ École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris, the Warburg Institute in London, and the Istanbul Policy Center at Sabanci University in Istanbul.

The project is being led by Prof. Nilüfer Göle at the L’ École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS). Its duration is planned for three years. Regular updates are published on the project website.

Interrelation between nature and human values – final workshop on “Nature and Value”

Exploring the potential of combining approaches from various disciplines, the NOMIS project Nature and Value intends to conceptualize state and development of humans’ perception of nature and therefore focuses on values that are implicit in the way we conceive of the “nonhuman.” Led by Akeel Bilgrami, Sidney Morgenbesser Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, the project was launched against the background of the common notion of sustainability in the form of three consecutive interdisciplinary workshops.

The final workshop was held in London on April 21 and 22, 2016. The event gathered eleven leading scholars and scientists from disciplines such as philosophy, economics, English literature, geoscience, political science, art history as well as molecular and cell biology. Driven by the ambition to push the boundaries of their disciplines and to foster the development of new thoughts and ideas, the international group of participants engaged in two days of open, intense and at times controversial discussions.

For more information and results, please visit the project website.

Information on speakers can be found here.