By Lindsey Hernandez, GSA Science Communication Intern, Masters Student Ohio State University

Climate change’s impacts on communities around the world are becoming increasingly clear. Researcher Luke Bowman from Michigan Technological University is part of an interdisciplinary team of researchers studying drought-prone areas of El Salvador in order to assess how climate change is affecting water availability and crop yields. This research will help scientists understand what water-stressed communities around the world could expect in the future and help improve global resilience against climate change.

“We tend to think of climate change as long-term with slow changes,” Bowman said. However, farmers in El Salvador have noticed significant changes in their communities in the last decade. Most farmers interviewed cited 2012 or 2014 as the years they noticed shifts in rainfall frequency and intensity, which has caused springs to dry and crops to be ruined. This causes significant financial hardship in these communities.

“[Recent] changes in climate … point towards longer dry seasons and more intense rainfall events in the shorter rainy seasons,” Bowman said.

Community member from Jucuapa explaining how groundwater is collected by one of the local system's spring boxes. Credit: John Gierke
Community member from Jucuapa explaining how groundwater is collected by one of the local system’s spring boxes. Credit: John Gierke

With this project in the early stages, Bowman attended the 2019 Geological Society of America Annual Meeting to recruit graduate students interested in climate change, water scarcity, and societal vulnerability to this project. Bowman and his team hope to assemble cohorts of ten U.S. gradate students each summer, who will work with local communities in interdisciplinary teams and collaborate with local and international experts.

“This is the setting for an intensive international research experience for U.S. graduate students,” Bowman said.

These cohorts of students and experts will work with local communities to understand the impacts of climatic change on these communities and assess the efficacy of various adaptations strategies. Approaching this project with an interdisciplinary focus will allow for a holistic understanding of the factors that drive crop failures and increase vulnerability within agricultural communities.

Bowman’s research is complex and multifaceted, as this region is expected to experience measurable impacts on agriculture, rainfall, and landslide frequency. Additionally, social issues represent secondary effects of climate change. This includes the migration of people out of Central America.

“Climate refugees and food security are tied to this project,” Bowman said. “The Dry Corridor faces many challenges, and part of the problem is loss of livelihoods, loss of crops, and loss of opportunity [driven by climate change].”

This work is not only important for understanding the impacts of climate change on people in Central America, but also on the rest of the world.

“What Central America sees now is what the U.S. Southwest and Great Plains might see in the future if the current climate trajectory continues,” Bowman said.


The GSA Science Communication Internship was a program offered at the GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ, designed for student attendees interested in science communication as a possible alternative career path.  Interns were paired with GSA’s Science Communication Fellow in order to gain experience in making science clear and exciting, under the tutelage of a professional writer.  Students were assigned to conduct interviews with presenters at the meeting and to compile summaries capturing the significance of the presenters’ work for a non-technical audience.  Media assignments and mentoring were useful learning experiences and exposure opportunities for students seeking to expand their knowledge into geoscientific reporting.