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Primary Schools to the Rescue

Columbia University researchers are part of a team that is exploring a plate boundary that crosses three countries: Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar. Click here to read the previous blog posts in this series.

Up ahead on a hill was the brightly colored primary school, perfect for a GPS installation.

We headed to the next area. One of Humayun’s students scouted for a location and found a reinforced concrete building, but it was not on the anticline as I wanted. It was farther west on the flatter land adjacent to the hill. It was on the wrong side of the rice/tea transition. We met the owner of the property and he accompanied us as we searched for another place. We could see why he stopped. Farther on the driving was more difficult and the houses were all thatch and tin. Walking around, we were shown a reinforced concrete building

Lifting the solar panel up to the roof for installation. To get to the top you have to climb from the ladder to the window ledge to the roof.

under construction, but it wouldn’t be finished for two years. We kept hunting and then we found it. There, in a clearing, was a brightly colored primary school. Again, the headmaster quickly agreed to let us install the GPS on the roof. I even was presented to the classes. The students are a mixture of Bengali, Khasi and Garo. The later two are groups that are mainly in the eastern and western Shillong Plateau (Meghalaya). We are finding that many of the villages in the hills are part of the 2 percent of the non-Bengali population of Bangladesh. The Bengalis like the plains and rice farming, the others are hill people growing other crops. The Khasi here are Christian, we passed a church on our way in. Later we met their tribal leader.

This time a short ladder was found, allowing us to climb to the ledge over the window and then onto the roof. Much easier going up than going down

“High” tea is served on the rooftop.

with the roof overhang. We again went to work, drilling holes in their roof and mounting the antenna, the solar panels and chaining the receiver box down for security. They had no electricity so we had to use the cordless drill until it ran out of power. Then we had to send our driver to the closest village to recharge them. Meanwhile, they served us tea and cookies on the roof. We couldn’t quite get the antenna rod as far in as I like, but plenty for stability.

Keith with Sanju attaching the antenna wire

The next day we had another site in a building that was too far from the hill. Again we went forward into the hills. This time, however, there was no local school. One of the Khasi villagers showed us around, but even the open fields had too many tall trees around. The best we could find was the corner of the rice of our guide. He would sell us the little plot of land we need, but it would be expensive since it would permanently removed it from productive rice farming. Sanju pointed out that there were some

The chain and lock system we devised to attach the GPS to the roof for security and the monsoon.

Manipuri villages to the south, so we went back to the main road to try them. We discovered the maps of the area were not accurate; we failed to get to Islampur. We tried some other roads farther south. Our car could not make the direct route, so we took a detour that led us into dirt roads through a tea estate. It led us off in the wrong direction and our van was sounding worse and worse. It sounded like the CV joint was failing. We circled back to the main road on an unmapped road. We picked up someone who would show us how to

Our guide showing us possible GPS sites

drive to Kolabonpara, our last option to the south. Beyond that is India. Again, there were no local concrete buildings. The best we could find was a newly planted field of tea. Since the tea is kept waist high, we could put the monument in the middle of the field. However, the only way to get to it was over a bamboo bridge. It would be very difficult to get a welder and generator over that. We took the name and phone number of the

One of the many bamboo bridges we crossed, but our van could not.

manager, who was away in Dhaka, and headed off. On the way back north, we decided to make one last try by going to a village north of where we started. We got most of the way there and found a newly rebuilt section of dirt road. It was too soft for the van, so we walked the final half hour to the village. We went past the rice fields in through the beautiful woods next to the first high hill. Finally, at the end, we saw it: the land opened up and there in the clearing was another brightly colored reinforced

Sanju and I search for the best way to go using my phone for directions.

concrete school. Since it was Friday, it was closed, but we got the name, address and phone number of the headmaster and went off to meet him. He turned out not only to be Manipuri, but to also be Sanju’s “uncle”. With permission in hand, we headed back to our hotel. Scouting had taken the entire day, but we now had a location for the next GPS.

Working through the woods towards what turned out to be another good school.
Meanwhile, the seismology team did their huddle test, assembling all 30 instruments to test them.
Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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