What matters more in preventing adult deaths in India?

By Nandita Saikia, Postdoc Research Scholar at IIASA

What matters more when it comes to preventing unexpected and tragic adult deaths, between the ages of 15 and 60, in low- or middle-income countries?  Is it wealth? Or education?

With the advent of demographic and health surveys (DHS), empirical studies documented that the education level of mothers matters more than the wealth of the household when it comes to preventing deaths among children in these countries. However, the same question largely remained unanswered for adults, as such surveys rarely collect information on adult deaths and the socioeconomic status of the dead individuals. In these countries, in general, death registration systems are poor, which again hinders scientific studies addressing this issue.

© Donyanedomam | Dreamstime.com

One possible solution is the clever use of indirect methods or models on census and survey data, developed by demographers to derive rates from limited, deficient and defective data.  These methods use indirect information collected by surveys for a different purpose. For example, by using women’s siblings’ survival status, one can estimate maternal mortality, or by using women’s widowhood status, one can estimate male adult mortality.

In our recent study on India, we used one such method, called the Orphanhood method, to document life expectancy differences in adulthood by important socioeconomic characteristics. Because of the reasons mentioned above, there is hardly any scientific evidence on life expectancy differences by education or economic status in India, a country with exceptional cultural and socioeconomic diversity. The importance of studying adult mortality disparity in India also lies in the fact that India experiences relatively higher adult mortality than some of its neighboring countries with similar level of economic development. India’s official statistics shows that adult females belonging to the northeastern state of Assam have more than two times the mortality risk of adult females belonging to the southern state of Kerala. In addition, because of drastic reduction of under five deaths in India in recent years, more and more premature deaths in India will occur in adult age in near future.  We used adult parental survival data from a nationally representative large-scale survey, called the India Human Development Survey, 2015-2016, to estimate life expectancy at age 15 in 1998-1999.

We found that lower levels of education of the deceased adults or their offspring, leads to more disparity than any other socioeconomic characteristic, including income status of the offspring, caste, or religion. Literate adults of both sexes at age 15 lived about 3.5 years more than that of their illiterate counterparts. On average, parents of children educated to higher-secondary level (and above) gain an extra 3.8-4.6 years of adult life compared to parents of illiterate children. We found that disparity in adult life by caste and religion is much smaller than disparities arising from educational attainment. For example, female Hindu adults lived 1.3 years more than female non-Hindu adults and male Hindu adults lived 0.9 years more than male non-Hindu adults.

One inherent limitation of indirect demographic methods is that they cannot provide estimates in the most recent years. Despite our estimates referring to a time period about twenty years ago, they are still crucial, as this kind of disparity in adult deaths does not disappear in such a short time span. Our results suggest that investing in education can be more rewarding than anything else to prevent untimely deaths, and to prevent inequalities across population subgroups. Meanwhile, we suggest including appropriate indirect questions in surveys or censuses to track survival status by social group or small geographical area until vital registration systems in countries such as India become fully functional.

Reference:

Saikia N, Bora JK and Luy M (2019). Socioeconomic disparity in adult mortality in India: Estimations using the Orphanhood method. Genus DOI: 10.1186/s41118-019-0054-1 [pure.iiasa.ac.at/id/eprint/15730/]

 Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Rescuing the world from drowning

By Julian Hunt, IIASA postdoc

Possible location where the barriers could be installed © Anna Krivitskaia | Dreamstime.com

Sea level rise is one of the most challenging impacts of climate change. The continued rise in sea levels, partially caused by the melting of the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, will result in large scale impacts in coastal areas as they are submerged by the sea. Locations not able to bear the costs of implementing protection and adaptation measures will have to be abandoned, resulting in social, economic and environmental losses.

The most important mitigation goal for sea level rise is to reduce or possibly revert carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Given the time lag between emission reductions and the impacts of climate change, new adaptation measures to reduce sea level rise should be proposed, developed and if possible, implemented.

