CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
The study sought to assess South Africa’s coal mining sector response to Climate Change Adaptation demands. This was achieved by identifying current and future Climate Change Impacts on selected South African coal mines, and by establishing the extent and nature of Climate Change Adaptation readiness in those coal mines. To achieve these goals, the following objectives were set out: (i) to identify current and possible future Climate Change Impacts that may affect selected coal mines in South Africa. (ii) To establish the nature and extent to which the selected coal mines in South Africa are ready to address and implement adaptation measures.
(iii) To determine and document existing Climate Change Adaptation practices in selected coal mines in South Africa.
To address the above research objectives and goals, an appropriate mix of research methods was selected. These methods were suitable to gather and analyse the quantitative data related to historical and current climate trends and patterns and the qualitative data that is related to climate observations and experiences by mine employees and local community members. Both these methods were aimed at establishing the biophysical impacts of Climate Change and the responses in the form of Climate Change Adaptation strategies being employed by the mines.
This study adopted a mixed-method research strategy. Mixed-method research is formally defined as “the class of research where the researcher mixes or combines quantitative and qualitative research techniques, methods, approaches, concepts or language into a single study” (Johnson et al, 2005: 82). Mixed-method research makes use of the practical method and its logic of inquiry includes the use of identification of patterns, the testing of theories and hypotheses, and abduction (de Waal, 2001). Both qualitative and quantitative methods are crucial for this study to meet its objectives. This study is not aligned to this philosophical outlook only, given the complexity associated with its pluralistic nature. As such, a qualitative approach was considered as part of a useful method in conjunction with the quantitative method.
The debate on what causes Climate Change, what impact it can have in the social, environmental and economic context, and how humans respond should call for a combination of methods of enquiry that will take into account the scientific and social perspective. Perspectives, theories, philosophies, and observations must be drawn from both qualitative and quantitative methods for a balanced reflection. As such, the goal of mixed-methods research is not to replace either of these approaches but rather to draw from the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of both in single research studies and across studies. Using only qualitative or quantitative methods would have risked exposing the study to the weaknesses inherent in both of the methods, and missing an opportunity to draw strength from each other. Mixed-methods research as the third research paradigm can also help bridge the divide between quantitative and qualitative research (Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2004).
Since this study is multi-faceted, trying to understand meteorological patterns and their impacts on the mining business – which consequently affect the social and economic life of communities where these mines are located – the mixed-method approach allows for the use of multiple data collection methods. The mixed method also allows for the expression of different ideologies by different mining role players, as well as differing forms of data analysis. The mixed-method approach was carefully chosen and aligned with the research objectives and the questions posed to meet these objectives. For instance, data related to the perception and responses to Climate Change in coal mining could not be gathered and analysed using quantitative methods, as much as historic and current climate data could not be gathered only through qualitative methods. Only a mixture of these methods could address the study’s objectives and research questions.
RESEARCH STRATEGY: MULTIPLE CASE STUDY APPROACH
As a research strategy, a multiple case study and historically-descriptive approach were used as research designs. A multiple case study design allowed for exploring the differences within and between each case, and for making comparisons so as to develop an encompassing understanding of the Climate Change demands in the South African coal mining sector. Figure 3.1 shows the multiple cases (coal mines) that participated in the study. These are marked in green point indicators, and the mines marked with red point indicators were asked to participate but declined for reasons that will be discussed in detail in the data presentation chapters.
The advantage of using multiple cases for this study is that each case provided unique data, rich in context. As a result, the product of this research is an in-depth description of cases. As is typically the case with case study research, a mix of data collection tools was used. These included: questionnaires, key informants’ interviews and field observations – which in this case included mine design – document analysis, and infrastructure design and adjustments. Details relating to the strengths and weaknesses of these tools and how each complements another will be discussed in detail in the following sections. However, a point worth noting is the difficulty of generalising the findings of each case to other coal mines, including those that did not form part of this study. Yin (2013) notes that findings of case studies are often context-specific and so in many instances may not be generalised. However, this study will assume a degree of generalisation based on provisions made by Greene and David (1984) – who argue that generalizing from a sample of cases can be justified only to the extent that relevant characteristics of the sample are representative of the same characteristics of the target population. Therefore, the way in which the cases are selected is critical to the ultimate utility of the multiple case study design approach.
Learning from the Greene and David (1984) argument, it is safe to argue that a degree of generalisation can be made in this study, precisely because all coal mines exist within limited coal fields in the country, with 70% of them situated in Mpumalanga as stated above. Mine designs are also limited to either open-cast or underground. Moreover, 90% of South African coal mines are owned by five major mining companies. This means that Climate Change policies, plans and actions can be traced and compared within these major players. Lastly, the climate does not vary much within the areas where the coal fields and mines are located, meaning exposure and vulnerability is similar, but the impacts intensity and response are different. This presents an opportunity to generalise the findings.
