Fabián is a Global Swede

2016-05-31

Photo: Karin Nyylund, Ministry for Foreign Affairs

When Fabián Martínez received an e-mail from "the government", he figured it was nothing but spam. After getting a few more e-mails, he started wondering if maybe there was more to it! It turned out he had been selected to represent Uppsala University at the Global Swede prize ceremony hosted by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The Global Swede ceremony is arranged by the Ministries for foreign affairs together with the Ministry of enterprise and innovation, and the Swedish Institute

Fabián is a student in the master programme in earth science, with the specialisation in hydrology. He is born and raised in Santiago de Chile, where he also got a degree in engineering before moving to Uppsala. I ask Fabián why he choose to specialise in Hydrology. 

- I've come to realise that humanity faces so many challenges in the future, and the solution to many of these questions is spelled "water".  We all need water - not just for domestic use and drinking water, but also for agriculture and industrial applications. Our water resources are unevenly distributed over the planet, and are moreover everything but constant over time. We have so-called normal variations over the year, but also larger scale fluctations that lead to droughts and flooding. And ontop of all this, we also have the ongoing climate change that alters the global hydrological cycle. Regions that used to receive plenty of rain today experience more extended dry periods, while other regions will get more floods. 

Fabián has just finished his masters thesis (presented on June 2), which is a part of a larger project led by professor Giuliano Di Baldassarre at the Department of Earth Sciences. Fabián describes his field as Socio-hydrology. 

- Mankind exists in a complex interplay with the hydrosphere. Sometimes, we tend to adjust our living conditions according to the constraints imposed by the available water, e.g. by not constructing buildings and infrastructure on land that is frequently flooded, Fabián explains. But it is getting more and more common in the modern world to do it the other way around, i.e. control the water cycle to suit the needs of humanity. We do this for example by building dams and embankments to control and regulate water supply. This usually works fine... until the big flood comes along, and the embankments are no longer enough! By trying, and usually failing, to control the water cycle, we make ourself more vulnurable. So, what may look like hazard mitigation might turn out to be hazard exacerbation, Fabián exclaims. 

An example of hydrological modeling - risk profile for flooding in a Swedish river system.

- In Socio-hydrology we study this interaction between mankind and the hydrological systems. We look at how we are impacted by water, but also how the hydrological systems are in fact influenced humanity! For example, we cover vast areas with concrete, which reduces the infiltration capacity of the ground, which exacerbates floods. Moreover, by reducing infiltration we also reduce the resupply of groundwater, which in turn worsen the effect of the next drought. 

Another interesting aspect of Socio-hydrology is the study of how the collective memory of hydrological events evolves over time.

- I'm working on a model that tries to describe this two-way interaction between societies and their behaviour during extreme hydrological events. In any given society, awareness of hazards naturally increases during an extreme event - like a collective memory, Fabián says. A society with a fresh collective memory of previous hydrological events is more likely to make rational water management decisions. This collective memory tends to fade with time, increasing the likelyhood of unsustainable water management, thus worsening the impact of the next flood or drought. Our research aims to quantify this degradation of the collective memory, and to explore what can be done to maintain this hazard awareness over time. Hopefully, we will arrive at concrete guidelines how to reinforce hazard awareness, so that societies can be better prepared for the next hydrological extreme.

Besides his studies on the master programme, Fabián also holds a part-time position at the consultancy firm ÅF, where he is involved in the pre-planning of the major infrastructire project "Ostlänken"

- I am very happy to be part of such a big project, Fabián says. As a hydrologist, it is supremely valuable to have experience from both academic research and actual application in society. I have learnt so much during these months at ÅF, not to mention the challenge to have a job where the working language is Swedish! 

Global Swede is initiated by the Swedish Institute and the government, aiming to build a global network and foster long term relations with international students in Sweden. The award ceremony was hosted at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in stockholm, held by state secretary Oscar Stenström, and the director of the Swedish institute, Annika Rembe 

The latest crop of Global Swedes. Photo: Karin Nylund, Ministry of Foreign affairs.

- The international students are a valuable asset to both Swedish development and future innovation. Besides offering new perspectives and novel ideas, they represent bridges between Sweden and the rest of the world, says Oscar Stenström.

Fabián and the rest of the Global Swedes are now included in a big network of about 13 000 graduated international students from 140 countries. The Swedish Institute employs this network to promote collaborations among the future leaders and innovators of the global world. 

/Börje Dahrén

News archive 2016