Member Spotlight: Christina Orieschnig

Writing “Drought of the Sinking Delta” brought together two of Christina Orieschnig’s favorite things: environmental science and journalism. Orieschnig is in her final year of earning her PhD and has studies focus on the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam, where the nearly 3,000 foot long river culminates after flowing from the Tibetan Plateau in China through and along the borders Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.

By Chloe Jones
April 21, 2021

Writing Drought of the Sinking Delta brought together two of Christina Orieschnig’s favorite things: environmental science and journalism. 

Orieschnig is in her final year of earning her PhD, which was extended because of COVID-19 travel complications. The 27-year-old’s studies focus on the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam, where the nearly 3,000 foot long river culminates after flowing from the Tibetan Plateau in China through and along the borders Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.

She hopes to create a model that can predict how various effects of climate change will impact the delta’s prosperity. Most models like this, she said, only look at one consequence of climate change, providing a less clear picture of what the future holds. Orieschnig aims to show how multiple climate change effects will interact so that farmers, government officials and others in the region can better predict the future.

The lack of historical data in the region means that models that would work in most western countries can’t be applied to the Mekong River Delta, or deltas in other developing countries. 

In addition to making this already arduous endeavor more challenging, this reveals a massive inequality, Orieschnig said. Regions that are the most susceptible to the negative effects of climate change also are the least studied and least prepared. 

Yet while Orieschnig is essentially starting from scratch, she’s not alone in that effort.

She’s a part of a team of researchers that is researching coastal wetland environments and the effects of human management and climate change. The France-based scholar said she’s working with scientists in France and Cambodia. 

Orieschnig said she has been in the Mekong River Delta area for about four months. She caught dengue fever during her first trip and then COVID-19 interrupted her fourth trip. She said she had spent so much time looking at satellite images of the region that she forgot to look at actual pictures of what it looked like, so seeing the land and the community for the first time shocked her.

“I was just overwhelmed by how friendly and welcoming everyone was on the ground and how helpful the communities and the part of the universities there were,” Orieschnig said. 

A friend recommended that Orieschnig join the Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism (CCIJ). She said she hopes to continue writing about the Mekong River Delta and help CCIJ with data analysis and visualization. 

Orieschnig said she is trying to show through her work that the climate crisis may not be bracing for impending doom, but that instead there’s hope.

“Every time I read negative climate news in the newspaper, I do tend towards fatalism, but remembering that there are people like me and all my colleagues, who are incredibly passionate themselves and incredibly inspiring, working on solving these issues or at least helping people prepare, for me that’s such a positive thought to keep in mind that it sort of makes it worth it,” she said.

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