Monday, May 24, 2010

Riverbank Filtration and The Energy and Resources Institute

Now I am going to take you a bit back in time, and to a place very far from India. Last March as I walked down Thayer Street, bracing against the cold wind that was the last gasp of a long New England winter, one of the many academic flyers vying for attention caught my eye. It announced a lecture about water purification in a series entitled “Innovative Approaches to Global Health.” As I was (and still am) looking for social applications of earth science, I did a quick web search on the speaker, Geology Professor Tom Boving at the University of Rhode Island. He has received funding from the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a novel technique for water filtration in the tropics.

The process of riverbank filtration (RBF) involves pumping river water through a riverbank. Both physical and microbial processes help to remove organic and inorganic contaminants from the surface water. This technique has actually been used in the Rhine river valley in Germany for hundreds of years, but never in a monsoon climate like in India. Professor Boving and his colleagues have adapted this low-cost method to serve 2000 people in a rural area of Karnataka state near the TERI office in Goa.

I plan to spend three weeks working with TERI, including one week taking water quality measurements at the field site in Karnataka. I look forward to learning more details of the science and management involved in the project. Some questions I plan to investigate include:
- What specific geochemical reactions occur as the river water moves through the soil?
- Which contaminants is RBF best at removing?
- Does the riverbank have a finite filtration capacity?
- What challenges does the tropical monsoon climate regime pose for RBF, and how has TERI modified the traditional RBF technique to address these challenges?
- I know that there is a small charge for villagers to use the water. Who do they pay, and how did TERI decide that?

Stay tuned to hear about my findings!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Beginning

Welcome! As I embark on a new adventure, I am beginning a new blog. I am very glad that many of you enjoyed reading Adventures with my Aunt Arctica, about my research at Palmer Station, Antarctica. I greatly appreciate all of your encouragement and feedback!

In four days I will board a plane for Mumbai, where I will begin a four-month journey through South Asia and the Middle East. I do not know how much access I will have to computers along the way, so this blog may not be as comprehensive as Adventures with my Aunt Arctica although I hope to share as much as possible about what I learn along my way.

I am very excited to meet my boyfriend Edgar in India, where he has spent the past ten months as a fellow at the Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP). Located in Jamkhed, a small town east of Mumbai, CRHP works to improve community health by providing comprehensive primary care and addressing underlying social issues such as illiteracy, casteism and the status of women. He is writing a blog about the social determinants of health and the challenges of international development.

We will first travel south to the city of Panaji in the state of Goa, where I will spend three weeks as an intern at an NGO called The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). There, I will work on a water filtration well which is actually located in the neighboring state of Karnataka. As part of his fellowship in global health, Eddie will spend a week with a different NGO in Goa that focuses on mental health, after which he will return to Jamkhed. When I am finished at TERI, I will join him in Jamkhed and spend some time seeing what CRHP does. That brings us almost to the end of June, at which point we will head off to travel around India together. The heat and the monsoon will probably drive us north into the mountains, but who knows where we'll end up?

Stay tuned for my next post about my work at The Energy and Resources Institute...