A proposal that I developed during my D.Phil degree ten years ago, which resulted in a paper on the Mitigation and Adaptation to Global Change Journal1, shows that submerged barriers in front of ice sheets and glaciers would contribute to reducing the ice melt in Greenland. Edward Byers and I propose the construction of ten barriers at key glaciers in Greenland to stop the flow of warm salty ocean water reaching glaciers in Greenland and Atlantic, which are the main contributors to ice melting. This could reduce sea level rise by up to 5.3 meters at a levelized cost of US$275 million a year. The cost of the barriers is only a fraction of the estimated costs of adaptation measures to sea level rise around the world estimated to be US$1.4 trillion a year by 21002.

The barrier consists of several plain sheet modules of marine grade steel around 200 mm thick connected to cylindrical steel tubes with air inside to keep the barrier floating. The depth of the barriers varies from 30 – 500 meters and the required length to stop the sea water from entering the fjords, where the glaciers are located. As no such barrier has been developed before, we propose three main steps for the construction of the barrier:

  1. The barrier components should be transported to the designated location during the summer, when there is no ocean ice cover and the access to the location of the barrier is less challenging. Also during the summer, mooring structures should be added.
  2. During the winter, the barrier is assembled over the frozen ice cover.
  3. During the next summer, the ice cover will melt again and the barrier will float above the place where it is should be fixed. The mooring chains attached to the barrier will pull the barrier into place, using the mooring structures in the ground.

The concept of reducing the contact of seawater and glaciers to reduce ice sheet melting was first published by Moore in Nature3, and Wolovick in The Cryosphere4 with the construction of submerged dams. A graphic representation of the concept is presented in Figure 1. As you can see the barriers should be positioned just after the glacier cavity, where the depth required for the barrier would be the smallest. Our cost analysis shows that using submerged barriers would have one or two orders of magnitude lower costs when compared to submerged dams. Additionally, submerged barriers could be easily removed, if the need arise.

Figure 1. (a) Proposed location of the submerged barrier or dam, (b) submerged barrier characterizes, (c) submerged dam characterizes.

There are several issues involving the implementation of these barriers that should be considered before they are built. The reduction of ice melt in Greenland glaciers will contribute to an increase in seawater temperature and salinity of the Arctic Ocean, which will have a direct impact on the region’s biosphere, climate and ocean currents. The superficial ice cover in the Arctic will be considerably reduced. This would allow a new maritime route for ships to cross the Arctic Ocean, increase the absorption of CO2 by the Arctic Ocean, due to the increase in the ice free surface area and the cold seawater temperature, and the increase in radiation heat from the Arctic Ocean into space. Ice is a strong thermal insulator. Without the Arctic Ocean ice cover the temperature of the region and the heat radiated from the Earth to space will considerably increase, which could have a higher impact in cooling the Earth than the ice cover’s albedo effect. Thus, the reduction of the Arctic Ocean ice cover could contribute to reducing the overall CO2 concentration of the atmosphere and reducing the Earth’s temperature.

This solution, however, should not be used as an excuse to reduce focus on cutting CO2 emission. If the world continues to warm, not even submerged barriers in front of glaciers would be able to stop ice sheets melting and sea level rise.

References:

  1. Hunt J, Byers E (2018) Reducing sea level rise with submerged barriers and dams in Greenland. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change DOI: 10.1007/s11027-018-9831-y.   [pure.iiasa.ac.at/15649]
  2. Jevrejeva JS, Jackson LP, Grinsted A, Lincke D, and Marzeion B (2018) Flood damage costs under the sea level rise with warming of 1.5 ◦C and 2 ◦C. Environmental Research Letters DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aacc76
  3. Moore J, Gladstone R, Zwinger T, and Wolovick M (2018) Geoengineer polar glaciers to slow sea-level rise. Nature: https://go.nature.com/2GoPcGp
  4. Wolovick M, Moore J (2018) Stopping the flood: could we use targeted geoengineering to mitigate sea level rise? The Cryosphere DOI: 10.5194/tc-12-2955-2018

Learning global-scale modelling in a castle in Europe

Camila Ludovique – personal archive.

