aqua Mar Menor publications research socio-ecology

Why uncertainty matters in environmental degradation?

Our latest paper analyzes the narratives and uncertainty surrounding the dispute over the overfertilization of the Mar Menor lagoon in Spain. Harmful algal blooms, dead zones, and fish kills are the results of eutrophication – a process that occurs when the environment becomes enriched with nutrients, mostly nitrogen and phosphorous, increasing the amount of plant and algae growth to estuaries and coastal waters.

The Mar Menor lagoon is a protected aquatic area in Southeastern Spain that has been receiving nutrients from poor sewage systems and fertilizers over the last five decades. Early in the 2000s, scientists started warning that the lagoon could become eutrophicized. In 2016, its waters turned green when algal blooms killed off 85% of the vegetation on its seabed. Later in 2019, an event of anoxia – depletion of oxigen in the water – produced tons of death aquatic biota.

In this study, we explored the narratives that explain the causes and potential solutions to the lagoon’s crisis. Results show two increasingly polarized narratives that deviate in the causes for nutrient enrichment and the type of solutions seen as effective: (1) intensive agriculture is the main driver for the Mar Menor eutrophication; and (2) the lagoon has many and complex pressures, agriculture is only one of them.

We further analysed the role of uncertainty in this polarization dynamics. Findings revealed how different uncertainties are mobilized to dispute the centrality of agriculture, like the lack of data on water and fertilizer use or a scientific controversy over the contribution of groundwater to nutrient discharges to the lagoon.

This research contributes to understand eutrophication as an intertwined social-ecological phenomena and how knowledge generation can contribute to sharp polarization. We conclude that different inter- and transdisciplinary approaches may be needed to collectively unpack existing uncertainties.

Cabello, V., Brugnach, M. Whose waters, whose nutrients? Knowledge, uncertainty, and controversy over eutrophication in the Mar Menor. Ambio 52, 1112–1124 (2023).


2023: Starting Ramón y Cajal Fellowship

Happy new year! This is a very special moment for me because I am shifting from a 3 year position as Juan de la Cierva to a 5 year position as Ramón y Cajal Junior Fellow…

It might not seem such a bit leap, but it means a world to me. First, it means leaving precarity behind in terms of salary, it brings relief due to more stability and motivation because I can now lead my own projects. Overall, it means autonomy as a researcher and the outlook of having a future in this profession. Since I will remain at BC3, it also means a stronger sense of belonging to this community and a feeling of responsibility towards its vision and organisation.

It also means renouncing to other possible pathways, at least for the moment, like facilitation outside academia or returning to my beloved rural life. This is something I hesitate about every time I visit my family in Cuevas del Becerro. I spent new years eve seeding old wheat varieties that my brother is trying to rescue for a food sovereingty project. I hope the seeds I plant as a researcher will also grow and feed other transformations.

I need to design my research plan for this new period. I am still finishing the knowledge coproduction process in the Mar Menor and have plenty of material to publish. My idea is to continue exploring how to bring about transformations in situations of conflict and societal polarisation associated to ecological transition policies. But I let the new emerge from the learnings in the Mar Menor, which are inmense.

My best wishes for 2023.

feminisms research

Gender & Diversity in academic organisations

This seminar was organised as part of BC3 Equality program. The program aims to promote more diverse and inclusive academic practices at our center. The two talks by @federica_ravera/Irene Iniesta and @AnaGalarraga1 were very complementary and provided relevant insights on how to incorporate violet lens in scientific research and communication.

It run in Spanish but for some misterous technical issue the video could only been published in its English translation. The beautiful graphic recording is the art of @EKontact.

co-production publications research

New publication: Quantitative Story-Telling of alternative water resources

I am happy to start the new year by sharing a cherished paper I have been working on along this pandemic year, now openly available in Sustainability Science.

We take a procesual perspective to explain the methodological operationalization of the Quantitative Story-Telling approach in a case study in two of the Canary Islands. The research focussed on the use and management of alternative water resources for irrigation in such semi-arid context. We describe the methods mixed at each stage of the research and the outcomes of the process in relation to our knnowledge co-production principles: pluralism and reflexivity.

