WKU CHNGES faculty, students conduct research in Vietnam

Caption: WKU CHNGES faculty and student representatives gather with new partners from the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology Institute of Geological Sciences and Institute of Geography.

Dr. Leslie North and Dr. Jason Polk, along with two graduate students, Elizabeth Willenbrink and James Graham, from the WKU Center for Human GeoEnvironmental Studies (CHNGES) and Department of Geography and Geology, recently spent time in Vietnam conducting research on the region’s diverse karst landscape. While in Vietnam, the CHNGES researchers spent time in both Hanoi and Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng.

Willenbrink spent time in Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, conducting interviews with local residents, park rangers and park officials about the influences of agriculture on karst landscape and the role of policy in protecting the karst landscape. As an UNESCO world heritage site, Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng is home to hundreds of caves, including the world’s largest cave, Son Doong, and Asia’s oldest karst landscape. Through her research, under the direction of Dr. North, Willenbrink hopes to create a plan for effective karst education and karst protection strategies to be disseminated to all park rangers and local communities to help protect its fragile karst resources.

“Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park is but one example of the multitude of protected areas that lie in sensitive karst landscapes globally,” Dr. North said. “Many of these locations face the same challenges as those faced by the resource managers and community members in the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park region. Through Elizabeth’s work, a one-of -kind template for how best to effectively communicate about karst landscapes may be developed and then disseminated to other karst locations in a data-driven effort to maintain balance between protecting the landscape and supporting the livelihood of residents in those areas.”

While in Vietnam, CHNGES formally signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Institute of Geological Sciences, Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology (IGS-VAST). This agreement is designed to help facilitate cooperative projects related to karst geoscience, karst hydrology and geomorphology, water resources, karst disturbance and human impacts, climate science, environmental education and sustainability. Under the agreement, the entities will share technical and scholarly expertise, provide support for scholarly exchange of students and faculty when available, and facilitate research throughout Vietnam that promotes good science and best practices in karst planning and management.

“The MOA with the IGS-VAST will open many doors for collaborative research, including those related to faculty and student exchange and grant funding,” Dr. Polk said. “In fact, hours after the signing several members of both CHNGES and the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology met to begin developing a strategic plan for implementing the agreement. Together, the team has already identified a timeline for a Vietnamese post-doc to travel to WKU and multiple funding opportunities the newly formed team will pursue. Additionally, the next phase of research projects has already been identified.”

The group ended the trip to Vietnam with Dr. Polk delivering an invited presentation titled “Impacts of Karst Groundwater Systems: An Example from Kentucky, USA” to an audience at the IGS-VAST and a discussion panel on how to best execute the goals of the MOA.

Contact: Leslie North, (270) 745-5982; or Jason Polk, (270) 745-5015

Posted with permission from WKU News