By Camila Ludovique, research assistant CAPES/IIASA Sandwich Doctorate

I come from Brazil, more specifically from the Energy Planning Program of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, that postcard city that most of you may have already seen in pictures, with gorgeous mountains beside the ocean, the sunsets…

But, on the ground we have many problems, as do all the major cities in the developing world, including a high increase in the population, about 11 % in the last decade, who require transport services work, housing, leisure and happiness.

However, higher than the increase in Rio’s population was the increase in its automobile fleet, around 110%, to supply the demand for transport in the city. The result: immobility, traffic jam, environment degradation and loss of quality of life. Then, one day I realized: something needs to be done to transform the business-as-usual scenario!

I started to wonder, how can we develop a society that is more sustainable? How can the transport passenger sector play its role in the decarbonization of economy? Moreover, how can we answer these questions?

By building mathematical models, which try to simulate the real dynamic of full economies, to assess different strategies towards a low-carbon transport system. In this way, we can try to help politicians to understand the emissions problem in a quantitative framework. We can build a dialogue, supported by numbers and evidence on the effectiveness of different policies, measures, and actions to reduce CO2 emissions from the transport sector.

Articulating this complex issue in the context of mathematical language allows us to expand the boundaries of our mental models and ideas, define them and generate scenarios to figure out what that means in practice. The models will not  give us the answer – all models are wrong – but they will give us insights that improve our mental models and the mental models of all the people who need to be involved in order for change to happen, so that people are empowered with effective policies with good leverage to go out there and make a difference. This is what makes some models useful.

And that is why IIASA appears in my life…

Choosing IIASA

Here at IIASA we have researchers and expertise from all around the world, allowing us to develop mathematical models to transform science into actions and to achieve better levels of sustainability in our world.

Being a little bit more technical, there are many examples of how and where emissions from transport have been accounted for through modelling approaches, but, roughly, we can say that there are main two types of models – the top-down and the bottom-up approach.

The bottom-up approach builds the model through more desegregated data. This means, for example, that you can differentiate the emissions pattern between the weeks and the weekends, so you can have a better understanding of the behavior and activities of human beings inside your model, which leads to more realistic outcomes.

The top-down approach uses more aggregated levels of indicators, such as the average distance in kilometers traveled per capita of a country in a year, known as PKT in the transport sector. This is just one value to represent the whole population, which doesn’t allow us to see very detailed patterns of human activity, but it allows us to see much further, around the whole globe, and compare how each region may evolve. On the other hand, the bottom-up approach cannot see a big region without losing the capabilities of a desegregated model.

I used to say that one is myopic and the other has astigmatism. How can we solve this dilemma?

Working with both… and that is why IIASA benefits me

The institute has an important and famous top-down model, the Model for Energy Supply Strategy Alternatives and their General Environmental Impact, better known as MESSAGE. It which provides core inputs for major international assessments, such as the IPCC, and here I am – in this castle in Europe, learning how to model in a global scale.

Besides that, I am also developing a bottom-up model that applies big data to assess the urban passenger emissions in Rio de Janeiro, creating a tool that seeks to answer how we can achieve the transition paths to reduce the carbon footprint of the transport sector, and how much it will cost. This will help my country develop strategies towards sustainable mobility and a better quality of life for Brazilians who live in Rio de Janeiro, or those who travel to that wonderful city.

Why apply for the IIASA doctorate program?

IIASA is not in Vienna itself, it is in Laxenburg, a small village south of Vienna, which means if you want to live in the city, you must travel. But, if that is not a problem for you, I really would recommend IIASA for you!

IIASA has good infrastructure, and there are great people from all over the world, all friendly. There are many activities in the summer time, that even offer free beer! There is also the mountain club, the music club, a great park to run in, or walk in, which is full of nature. For sure, it is a good place to live and finalize your long life of studies. Come to make part of this history.

Applications for the 2019 IIASA-CAPES Doctorate Sandwich Program and Postdoctoral Fellowship Program opened on 1 September 2018 and will run until 15 October 2018. Candidates have to apply to both CAPES (on the CAPES website) and IIASA. Successful applicants will be informed of the selection results by mid-December 2018. Selected candidates are expected to take up their position at IIASA between March and October 2019.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

 

My experience as a postdoc at IIASA

Julian Hunt – personal archive.