Feedback is welcome!


New position at BC3

On January the 1st 2021 I am starting a new position as a postdoc researcher at the Basque Center for Climate Change (BC3), with a Juan de la Cierva-Inc fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Science. I am glad to join this research excellence center where I can unfold new research pathways on knowledge co-production around climate change and environmental governance issues.

Will keep this blog updated with news from my research.

co-production facilitation research talks

Conversatorio: experts and expertise in citizen engagement and deliberative democracy: what is good practice?

On December 10th, I participated in a conversatorio within the 3rd Citizen Engagement and Deliberative Democracy Festival of the European Commission. Chaired by Elisa Vecchione, we had a lively discussion on different questions regarding the role of experts in deliberative and citizen engagement processes.

We discussed what’s different about engaging with an audience that is neither that of your academic peers, nor a policymaker in seek of advice, nor a general public. We also talked about the importance of complexity and how to ensure it is not lost in citizen engagement processes. Finally, we reflected on our personal transformation while participating in citizen engagement processes and on what do we consider good quality scientific evidence.

My contribution to these points mostly stem from a citizen engagement experience in a case study from the H2020 project MAGIC . We explored the role of desalination and wastewater reclamation technologies to supply water for irrigation in the Canary Islands (Spain). The research focused on assessing the pertinence of this innovation from a water-energy-food nexus perspective. That is, by considering information and perspectives from different intertwined resource management domains, namely water, energy, food and climate. We mobilized knowledge from actors working on those different domains first in interviews and second in two participatory workshops. The am of the workshops was to co-create narratives on desirable futures to which these innovations could contribute to.

The first methodological paper of this research process can be downloaded at my publications site. Further information on the case study can be found here.

co-production facilitation research talks

Ambiguities in participatory processes

During the V Post-Normal Science Symposium I participated in a session chaired by Marcela Brugnach and Caroline van Bers entitled ‘Addressing ambiguity in participatory processes for sustainable resources management to support Integrated Assessment‘.

Ambiguity is a type of uncertainty that refers to the confusion or discrepancy in understanding that exist among actors in a group over the issues of concern and their solutions. Ambiguity reflects the many meanings and preferences in responding to change. It speaks for diversity and the unavoidable differences that exist in any social system. Ambiguity is increasingly recognised as an issue in the coproduction of knowledge, transdisciplinarity but is not yet fully recognised as such. Approaches to identify and address ambiguity are in their infancy. The issue of ambiguity is particularly important in the context of participatory processes and promoting the (re)democratization of science.

In this session we explored how ambiguity has been and could be more effectively addressed in the context of Integrated Assessment and co-production of knowledge on environmental issues. For this purpose, Marcela introduced the concept of ambiguity and its relevance for the democratization of knowledge. Caroline shared several experiences on addressing ambiguities and seeking for shared understanding in Integrated Assessment processes. Finally, I discussed the potential of narratives as epistemic tools to work with ambiguities in extended peer communities.

My talk and all others at the digital conference are available on the PNS5 Youtube channel

co-production facilitation research

Get involved in the EU Missions

Last summer I had the honor and the great pleasure to participate in the first European level experiment of citizen engagement for public policy making: the EU missions contributing to the design of the next Horizon Europe framework.

On July 28th, 50 participants from Spain took part in a digital citizen engagement event on the EU Mission on “Adaptation to climate change including societal transformation.” Following the mini-publics format, participants were selected randomly from different gender, age and employment situation groups to ensure a variety of views. I was part of the facilitation team together with members of Altekio and the leadership of

The engagement event took over 6 hours divided in 5 sessions. In each session, one ore more experts delivered a short presentation with key inputs to spark deliberation in groups of 10 people. After the event, participants had 48 hours to upload proposals in a set up and another day to vote for the 20 recommendations to the mission board.

Here you can find a summary of the outcomes of the process.

Hope to see a more socially engaged research programme 2021-2025!