Six new CROSS projects on the theme of crisis

© iStock: Bulat Silvia

© iStock: Bulat Silvia

The 2023 edition of the CROSS (Collaborative Research on Science and Society) program invited researchers from EPFL and the University of Lausanne to submit proposals for joint projects on the theme of crisis. These projects combine natural sciences and engineering with social sciences and humanities to address some of the most pressing challenges facing society.

It seems that the word ‘crisis’ appears in media headlines almost daily, whether in reference to the climate and natural disasters, political conflict and humanitarian aid, digital security and privacy, finance and socioeconomics, or even our physical and mental health. When a problem is elevated to the status of a crisis, it is often due to both its extremity and its urgency, necessitating immediate decision-making and action.

Because crises often develop at the convergence of several different factors, an interdisciplinary approach is essential to better understanding why crises occur, and developing potential solutions.

CROSS has granted funding for 2023 to six interdisciplinary projects at EPFL and the University of Lausanne (UNIL) that will address current crisis situations. Each project will receive up to CHF 60'000, to be shared between the two institutions.

CROSS 2023: Selected projects

Analysis and Modelling of the Dissemination and Social Impacts of Scientific Preprints during Crises

  • Daniel PROBST, EPFL (STI)

Under normal circumstances, cutting-edge research is of little interest to the general public. However, during the COVID-19 crisis, the media began to report on results shared in
non-peer-reviewed preprints, and laypeople began to read, share, and comment on them via social media. Combining approaches from data science, machine learning, digital humanities, and history, this project aims to investigate the mechanisms of information flow in this particular crisis and compare it to historical crises. The ultimate goal is to develop a general methodology that can guide the processing of non-peer-reviewed scientific information and inform the communication of scientific information to the public and policymakers during crises.


Investigating industrial pollution: an interdisciplinary approach

Investigating industrial pollution: an interdisciplinary approach
At the beginning of 2021, a significant soil contamination to dioxins was discovered in Lausanne. It was due to a former waste incinerator that operated from 1958 to 2005. This episode illustrates how many industrial pollutions, past or present, can remain invisible for decades, and continuing to exert their harmful effects without inciting public authorities to protect the population. Based on an interdisciplinary approach, this project will retrace the history of pollution in Lausanne in order to improve its monitoring in terms of public health. It will mobilize tools and methods specific to toxicology, environmental chemistry, history and political sociology, in order to gather data on both the specificity of this pollution (extent, possible causes, age) and its non-constitution as a public problem. The complementarity of these perspectives will help to recommend practical solutions to reinforce the monitoring of environmental pollution, and develop an approach that can be transposed to other cases.


Multi-Criteria Decision-Making Approach Using Remote Sensing and GIS for Drought Impacts Assessment on Vegetable Health

Along with our partner at EPFL, the project intends to develop and apply Multi-Criteria Decision-Making Approach Using Remote Sensing and GIS for Drought Impacts Assessment on Vegetable Health. Two areas with historically high agricultural production rates but prone to drought disasters were selected: Murehwa district, Mashonaland East province, Zimbabwe, Southern Africa and West Pokot county, western region of Kenya, Eastern Africa. Our findings will be disseminated in workshops, conference proceedings and open source journals.


Extended-range warnings for heatwaves in Switzerland (HEATaware)

Heatwaves are increasing globally in frequency and intensity under climate change. These changes in heatwaves represent a global crisis that could be mitigated by ample advance warnings for the relevant stakeholders. The goal of the HEATaware project is to assess the potential of heatwave prediction and warnings in Switzerland on timescales up to several weeks, including an evaluation of the potential benefits of such warnings for sectors that are directly linked to human lives and livelihoods, with a focus on human health and high-alpine environments. Heatwave warnings could help to prepare high-elevation areas in the fields of tourism, infrastructure, hydropower management and natural hazard warnings, while the Swiss midlands could greatly benefit from heatwave warnings that protect human health. The overall goal of this Swiss-wide collaboration is to use the available prediction skill for heatwaves to evaluate to what extent seamless heatwave warnings on timescales of days to weeks are possible and beneficial with respect to impacts on both mountain regions and lower-lying areas by bringing together experts in heatwave prediction, human health impacts, high-elevation hazards, and weather warnings.


Improving understanding of the biodiversity crisis resulting from glacial retreat through robotic data capture

Global environmental change, in particular rising temperatures, is causing alpine glaciers to retreat and disappear. This could have catastrophic effects; the recent IPCC Report highlights how glaciers are unique and threatened ecological and human systems that are a major reason for concern. This could be described as crisis situation for the ecosystems that these glacial environments support. However, the consequences of glacier retreat on ecosystems are still poorly known and difficult to measure. This makes it difficult to understand the current crisis situation, to enable potential solution to be explored. As such it is critically important to understand and monitor the changes in the biodiversity of these retreating and fast-changing glacier environments to develop solutions for anticipating the impact on glacier retreat on socioecological systems. We propose utilizing advances in tethered robot systems to develop a monitoring tool for gathering biodiversity data of these inhospitable environments in a safe way. These tethered robots traverse rope systems (deployed manually or by robots). By adding cameras and sample collectors (for insects and plant leaves) data can be gathered for extremely challenging and steep environments. This system will allow us to monitor biodiversity in previously inaccessible recent ice-free slopes and glacier surfaces, and allow for much larger collection of data in both temporal and spatial scales to improve our understanding of biodiversity changes in these key ecosystems.


Understanding loCal Risk cUlture(s) in the context of climate CrisIs: AvaLanche hazard from the perspective of anthropology and natural sciences & technologies / CRUCIAL


Understanding local Risk culture(s) in the context of climate crisis: Avalanche hazard from the perspective of anthropology and natural sciences & technologies / CRUCIAL
International standard setting instruments and policy makers increasingly refer to the relationship between heritage, both tangible and intangible, and crisis. Heritage is here regarded both as being under threat and as a powerful tool for recovery and resilience. Encompassing “local risk culture”, namely the know-how of local populations developed to cope with crisis and to live in an hostile environment, Intangible Cultural Heritage is regarded as a resource for future generations and a source of inspiration to be integrated with technological innovation and scientific research.
This project focuses on Avalanche Risks Management, inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2018 by Switzerland (in collaboration with Austria) and aims at unpacking the idea of a culture of risk management. Since avalanches are not regularly experienced by a given community within the same generation, this community shares a hazard culture of coping with danger, often in a situation of cognitive dissonance. This, however, is different from a culture of risk management. We want to understand how this culture of risk management is produced: does it “naturally” spurs in social interaction, or is it proactively triggered by communication and awareness raising? how do individual or group interests, associated in particular with the tourism industry shape perceptions of vulnerability and resilience? These questions have broader relevance and are particularly timely today, when natural disasters could become the new normal.

Author: Virginie Martin

Source: College of humanities | CDH

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