Julian Hunt is a postdoc at IIASA and part of the Brazilian Federal Agency for Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education (CAPES) scheme. 

My postdoctoral research consists of looking at the world potential and costs of storing energy and water with large-scale pumped-storage plants. This consists of developing computational models using world topographical and hydrological data to develop all possible projects in the world. The results from my research could then be used by countries to analyze the viability of building seasonal pumped-storage for short, medium, and long-term energy storage needs and to improve the water management of the country.

I first heard about IIASA at the Vienna Energy Forum in 2010, when I was doing an internship at UNIDO. I got the impression that IIASA was a major contributor to the science that supports major claims by the UN. This led me to start reading about IIASA’s projects and follow its research. I did not think twice when I received an invitation to apply for the IIASA-CAPES fellowship, which gave me a chance to join the institute and develop my own high impact research. One thing that might stop Brazilian people from applying for this scholarship is because the native language in Austria is German. However, IIASA’s working language is English and in Vienna most people speak English.

IIASA focuses on applied and high impact research at a global scale. Prior to my experience at IIASA, I used to develop new technologies looking only at one or a few cases studies. This limited the research to a small readership, which would think that the technology could only be implemented in one location. With the experience I had at IIASA, I learned to combine my technological expertise with computer modelling and Geographic Information System in most of my work. This considerably increased the readership and impact of my research, and citations of my papers.

Working at IIASA you can focus only on your research. Normally when doing research at universities you might have to give lectures and supervise students. This reduces the important focus on research. At IIASA the main activities are to research, publish articles and scientific reports, present your work at conferences, collaborate with other research institutes, develop projects and so on. The main activities of a researcher. Similarly to universities, there is always finger food (free lunch) available, but the quality is much better.

IIASA is located close to Vienna, which is a beautiful, lively, and affordable and city. Vienna was voted the best city to live in the world and I agree with this. Another important aspect is the social life. IIASA has a very active social life, which includes regular events and parties, different societies (music club, running club), an active Staff Association (STAC) and the possibility of making friends from around the world. Becoming IIASA alumni will also open doors for your future. For example, the Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP), brings around 50 of the best researchers in the world every year to IIASA. This results in a large network of IIASA alumni researchers.

I highly recommend that researchers, fluent in English, who want to give a huge boost to their research career, learn a lot of valuable methodologies, solve holistic and complex problems, make good friends, and increase their network should apply for a research position at IIASA.


Applications for the 2019 IIASA-CAPES Doctorate Sandwich Program and Postdoctoral Fellowship Program opened on 1 September 2018 and will run until 15 October 2018. Candidates have to apply to both CAPES (on the CAPES website) and IIASA. Successful applicants will be informed of the selection results by mid-December 2018. Selected candidates are expected to take up their position at IIASA between March and October 2019.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Interview: A great opportunity for Brazilian PhD students and postdocs

Rafael Morais

Rafael Morais is a recent participant in the IIASA-CAPES Doctorate Sandwich Program, he spent nine months at IIASA working in the Energy program.

In 2016, the Brazilian Federal Agency for Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education (CAPES) partnered with IIASA on a new initiative offering support to doctoral and postdoctoral researchers interested in collaborating with established IIASA researchers. As part of this initiative, IIASA and CAPES annually offer up to three fellowships for Brazilian PhD students to spend three to twelve months at IIASA as part of the joint IIASA-CAPES Doctorate Sandwich Program, as well as up to four postdoc fellowships that enable Brazilian researchers to work at IIASA for up to 24 months.

Rafael Morais, a PhD candidate at the Energy Planning Program of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, was part of the first group of Brazilian PhD students funded by CAPES to participate in this program. He spent nine months with the Energy Program at IIASA in 2017. We recently caught up with him and asked him about his research and what the fellowship has meant to him:

What is your PhD research about?

My research involves modeling the contribution of renewable energy sources in electric systems. My doctorate thesis includes a case study on Brazil, where we have large potential for wind and solar power generation in various regions. My main objective is to investigate how total costs develop considering the number of wind and solar plants in the Brazilian electricity system.

Why did you choose IIASA for your doctorate program (over other places)?

