Transitions: Geospatial Fieldwork in Dominica
Preparations began in August 2020 when the Mona Geoinformatics institute (MGI) recruited, me a GIS research associate to work full time on the Caribbean Cyclone Cartography (CCC) project. I had not long graduated with an MSc in Geospatial Science and was delighted to find a project that aligned to the focus of my thesis, which mapped the impacts of hurricane Maria in my nation Dominica. This would be an opportunity to return to home and apply my training to Dominica’s long hurricane recovery and research its journey to ‘resilience’. MGI’s work on the project forms a core pillar of the CCC project, concerned with mapping hurricane hazards and adaptations in Dominica, and using spatial data to visualise what we might mean by resilience. This focus piqued my interest and inspired me to get started.
Under the supervision of Deputy Director of MGI, Dr Ava Maxam based in Jamaica, I shadowed various members MGI’s skilled team across a host of related projects. Such projects focused on the effects of climate change; utilised geospatial and resilience modelling; drone imaging; and spatial data visualization. Additionally, the team began drafting a fieldwork plan for the months ahead in Dominica and executing preliminary aspects of the work stream.
In recent years, Dominica has been severely impacted by major troughs and storms, including tropical storm Erika in 2015 and hurricane Maria two years later in 2017. This led the Island on a resilience mission aiming to become on of the most resilient small island developing states in the world. This looks at ensuring the country’s infrastructure, farming, housing, businesses, and disaster services are well positioned withstand future (climate change intensified) natural hazards. I returned to Dominica more than 3 years on from Maria to understand how this mission has impacted the lives of 5 local communities and gain a sense of how they have adapted their own sense of resilience.
To begin to map resilience and vulnerabilities in Dominica, MGI have developed a strategic Resilience Index: which uses pre-existing data to model what we might consider to be the most and least hurricane vulnerable areas on the island in relation to the natural hazards. The index is known as an Exposure-Vulnerability-Hazards (EVH) model. To help understand what is meant by ‘E’, ‘V’ and ‘H’ it is useful to break down these concepts and explain what we mean by them. (See this IPCC glossary for more context)
Exposure refers to a feature or aspect of the island which might be impacted by a given hazard – from buildings, to roads and bridges, to tourist attractions and forests. Vulnerability – the propensity to be adversely affected by hazards, is characterised by conditions of sensitivity and adaptive capacity. Sensitivity increases vulnerability in areas, for example, where the proportion of elderly and disabled people is higher (those less able to escape floodwaters quickly) or lower income-earning areas (where populations often inhabit riverside or steep sloping lands, and often build with cheaper less hardy materials) On the other hand, having adaptive capacity reduces vulnerability and is subtracted from the model. Adaptive capacity can include building wider and higher bridges, constructing alternate roads in less landslide prone locations, building new emergency shelters or an entire community resettlement to a safer location (as has been the case for residents of Petite Savanne). Hence, the greater volume of effective adaptions within a given community, the less of a ‘hot spot’ the place becomes. Finally, Hazards are the physical phenomena themselves, including storm surges, inland flooding, wind exposure and landslides.
EVH was developed by MGI as an adaptation of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) method, where spatial parameters representing Exposures, Vulnerabilities and Hazards are combined. In cases where EVH values were statistically extreme, these were labelled as ‘hot spots’ (most vulnerable) at one end of the scale and ‘cold spots’ (lease vulnerable) at the other. Therefore, in our EVH model the greater the adaptive capacity, the lower the numerical EVH value. This allows us to characterise particular areas that have become ‘more resilient’ to hazards. Once the EVH model was populated using pre-existing data, we developed a series of hazard maps to visualise the most vulnerable hotspots on the island. Some of these areas for Dominica’s EVH included Roseau, Loubiere, Petite Savanne, Coulibistrie, Castle Bruce, Marigot and Wesley . This model was used to guide our selection of 5 key communities in which to do on the ground fieldwork. Furthermore, it has guided some of the questions we ask residents of each community.
MGI leads a workstream that asks how we might map hurricane ‘resilience’. It draws on geoinformatics, local place-based knowledge of cyclonic hazards and citizen science to promote disaster risk reduction. This most recent stage of our work has now transitioned to my homeland, Dominica. I am currently working from CCC’s offices at project partner Create Caribbean Institute (Dominica State College) and have made initial site visits to some of the communities of interest, including Coulibistrie, Petite Savanne, the Kalinago territory and Roseau. Some exciting work is to come! Armed with GPS applications, GIS software and the project’s field drone, I am excited to start in-depth research in each community and building the CCC project map, as well as meet with relevant local stakeholders (across various key sectors) and build a comprehensive.