SCIENTIFIC AIMS

 

"The Past is the Key to the Future"

Ethiopian Venture is a research project that aspires to reveal crucial scientific knowledge hidden in the landscape of Ethiopia's northern provinces. By combining 'hard' physical scientific research with a 'soft' investigation into human behaviour it will be possible to learn substantially more about when drought is likely to occur and how able local communities are in coping with the effects. 

 

The 'Hard Science'

It is known that 'stalagmites' and 'tree rings' (a sample taken from a tree trunk) hold all the information about climate change in the area since the samples started growing. Analysis of both these samples from the same locations, when calibrated with human records of climate, will allow a historical climatic profile to be built for each area, from which it is then possible to predict future climatic events. It is an old phenomenon analysed with new techniques that will reveal a pattern to Ethiopian Venture.

tree samplestalagmite sample

The phenomenon? That stalagmites and tree-rings are memory banks for climatic data going back well before man started taking records. Meteorological records only started about 100 years ago in Addis; a stalagmite can reveal more than 10,000 years worth of climatic information. In some provinces records only started 30 years ago, whereas their trees have been collecting information for as long as they've been growing, in some cases hundreds of years.

The new techniques? Once a stalagmite sample from a limestone cave has been prepared, it is 'read' by a spectrometer which can analyse a whole range of information held within the sample. For example, annual growth layers directly reflect how much moisture has entered the stalagmite in a given period. Tree-ring cores (the removal of which does not harm the tree) similarly contain annual growth rings showing the relative amount of rainfall in a given period. This is a study called dendrochronology. Both these techniques have been extensively used in northern Europe and the USA.

Scientists involved:

Stalagmites:
Dr Andy Baker, Department of Geography, Newcastle University
Dr Mohammed Umer, Department of Geology, Addis Ababa University
Dr Tesfaye Korme, Department of Geology, Addis Ababa University

Tree Rings:
Dr Declan Conway, Overseas Development Group,
University of East Anglia.

 

The 'Soft Science'

Anna Barnett has been awarded a Churchill Travelling Fellowship for 2000 for her research into natural resource management and coping mechanisms in times of drought. This investigation focused specifically on the use of 'famine foods' which are both an important natural resource and a significant component of coping strategies. By 'famine' foods we mean wild plants that tend to grow outside of the cultivated area that would not normally be consumed due to local taboos or unpleasant side-effects.

countryside

Scientists involved:

Dr Alula Pankhurst, Department of Anthropology, Addis Ababa University
Dr Siri Eriksen, Climatic Research Unit, UEA

 

Successful results from the 'hard' and 'soft' science combined could provide a tool for Ethiopia's strategic planners to put into place policies that build on what current knowledge there is and introduce effective methods of planning for future droughts.

 

Further reading

Where are the results of Ethiopian Venture going?

 

 

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