I chose IIASA because it is a very reputable think tank for energy and model development. People are very capable and well prepared. They have been working on energy systems modeling for many years, and their experience motivated my decision to come to IIASA. I talked with some people that were at IIASA before me and they were all very grateful for the experience. Another important factor was that it is an international institute, where one can have contact with people from many different countries, and the main language is English.

Rafael Morais

How did your participation in the program benefit you?

I had the opportunity to get into contact with diverse approaches to my research questions, thus enriching my thesis. Unlike my home institution, IIASA does not have only energy experts, but also computer scientists, mathematicians, and physics experts, all working in the same group, and all contributing to a great modeling team. Being here was an excellent opportunity to collaborate with them. As my first experience abroad, it was also a chance for me to grow and develop other skills, both on a professional and a personal level.

Would you recommend that people apply for the IIASA-CAPES doctorate program?

Yes, I would definitely recommend it! IIASA is a very nice place to work. People really care about a harmonious work environment, and IIASA staff are always available to help you with any issue. Apart from that, the people that I worked with during my time here are very knowledgeable and kind. In short, it was a great experience being at IIASA for nine months during my PhD.

Applications for the 2019 IIASA-CAPES Doctorate Sandwich Program and Postdoctoral Fellowship Program opened on 1 September 2018 and will run until 15 October 2018. Candidates have to apply to both CAPES (on the CAPES website) and IIASA. Successful applicants will be informed of the selection results by mid-December 2018. Selected candidates are expected to take up their position at IIASA between March and October 2019.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

The hidden impacts of species extinction

by Melina Filzinger, IIASA Science Communication Fellow

Ecosystems worldwide are changed by the influence of humans, often leading to the extinction of species, for example due to climate change or loss of natural habitat. But it doesn’t stop there: as the different species in an ecosystem feed on each other and are thereby interconnected, the loss of one species might lead to the extinction of others, which can even destabilize the whole system. “In nature, everything is connected in a complex way, so at first glance you cannot be sure what will happen if one species disappears from an ecosystem,” says IIASA postdoc Mateusz Iskrzyński.

This is why the IIASA Evolution and Ecology (EEP) and Advanced Systems Analysis (ASA) programs are employing food-web modeling to find out which properties make ecosystems particularly vulnerable to species extinction. Food webs are stylized networks that represent the feeding relationships in an ecosystem. Their nodes are given by species or groups of species, and their links indicate how biomass cycles through the system by means of eating and being eaten. “This type of network analysis has a surprising power to uncover general patterns in complex relationships,” explains Iskrzyński.

Every one of these food webs is the result of years of intense research that involves both data collection to assess the abundance of species in an area, and reconstructing the links of the network from existing knowledge about the diets of different species. The largest of the currently available webs contain about 100 nodes and 1,000 weighted links. Here, “weighted” means that each link is characterized by the biomass flow between the nodes it connects.

Usually, food webs are published and considered individually, but recently efforts have been stepped up to collect them and analyze them together. Now, the ASA and EEP programs have collected 220 food webs from all over the world in the largest database assembled so far. This involved unifying the parametrization of the data and reconstructing missing links.

The researchers use this database to find out how different ecosystems react to the ongoing human-made species loss, and which ones are most at risk. This is done by removing a single node from a food web, which corresponds to the extinction of one group of species, and modeling how the populations of the remaining species change as a result. The main question is how these changes in the food web depend on its structural properties, like its size and the degree of connectedness between the nodes.

From the preliminary results obtained so far, it seems that small and highly connected food webs are particularly vulnerable to the indirect effects of species extinction. This means that in these webs the extinction of one species is especially likely to lead to large disruptive change affecting many other organisms. “Understanding the factors that cause such high vulnerability is crucial for the sustainable management and conservation of ecosystems,” says Iskrzyński. He hopes that this research will encourage more, and more precise, empirical ecosystems studies, as reliable data is still missing from many places in the world.

As a next step, the scientists in the two programs are planning to understand which factors determine the impact that the disappearance of a particular group of organisms has. They are going to make the software they use for their simulations publicly available, together with the database they developed.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.