Finding Common Ground: Building Networks Between Women Scientists in the U.S. and South America on Issues of Natural Environmental Hazards

Project Description: Latin America and the Caribbean

Latin America is optimally situated for environmental hazards, with severe weather problems in low latitudes and high probability for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions along the Pacific margin. Recent catastrophic events in this region have demonstrated the power and devastating impact of such environmental hazards. Women in developing countries in this region are particularly vulnerable to the effects of environmental degradation as it is well established that environmental hazards are among the major causes of global death and disease, and that the burden falls disproportionately on women and young children. Yet women scientists that could play an important role in research related to environmental hazards and also in assisting in outreach to communities are few and far between.

The goals of this project and subsequent activities are to develop a grass-roots, research- based network of women scientists in the U.S., Latin American and the Caribbean to lead and sustain efforts in their regions to understand, anticipate and mitigate the effects of environmental natural hazards including those amplified by climate change. The specific goals of the project include: (1) forming and fostering a network of women geoscientists in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the US who have common research interests in natural environmental disasters (2) using this network and the expertise of its participants to develop innovative and cross- disciplinary strategies to overcome research challenges in this area, and (3) maintaining and growing this network and to extend its outreach into communities by employing established methods that promote network development. The workshops are funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation through the RCN-SEES Program.

Workshop #1: Natural Hazards Associated with Tectonic Issues,  Santiago, Chile, Nov. 2012

This first of three international workshops was held in Santiago, Chile and focused on tectonic related environmental hazards (earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes etc.). The 3-day workshop involved ~20 women scientists from the U.S. and countries from across Latin America and the Caribbean with expertise in volcanology, seismology, risk assessment, tsunamis and related natural disasters. The meeting agenda provided the participants the opportunity to share their research and professional interests associated with tectonic hazards, to develop collaborative research and educational projects which COACh is helping to facilitate and sustain, to form the nucleus of a network of women scientists in this area that seek to use their scientific expertise to save lives and to help develop policies that will lead to improved preparation and mitigation of these disasters in participants’ countries, and to develop strategies for growing the network of women with research and educational interests in these topics. It also provided participants the opportunity to compare how their countries and cultures handle such disasters, how women geoscientists fare in career advancement in this largely male dominated field and what is needed in various countries to advance women into leadership roles in the geosciences in those countries.

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Outreach Activity with Middle School Girls at the U.S. Embassy (video)

The afternoon of the third day involved an outreach activity that was held at the U.S. Embassy. Fifty low-income middle school girls from the Santiago region had the unique opportunity to conduct experiments with the women geoscientists attending the meeting. The experiments were designed to provide an educational experience for the students on some basic principles in volcanology while also giving them the opportunity to interact personally with some of the leading women in Latin America in this field. The afternoon ended with two dramatic explosions conducted in the Embassy yard which sent plumes of water and gas far into the air, much to the delight of all involved.

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 Workshop Presentations

Finding Common Ground
PTSD and the 2010 Chilean Earthquake
Forming Networks to Save Lives and Livelihoods
Social Networks and Scientific Research and Careers

 Workshop Participants


Funded by the NSF RCN-SEES (National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network – Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability) Project