State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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Unplanned Time in Dhaka

February 13th was the first day of Spring in the Bengali calendar and many women (and some men) were dressed in orange and red with flowers in their hair to celebrate.
We passed protesters marching to Shahbagh Square, the site of huge rallies every night since the hartal.

After the resistivity, I was supposed to go to Khulna to join Scott and Scott on repairing the compaction meters.  We have two places with sets of wells where we installed optical fibers.  A local person uses a device to measure the length of the fibers each week by shining a laser through the fiber.  Unfortunately several on the fibers have broken since we installed them.  The Scotts will be repairing them, as well as the usual yearly measurements and data collecting.  They went to the northern site first – we saw them heading north while the conclave group was heading south.  I was going to join them for the southern site, but their work went so much faster than expected that they finished while I was doing resistivity.  Thus there was no need for me to go to Khulna before meeting Chris Small for the river work.  I spent the two extra days in Dhaka.  I had plenty of people to look up that I didn’t expect to have time to meet.

On the first day, Humayun and I went to the US Embassy to meet with people who couldn’t make it to the conclave due to the hartal.  Even the US Ambassador was going to meet us when he took guests to a resort in Sylhet.  As Humayun and I passed through several layers of security, we ran into the Ambassador on his way out.  We chatted for a few minutes and then went on to our meeting.  After making it back to the university for lunch, we went to the Geological Survey of Bangladesh, where my main contact has been promoted to Director General.  I showed him our results and we discussed collaborations, particularly on GPS.  All around the university women were dressed on yellow, orange and red

Banners hanging from buildings at Shahbagh Square. They are calling for the execution of the collaborators during the 1971 revolution. It is a huge popular response to the hartals calling for their release. It has been going on for the last 10 days.

saris for the first day of Bangla spring. Finally back to the Ambala Inn where I met up with the Scotts and Doug and all of us went to dinner with Chowdhury, my collaborator from the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB).  He has gotten us a huge dataset on the water levels in the rivers and in groundwater wells.  Well over a million individual measurement.  Water is so central to life in Bangladesh that there is an excellent monitoring system in place that we use to determine the amount of water impounded in Bangladesh during the monsoon.  It is over 100 billion tons of water.

The next day, we went to BITWA to try to obtain more detailed information about the tide gauges for examining sea level changes.  Tide gauges measure the height of the water relative to the land, but here the land is sinking.  We put 2 GPS

Babu, our legendary driver, in his van. This time he managed to get us into the last spot on the fast ferry across the Padma River saving us two hours.

to monitor the land subsidence next to tide gauges.  That will let us separate the sea level rise from the subsidence.  The combined effect has Bangladesh worried about land loss and water salinification.  We went meet with the wrong person twice before we finally found the correct person, a woman whose sister had been a student of Humayun’s.  It will now be straightforward to get the detailed data.  The afternoon was spent working with one of the students from the resistivity training.  Sojon wanted to go through everything in detail so he knows how to run the system.  Fayaz would have joined us, but he was out filming archeological sites with Doug.  The two of them have taken the initiative to be leaders among the group.  The 10-minute ride back to the Ambala Inn took an hour.  An area just north of the

The semi-chaotic process of loading vehicles onto the ferries was particularly bad this time after a 3 hour wait. There were several fender-benders as everyone tried to force their way in.

university has been blocked off because of the peaceful protests against the razakers, the groups that collaborated with the Pakistani army during the revolution and helped them in their killings.  The Islamist party’s hartals for the release of their leader has lead to a larger movement wanting the death sentence for him and others.  It is Occupy Dhaka.  It was very strange to see women dressing in colorful clothing yesterday with headbands calling for death for the razakers.  Finally, I arrived and waited for Meredith, the last of our party to arrive from NY for the river work.  The bad traffic meant she arrived very late.  Doug and I had a last dinner together at 11 pm in a local packed restaurant.

Today I am finally on my way to Khulna with Meredith and Humayun, with Babu as our driver, of

Meredith Reitz on the Mawa ferry on her first full day in Bangladesh.

course.  I am stuck waiting to get on the ferry across the Padma River, formed by the merger of the Ganges and Brahmaputra.  Once across, we will be in the more leisurely and relaxing south to meet up with Chris in Khulna.

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