At the forefront of studying rivers to conserve freshwater supply

A bright person is one way of describing Chiara Marchina. Currently a research technician at the University of Padua’s Department of Land, Environment, Agriculture and Forestry, Chiara participated in the inaugural 2017 MAB Youth Forum organised by the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe as a youth delegate of the Po Delta Biosphere Reserve. Following this, she and other young people from the Veneto and Emilia-Romagna regions, in the Po Delta Biosphere Reserve created “MY Delta Association - MAB Youth Delta”. She was selected and accompanied by UNESCO as the Po Delta Biosphere Reserve representative at the 7th Economic and Social Council Youth Forum in 2018.

Your passion is river geochemistry. Tell us about your experience working as a geologist.

I studied river geochemistry, with a focus on small and large river studies as a hot spot of life and material, continuously flowing down to the ocean. As Hermann Hesse wrote in Siddhartha, “Is this what you mean? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, nor the shadow of the future?”.

Although I studied geology and earth sciences, my work and research does not primarily focus on what is traditionally done by a geologist; I think I can be referred to as a “freshwater geologist”. I love to study the relation between earth surface processes and how everyday life can affect environmental changes.

By knowing deep surface water processes, the ecosystem can be better understood and, in this way, protected. I am largely interested in how different water bodies interact with rocks and chemical weathering processes; water is the principal agent of weathering.

What challenges have you faced in your work during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Fortunately, I never stop working during the COVID-19 pandemic. My collaborators and I only stopped working in the field for a short period in 2020, because of the COVID-19 restrictions in

Italy. Hence, I used this spare time to engage in laboratory activities and write academic papers. Our fieldwork was halted for a few months; however, the bright side of my work is that most of the time is spent in the forest, so it is really easy to respect social distancing rules.

This last period however was hard for students who could not do any field research for their theses with me because of several imposed restrictions on movement. Fieldwork experience is one of the crucial components of studying environmental science at tertiary level. Fortunately, after a period filled with uncertainty, we were able to start again in full swing!

When I am not working, I love to be outdoors. I also love spending time with my family and my dog. I find that taking some time out from work is unquestionably vital to my productivity in academic activities. I refresh my mind by reading a book or hiking with my dog. Outside of work, I am involved in MY Delta Association, where we do a variety of activities from organising cycling trips in the Po Delta biosphere reserve to planning eno-gastronomic events.

 I am part of NOVA APS, a cultural and social promotion association in the same territory. Together with a group of scientists and university students, we organise scientific events for children in schools, such as the “How I met Science!” festival in Ferrara.

Can you share your experience in attending the UNESCO Regional climate change symposium?

The event titled The Future of South-East Europe and the Mediterranean in the context of Climate Change: a UNESCO perspective, convened by UNESCO Regional Bureau on 6-8 November 2019, established dialogue on how climate change has affected regions, especially its water resources and the Mediterranean Sea. Scientists, universities and research institutions, site managers, education specialists, local authorities, as well as youth for climate change were in attendance.

The symposium was a great opportunity to meet young people from other Mediterranean countries and local politicians ready to listen to what young people have to say. I am still in contact with some of the people I met during the symposium. UNESCO gave us an invaluable opportunity by creating this kind of platform, similar to a hub, for people with similar ideas and common interests to exchange and connect.

Back in 2017, I also participated in the MAB Youth Forum as a youth delegate for the Po Delta biosphere reserve. This invaluable experience inspired me and other delegates from the same Reserve to start the MY Delta Association (Mab Youth Delta), with the aim to promote SDGs in our biosphere reserve. We are the first association of young people in Italy to collaborate with local communities in organising different events for youth to be involved in the territory.

What would you say makes your work/research stand out? How do you imagine the future of river geochemistry research?

I started this career because I love to study but also because I enjoy spending my time outdoors in nature. Everyone around me influences my interests because when you are working in any environmental field, it is important to have people who motivate and encourage you.

I wish to have part of my research results in river geochemistry used for good decision making in the future. A future where this science is fully integrated with other similar scientific fields such as hydrology and ecohydrology. River restoration engineering is something I hope to see, the ultimate goal of all these different areas of work is to preserve freshwater supply.