Heading into the Field: Directed Research

Posted: July 2, 2012

Students have just returned from their four-day trek and are eagerly beginning the Directed Research portion of their program. There are two research teams, divided into watershed and forests themes, each studying multiple components of a specific research question prioritized by our in-country partners.

The watershed team is examining potential designs for an early warning system for the Chamkhar River basin, in the event of a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) resulting from accelerated glacial melt due to climate change.  Sub-groups within this research team will be interviewing village residents of the flood risk zone, learning about local government preparedness, and analyzing data on physical characteristics of the river.  This project will inform local flood risk management plans for the national Department of Hydro-Meteorological Services, the home office of SFS faculty Chhimi Dorji, who is advising this project.

The forests team is building on research by previous SFS student groups in community forestry to examine the potential for forestry on privately owned land. In the Bumthang valley where our academic host (UWICE) is located, in recent decades there has been widespread encroachment of blue pine forests onto private land that was previously used for cultivation or grazing livestock.  The students are investigating this phenomenon at the village level: the causes, linkages to the evolving conservation legislation, effects on rural livelihoods, and income potential from this new situation.  This research will serve as the pilot project of a new multi-year UWICE initiative on developing private forestry, developed by SFS Bhutan coordinator Sonam Phuntsho.

The students have completed two rounds of project proposals and run a pilot trial of their field methods.  They will conduct five days of data collection, followed by analysis and preparation of a scientific poster on their individual research projects.  Each student will also contribute to the larger group project, and will present at research symposium in our “home” region of Bumthang where the research is conducted, as well as in the capital city of Thimphu with a range of stakeholders.  Between the data collection period and time for analysis and writing, students will enjoy a one-day outing to experience the two major annual religious festivals in our valley, which attract thousands of local participants and feature traditional mask dances.