However, this study does not assume that all South African coal mines, based on selected mines, face the same issues and respond in the same manner to the Climate Change challenge. To this end, the research selected mines in all major South African coal fields that represent the majority of coal mines in the country, in order to examine their exposure and vulnerability to Climate Change, and thus to document their adaptation plans and actions. From these mines, Climate Change demands and adaptation preparedness in South African coal mines generally, could be better understood and improved. According to Greene and David (1984), the four main features of a multiple case study design are: (a) a conceptual framework which provides the superordinate structure, (b) a sampling plan that ensures representativeness of the target population in the case samples, (c) procedures for the conduct of individual case studies that ensure sufficient comparability across cases, and (d) a cross-site analysis strategy that tests the limiting conditions of the findings. The goal was to replicate findings across cases, so as to understand the different and common Climate Change impacts in each case and to record and understand adaptation strategies (if any) in each case as well as compare these to other cases. This would give an indication of the effectiveness of each adaptation action, and thus broader adaptation readiness within the South African coal mining sector.
The conceptual framework
According to Greene and David (1984), the purpose of the conceptual framework is to structure data collection in a way that provides comparability across cases. The search for site-specific explanations is not overly constrained, as having some idea of what one is looking for is an important part of preparing for any kind of case study work (Smith, 1978). In a multiple case study design however, there is an even greater need for the definition of boundaries and focus prior to data collection. This is due to the need for comparability across cases, hence the conceptual framework must be relatively elaborate and explicit (Gartner, 1985).
Quantitative data from the South African Weather Service was critical in this study. The South African Weather Service provided available data for the four selected provinces where major coal fields and mine operations are based. For the purpose of this study, maximum and minimum temperatures, and precipitation, mainly annual, monthly and seasonal rainfall data was sought and provided. The data was tabulated on Excel spreadsheets. The received data had to be rearranged and coded according to the specific needs of the research. The major challenge with the data was that in some instances, such as in the town of Kriel in Mpumalanga, some data, i.e. temperature data was not available because the concerned weather station was not recording this.
Furthermore, in some cases, the data sets had gaps with no records on some days either because of technological problems or human error. In such cases, if the gaps for the specific month(s) were significant (more than two weeks), that month was excluded from the data set gathered for analysis. If the gaps were not that significant (less than two weeks), the gap(s) were filled in with an average value, taking into consideration previous and post two months’ data sets. Lastly, in the case of Standerton, rainfall data was available up to 2006; thereafter that particular station did not keep rainfall records. In the data analysis sections, it is argued that poor data quality compromises the understanding of Climate Change and Adaptation Planning. Figure 3.2 provides a graphic presentation of the research methods and design.
Qualitative data was collected through structured interviews with mine environmental officers, engineers and mine managers as well as members of the surrounding communities. Rubin and Rubin (2011) note that a structured interview approaches a problem in its natural setting, explores related and contradictory themes and concepts, and points out the missing and the subtle, as well as the explicit and the obvious. Qualitative research is especially effective in describing how and why things change, and how people and systems respond to the change. According to Vanderstoep and Johnston (2009), qualitative research produces a narrative and textual in-depth description of the study at hand. This approach is appropriate for this research because the study sought to provide an in-depth narrative of how Climate Change may/is affect (ing) South African coal mines, how they perceive Climate Change, and what they are doing or not doing about it. It was also imperative to interview Climate Change experts who had insights into mining, specifically into coal mining, in the context of Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation. These were researchers in other universities and organisations with an interest in Climate Change and/or mining. The qualitative data was compared and augmented with quantitative data.
In addition, site observations were carried out in all participating coal mines. Observations largely focused on mining infrastructure, mine design and mining methods. Creswell (2009) states that, in field observations, the researcher takes field notes, often recorded in an unstructured or semi-structured way, using some prior questions that the enquirer wanted to know. Site Observation was a useful data-gathering method because it allowed for gathering data that the research informants may have been uncomfortable to discuss (Cresswell, 2009). Further information was collected via literature review and document analysis. As Babbie (2001) correctly points out, one has to enter the fieldwork with a good knowledge of the literature. This research was guided by existing Climate Change Adaptation theories and frameworks.
