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2. Take a glimpse into the world of IGCS fellows!

PhD students Lukas and Nina both spent some time at IGCS in Chennai to conduct a research project this summer. With their short reports they allow us a glance over their shoulder into their life in Chennai, the ups and downs conducting their research and explain in what way their research contributes to sustainability.

Nina at her field work, measuring pollution in sediments. Source: Piero Bellanova, 2019.

Nina, RWTH Aachen University

Topic: Land-use and contamination following extreme flooding events

India’s south-eastern coastline is susceptible to flood events such as river floods, storm surges and tsunamis. During such flood events, not only sediments are transported and deposited in the catchment areas but also contaminants with potential toxic effects on human health and the environment. There is a need to improve the understanding of these sedimentary processes to evaluate the spatial distribution of contaminants in the depositional areas and the following consequences in ecological and human health-related terms.

To get a better understanding of the contamination characteristics of the sediments and land use potential of areas after flood events, a field campaign was conducted in and south of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. The field work included collection of sediment and surface water samples, which are currently being analyzed for various geochemical parameters in the laboratory, and studying local conditions by interviewing local residents, performing drone flights and making observations in the field. The campaign was supported by local staff of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) and of the Annamalai university in Chidambaram who helped us organizing the field work and accompanied us in the field which included finding suitable sampling spots and talking to local people in Tamil, the local language in Tamil Nadu.

The main challenges were related to field work organization and involved missing permits, adjustments of sampling locations and schedule. But in the end, we were able to collect samples at all planned locations and with the help of the observations made, based on interviews with locals and on the analytical results, we will be able to get a deeper understanding of the area characteristics, the contamination situation and the flood events, mainly the devastating tsunami in 2004 and the major flood event in 2015.

During the exchange, I’ve experienced many highlights, like a boat tour through the mangrove forest in Pichavaram, visiting beautiful temples and getting to know new people and the Indian culture. As local staff of our cooperation partners were always with us in the field, we gained a deeper insight into the Indian culture and the daily life in Chennai and its surroundings due to all provided explanations. We received a traditional Mehandi painting, which is like henna, and turned our hands orange for approx. two weeks and we tasted a lot of very tasteful Indian food.

I am very grateful to having received the opportunity to go to India and doing research there. The work and contribution of the IGCS for the improvement of sustainability in India and the ongoing cooperation between Germany and India are very valuable for both societies.

Lukas, CAU Carl-Albrechts Universität zu Kiel

Topic: Testing the application of an innovative sensor for detecting microbial contamination in bank filtration wells for rural water supply near Chennai during monsoon

Chennai has a lot of lakes that are suffering severely from anthropogenic impact. Also, there is a lake cascading system that is containing seven lakes and a big marshland. My research topic is the assessment of the water quality in the lakes and of the water flow of surface and groundwater. Furthermore, this project supports Prof. Dr. Indumathi M Nambi and her team from the Civil Engineering in a restoration project of one important lakes in the cascading system.

The water quality can be determined by a lot of parameters in the field and the lab. Therefore, every month field visits are necessary to sample the lake water, measure in-situ parameters and assess further parameters in the laboratory. Also, measuring the water flow makes it possible to estimate how the pollution is spreading and where it may come from. Besides, the interaction between surface water and groundwater can be evaluated. Since the lakes are highly polluted, it is important to know if the lakes are also affecting the groundwater which is being used for washing, cooking or even as drinking water in households. To determine the water flow field visits are necessary to state the connectivity of lakes, survey the groundwater level in pipes and wells and calculate flow directions of e.g. the groundwater.

In general, to measure the status quo of the lakes, the water flows and to identify the pollution sources is important for future projects that focus on the renaturation of the lakes and on fighting the pollution in the areas. From good water quality in the lakes not only the people will benefit in many ways but also the biota that is connected to the lakes. For the sake of the environment taking action is from the biggest necessity.

A big challenge for the project is the extreme drought. Many measurements couldn’t be done because of the lack of surface and groundwater. Nevertheless, we were, for example, assessing the water quality twice and surveying groundwater levels three times. With this data, I’m continuing the work of a colleague and we are gathering a great database of the cascading lake system.

One of my highlights in India was to see the beautiful landscapes in India. Especially in places that were far from civilization and seemed to be pristine. One of those was the Western Ghats, a mountain range in Kerala. A place we were visiting there, were the Athirappilly Falls which are the largest waterfalls in Kerala. The mountains, the beautiful green rain forest, the roaring rivers, and waterfalls were impressive. Also, the chance to see a wild elephant was thrilling. But unfortunately, we didn’t see one. Nevertheless, going to places like this is a memorable experience.

Doing a research stay in India is a unique experience. There are a lot of differences regarding the country, the culture and the people. Not everything you see here is good but overall the experience you get by living and working in India is simply great. The country and culture are very diverse, and the people are friendly and helpful. I also really enjoyed the food that offers a variety of different spices and tastes. By getting to know more about the culture and the people you get a good insight into the country. Finally, to preserve and restore the beautiful nature of India it is good to support and work on projects that aim for this and a sustainable way of living.