Luke Fisher spends summer interning with The Nature Conservancy in Colombia

During June, July and August of 2018 I interned with the water team at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Bogota. The focus of my internship was to help TNC incorporate information about geomorphology and sediment related data in their new decision support system for hydrological issues in the Magdalena-Cauca River Basin. Beyond learning more about geomorphology my personal goal was to learn about communicating between the academic world and the world of an environmental NGO.

This took several forms, the first was spending time getting to know my coworkers as scientists and trying to learn about what they had accomplished so far on the project. What I didn’t realize was this was probably the most important part of my internship. I spent, figuring out what they had done that was working and what they needed help with. The outcome of this was that the TNC team needed the most help choosing a methodology for integrating sediment data into their decision support system rather than implementing the techniques they were already using.

Nexus Connection: This work most fits with the Energy-Water Nexus. One big issue in Colombia is hydropower development. In order to quantify how this will impact the basin on a large scale it is important to study sediment.

The work that I did to meet this goal was reviewing and summarizing literature into a document that was accessible to the team as hydrologists, biologists and engineers. I also spent time in the field trying to understand how the geomorphic conditions were different in Colombia than in places like Europe and North American where most geomorphology research is conducted.

Fun Fact about TNC Bogota: The employees in my office were such fanatical soccer fans that they setup chairs in the kitchen so we could watch Colombia play in the world cup during our lunch break.

This stretched me as trainee in several ways. It required that I review literature and communicate it in a meaningful way to non-geoscientists. My time in the field also stretched my language skills and my cultural knowledge. Unlike in Montana, doing field work is not as simple as jumping in the truck and heading to a quiet corner of public land or a private ranch. In Colombia, the country side is actually very populated. At every turn I was needing to negotiate how to cross small farms or private land to access sites on the river or help navigate around busses and motorbikes down busy dirt roads. In some cases, I needed help of local contacts to understand what areas were considered safe for foreigners to be exploring.

These challenges came with many advantages, unlike working in Montana I had 4G coverage almost everywhere making it easy to contact my supervisors in Bogota. In many cases I was able to talk with locals about how certain areas had changed over the past days, months or years and access news articles about what they had told me about.

Following my internship this summer, I will likely continue collaborating with TNC in Bogota. Their local knowledge and access to contacts across the Magdalena Basin proved to be invaluable. On my end at the University of Montana, I am going to help integrate findings from my work using cosmogenic nuclides to study erosion rates in the basin.

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