The Himalaya Connection Video: Outreach and Education

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June 14th, 2017

This outreach project was born of tragic circumstances. The Gorkha earthquake of 2015 dealt a terrible blow to the central Himalayan nation of Nepal, killing more than 9,000 people. At the time of the earthquake, Diane LaMacchia and I, filmmakers with Earth Images Foundation, were well into post-production of an NSF-supported television documentary about the tectonic processes that built the Himalaya Mountains and the far-reaching seismic hazards associated with the collision of the Indian and Asian Plates underlying the region. Just two weeks before the earthquake we had been filming in the region, in northeastern India.

It quickly became obvious that the story of our documentary was going to change significantly due to the occurrence of this major earthquake right in the center of the region that our story was about. Furthermore, we felt that the story, now enhanced with dramatic live footage and valuable scientific and public safety lessons gleaned from a major earthquake, could benefit from a robust outreach component that provided, beyond the main television documentary, additional products and activities for use in informal learning settings. We had initiated an outreach activity in the form of a blog for Earth Magazine while on our India film trip; according to the magazine’s editors, our blog was very popular.


This led to a RAPID (Rapid Response Research) award (1550276) from NSF’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program to produce a new suite of outreach products and activities. One major project goal was to produce and disseminate two non-technical short videos–each less than ten minutes long–and accompanying print materials that expanded on key sub-topics covered in the documentary. The videos would be publicly screened by scientists, public safety officials, and educators in the Himalayan region, tapping into increased public interest in the seismic situation to further educate people on future threats and the need to prepare for them. To round out the videos and lend maximum real-world impact to them, we would return to Nepal to film the aftermath of the earthquake and interview scientists and other experts. But political unrest created a severe fuel shortage in Nepal and made travel there too uncertain until the spring of 2016, approximately a year after the Gorkha earthquake. It was a sobering trip, as devastation was still apparent everywhere. While in the region we met with an event planner and scientists to plan future screenings of the forthcoming videos. We also posted new blogs for Earth Magazine. This activity worked out so well that we suggested to Earth’s editors that we contribute a feature article to their magazine, and they agreed. The result was The Himalaya Connection: Telling a Story of Geoscientific Exploration on Film, which was published in the June 2017 issue. One goal in writing the article was to generate interest in advance of the forthcoming television documentary, soon to be released.

In the Earth article we described another shift in our documentary. The scientists featured in our film had published a major finding in Nature Geoscience concerning a newly-discovered earthquake threat in Bangladesh and India. So significant was the finding that we were compelled to revise the documentary again, as well as several aspects of our outreach project, which was no small task. Meanwhile, the scientists were inundated with media attention and requests for more information, and we were in a good position to help them by rushing the production of our first short video, Giant Earthquakes in Bangladesh and India? This video presented their findings in popular terms. We completed the video just as an international panel of earthquake safety experts were conducting workshops in the vulnerable city of Aizawl, India. We uploaded the video via server to one of the attending scientists, who screened it often for experts and the public that week. The feedback was extremely positive.



This video has since been screened for diverse audiences in Bangladesh and the United States, and scientists in the region are incorporating an excerpted clip of the video’s graphic animation, which depicts the seismic hazard zone, into their own presentations.

There were requests from people in the region to provide versions of the video in Mizo, the language spoken in Aizawl, the capital of the Indian state of Mizoram. Thanks to our scientist film characters from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and their local research collaborators, we teamed up with the English Department at Mizoram University and Zirtiri Science College, both in Aizawl, to accomplish the work. This involved dubbing the video narration into Mizo, and translating the script and printed outreach materials, which were produced by Berkeley, California-based educator Teresa Chen. Translations have also been done in Bengali. This experience confirmed the utility of videos in rapidly and effectively transferring the latest scientific research results to a diverse lay audience anywhere in the world using the internet to relay production materials for review and to deliver final HD copies to end-users and web sites.

We have since completed our second video, The Next Himalayan Megaquake, which explores the seismic threat in the Himalayan nations situated along the dangerous earthquake fault, the Main Himalayan Thrust Fault. The video and outreach print materials are being translated into Nepali. A third short video, not funded by this project but related in content, was also produced. Somewhere Under Tibet is about a geologic expedition in Tibet that was studying the Asian and Indian plate collision below the Tibetan Plateau. Outreach materials that accompany this video are being produced under the auspices of this outreach project and the final products will be distributed under this project’s banner.

This project is now in the distribution phase. Screenings, accompanied by expert presentations, will be continuing in Aizawl, India; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Kathmandu, Nepal. Exploratory discussions have been held with several museums, science centers, and institutes in the USA and Europe to screen the videos at public events. The videos and their accompanying outreach materials will begin to appear as packages on a variety of web sites in the near future, coordinated with the release of the television documentary.