As such, these theories and frameworks guided the study in an exploratory way where collected data relating to Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation frameworks in each case, were compared and contrasted with developed and existing Climate Change vulnerability, exposure and adaptation models. These comparisons were aimed at measuring adaptation effectiveness across cases to identify common Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation strategies. From this understanding, generalisations regarding Climate Change Impacts in South African coal mining were made. The literature reviews in the previous chapter (Chapter Two) provided insights and background on the issue of Climate Change broadly from a policy and practice perspective within the mining sector. This background produced sufficient information from which to draft data gathering tools and relevant questions. As such, this chapter and the pilot study section in particular, were highly influenced by the reviewed literature. Document analysis refers to the analysis of any formal written material that contains information about the phenomenon being researched (Strydom and Venter, 2002). The reviewed documents are listed in Table 3.1.
It was necessary to search, retrieve and review documents such as mining firms’ annual reports, sustainability reports, technical and financial reports and other related documents. In addition, publicly available documents were retrieved and analysed and any records that contained data relevant to this study. The documents were reviewed, and relevant information was used for this study. Because these documents were not compiled with the subject of this study in mind, it was crucial to use relevant keywords while searching for relevant information. Such keywords included: ‘climate’, ‘weather’, ‘impacts’, ‘adaptation’, ‘exposure’, ‘vulnerability’ ,‘changes’, ‘flooding’, ‘drought’, ‘temperature’, ‘rain’ and ‘extremes’. These keywords located and revealed information that could be linked to climate-related concerns where applicable.
Descriptive research involves gathering data that describes events and then organizes, tabulates, depicts and describes the data collection process. Since the human mind cannot extract the full import of a large mass of raw data, descriptive statistics are very important in reducing the data to manageable form (Glass & Hopkins, 1984). This often leads to the use of visual aids such as graphs and charts to assist the reader in understanding the data distribution. In this case, the data was coded on Excel and the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) and Geographic Information System (GIS) for graphic presentation and analysis (Greene and David, 1984). Data for this study comprised a number of variables that included minimum and maximum temperatures, annual, seasonal and monthly rainfall patterns that needed to be reconciled and meaning created from it. This included describing the mean, deviations from the mean, frequency of extremes, and correlation between variables. Descriptive studies are primarily concerned with finding out “what is,” (Greene and David, 1984), in this case: the major questions that needed answering were “what are the impacts of Climate Change on South African coal mines?” and “how is the coal mine industry responding to these impacts?” Descriptive studies can yield rich data that lead to important recommendations.
The goal of sampling is to obtain a set of cases which, taken together, contain a variation on key explanatory factors representative of their variation in the target population. The study used the purposeful sampling method to select mines that would best represent the South African coal mines’ ‘reality’ in the context of Climate Change and Climate Change Adaptation. Strydom et al (2002) define target sampling as “a purposeful, systematic method by which controlled lists of specific populations within geographical districts are developed, and detailed plans are designed to recruit adequate numbers of cases within each of the targets”. South Africa has over 79 coal mines in four provinces, namely: Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Free State (Global Energy Observatory, 2014). Most of these mines are owned by five major coal mining companies, namely: Exxaro, Sasol, Xtrata, Kumba and Anglo Coal. The study targeted coal mines in four provinces; in Mpumalanga (three mines), Kwa-Zulu Natal (two mines), Limpopo (1 mine), and the Free State (two mines). In the end, five mines informed the research.
The selection criteria for the mines within the same province included that the mines were at least 50 kilometres apart. This was an important criterion, given the fact that Climate Change Exposure and Vulnerability of coal mines is based on climate variability, which differs geographically. The IPCC (2011:3) provides a distinction between Climate Change Exposure and Vulnerability. Climate Change Exposure is “the presence of people; livelihoods; environmental services and resources; infrastructure; or economic, social, or cultural assets in places that could be adversely affected”, while vulnerability is “the propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected”. As such, each coal mine would be exposed to, and vulnerable to unique Climate Change Impacts based on its environment. In addition, mines belonging to the same mining company and located within the same province had to be a combination of open-cast and one-shaft mines. This selection criterion was motivated by the fact that coal mines are exposed and become vulnerable to Climate Change Impacts based on mine design and mining method. For example, an open-cast mine might be more vulnerable to flooding while an underground mine might be more vulnerable to persistent heatwaves. The study was able to review existing Climate Change risk assessments, possible impacts on the coal mining sub-chain, possible adaptation approaches, strategies, procedures, risk management, planning approaches, policy and practice, both at company and operational level in different mines. The mines that participated are shown in Table 3.2.
Using this sampling framework, mine managers, shaft managers, environmental managers and officers, and engineers at individual mine level were interviewed. Climate Change and mining experts from the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), mine environmental experts from the South African Chamber of Mines, and the Department of Environmental Affairs, engineering and technology specialists from CoalTech and geologists from Geotech, were interviewed.
