Ixchel: Building understanding of the physical, cultural and socio-economic drivers of risk for strengthening resilience in the Guatemalan cordillera

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Earth Sciences


Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.

Planned Impact

This project aims to benefit and strengthen capacities of vulnerable populations facing natural hazards and systemic risks and government institutions and civil society orgs. responsible for and working in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in Guatemala. Impact will be achieved through a series of research-into-action activities that bring physical sciences into dialogue with social sciences and humanities as well as indigenous cosmovisions. The significant percentage (over 20%) of the budget requested for these innovative activities also reflects their importance within the project design. This proposal has been co-developed with Guatemalan investigators and stakeholders, ensuring knowledge production with end users and grounding in the local context, thus increasing its potential to generate impact in the short, and long term. Co-designed engagement and impact activities include:
1) Three project workshops in Guatemala that will bring together scientific, government, intergovernmental, civil society, private sector and community representatives. These will provide a space for exchange and assessment of the research methods, questions and results and a discussion of pathways to embed that knowledge in practice at the policy level. We will also coordinate a dialogue-focused symposium to share our results and invite collaborators from other GCRF projects, to strengthen interdisciplinary and cross-organisational dialogue around DRR priorities.
2) Data collection will take place through a series of interdisciplinary workshops, participatory art and ethnographic research designed to give voices to indigenous and marginalised peoples and acknowledge different knowledge practices and ways of representing risk. This will produce new knowledge about hazards and risk and useful tools to help respond to them (maps, evacuation routes and plans).
3) The capstone docunovela will have multiple forms of impact, both as a process and as a final text. By dealing with the question of risk in a way that takes account of the multiple geographies at play in Guatemala, it will speak to different audiences, not only communities at risk, but also government agencies and emergency managers, development practitioners, hazard scientists and Guatemalan ladino elites. It will put urgent debates on the political agenda and will function as an advocacy and mobilising tool. We will seek to export it to other countries so that its benefits can proliferate globally.
4) Capacity strengthening activities for this project take place at all levels of our engagement with stakeholders. By the end of the project, the government institutes responsible for hazard monitoring, assessment and emergency response will be able to use a range of tools and methods that will outlast the project duration and improve their capacity in the short and long term. Local communities will also have enhanced capacities and be trained in research methods including ethnographic methodologies and knowledge exchange. To ensure lasting impact this project will also engage with the higher education sector in Guatemala. During the technical visits from UK researchers, we plan to impart two short courses targeted at undergraduate students and researchers associated with risk management, to strengthen long-term physical and socioeconomic resilience.
Our findings will be presented in academic papers and reports in Spanish, Mayan languages and English. The promotion and dissemination of research results and methodologies in different languages has the long-term potential to benefit institutions in Guatemala and those working with populations at risk in similar contexts elsewhere.
To monitor and evaluate project impact we plan to apply the Theory of Change methodology. We have drafted an initial version for the proposed project and we will further co-develop this strategy with representatives of key stakeholder groups who will be invited to participate in this exercise at the first workshop.


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Description The team has used uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) to investigate Volcan de Fuego in Guatemala, a key target for the Ixchel research team. We have made three key discoveries to date. Firstly, we looked at the way deeply cut valleys, which typically control the movement of volcanic material, in the form of pyroclastic flows (avalanches of hot ash and gas) and mudslides, changed during emplacement and rapid of erosion. We found that during 2017 a large pyroclastic flow filled a valley with material that was subsequently eroded by heavy rains associated with a la nina event. This subtly changed the course of subsequent pyroclastic flows during the disaster of June 3rd 2018, and, in this case, directed flows in a forest and up a bank, which slowed the flow and took it away from population centres (the opposite to what happened in a different valley where the flow jumped out of valley and into a town, killing thousands of people), We used the same technique, called structure from motion, to also look at the shape of the summit crater system. Here we found that we could observe differences in the shape of the crater that will likely control the direction of any subsequent hazardous flows.

During the same campaign we also flew a different type of UAV into ash clouds above the summit of Fuego. Whilst we have done this before, this time we were able to intercept volcanic ash in the presence of meteorological (water) clouds. In a world first we were able to collect ash aggregates (collections of very small ash particles stuck together by hydrostatic / electrostatic forces).

Finally, we have done a significant amount of research on evacuation timescales. During a volcanic eruption evacuation is often the only way to protect people, but is a challenging process anywhere (but particularly in the communities around Fuego due to exceptionally poor road conditions, large heterogeneous populations and mistrust of the state). We looked at the timings of evacuation and the steps required for a successful evacuation. At Fuego evacuations often occur as the eruption is waning and are reliant on a number of chronically under-resourced national institutes and good will from the private sector (who provide buses). Evacuation is limited by the amount of time it takes for the component institutes to make decisions, organise transport and convince the population to leave.

Eruption timescales
Exploitation Route Add to this.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport

Title Digital Elevation Models of the volcanoes of Guatemala 
Description A series of DEMs of the volcanic summits and drainages around Pacaya, Fuego and Santiaguito volcanoes in Gautemala. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact DEMs (and videos) from UAVs are available to INSIVUMEH and are used in decision-making processes including assessment of activity and likely future risk. 
Description Capacity building in INSIVUMEH 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Ixchel team members have conducted a number of workshops in INSIVUMEH (the National Natural Hazards centre in Guatemala) around using technology, specifically in my group's case UAVs, to improve volcano monitoring systems. This has included both in person and remote lectures, practical demonstrations and post-processing support. Around 50-60 people typically attending (both online and in person) but the main focus, in terms of capacity building, is focused up a small number (~5) of technicians and volcanologists who have received targeted, bespoke training. Local scientsists' ability to monitoring valleys around Fuego have influenced reporting and decision making around evacuation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022