A pilot study was conducted with an open-cast and underground coal mine in the Free State and Mpumalanga, respectively. Bless and Higson-Smith (2000:155) defines a pilot study as “A small study conducted prior to a larger piece of research, to determine whether the methodology, sampling, instruments and analysis are adequate and appropriate.” The major objective of conducting the pilot study was to get pre-fieldwork involvement and creating an awareness of the complexity and dynamics of the research field. Even though no two field sites were the same, the pilot study provided a glimpse of what to expect in the main study. The second major purpose which that pilot study fulfilled was the opportunity to refine the wording on the questionnaires and interview guides.
It soon became apparent that certain words and phrases provoked and influenced different reactions from different respondents. Phrases such as “Climate Change”, “Global Warming” as were used in initial correspondence with coal mining stakeholders, were generally received with disdain, particularly by mine management. The use of such phrases was less understood by junior environmental officers. Engineers preferred to replace “Climate Change Impacts” with ‘Weather Variability Impacts” or “Weather Extremes Impacts”. In the earliest stage of this research while requesting permission to gain access into the mines, the use of words such as “Climate Change” and “Global Warming” in correspondence with mining managers resulted in a negative reaction. Access was consequently denied by many mining companies. The third benefit of the pilot study was that it assisted in reflecting and improving the research instrument layout, orientation and making sure that the instruments acquiring data would be valid, reliable, effective and free from problems and any technical errors. As such, the pilot study was a critical prerequisite for the successful execution of the main study.
Before entering the field, experts were interviewed in the discipline of Climate Change, with the focus on adaptation in mining – more specifically in coal mining. Valuable insights were gained from these interactions, especially with regard to Climate Change narratives and perspectives that are different and not biased to miners’ and environmentalists’ perspectives. As such, much more objective and balanced dialogue was achieved through interviewing independent expert respondents. Expert respondents also offered invaluable advice related to accessibility of the field and correct selection of respondents, and how they should be approached. Data from the pilot study was processed and analysed in the same manner in which data from the main study would be processed and analysed. This process further assisted in identifying and eliminating problems that would have been in the main study if a pilot study was not conducted.
DATA ANALYSIS AND INTERPRETATION
Quantitative (climate) data was received, coded and analysed on Excel and the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). Qualitative data collection and analysis was carried out simultaneously. Creswell (2009) and Strydom et al, (2002) argue that unlike traditional studies, qualitative study involves an inseparable relationship between data collection and data analysis because as data is gathered, it is automatically being analysed. Data analysis frequently necessitates revisions in data collection procedures and strategies. These revisions yield new data that are then subject to new analyses (Strydom et al, 2002). During the quantitative data analysis phase, climate patterns and trends were identified and explained in the context of long-term Climate Change. Furthermore, quantitative data was organised categorically, chronologically, and continually coded using the open and axial coding procedures. For qualitative data, all recorded interviews using a digital audio recorder and notes (text), were transcribed verbatim and the photographs taken were captioned.
Case study strategy requires a high level of data credibility and reliability. As a basic foundation to achieve this, Baxter and Jack (2008) note that: (a) the case study research question must be clearly written, propositions (if appropriate to the case study type) provided, and the question substantiated; (b) case study design is appropriate for the research questions; (c) purposeful sampling strategies appropriate for case study must be applied; (d) data is collected and managed systematically and (e), the data must be analyzed correctly.
To enhance credibility of data and findings, data sources were triangulated. This is a strategy that was used and supported by Baxter and Jack (2008), who state that in case study research, the phenomena must be viewed and explored from multiple perspectives. The collection and comparison of this data enhances data quality based on the principles of idea convergence and the confirmation of findings. As an additional effort, and what has become tradition in the researcher’s department, the entire thesis went through rigorous peer review by colleagues who are experts in different fields of study, but necessary to this study. Peer review has proven to be a useful strategy to establish credibility, introduce new ideas, provide checks, and to balance what would otherwise not be possible from one researcher. Due to the study being a multiple case study, Greene and David (1984) recommend cross-site analysis.
The first step of the cross-site analysis is to generate a working set of propositions; these are findings from the individual cases restated so as to apply – in principle – to all the cases (Greene and David, 1984). Propositions may also come from literature, personal/professional experience, theories, and/or generalizations based on empirical data. Thus, various findings/propositions developed from literature review and from preliminary field visits (observations and discussions) were translated into statements that were subject to empirical confirmation or disconfirmation. Comparisons and references of these statements were cross-checked. Furthermore, chapter four served as a guiding framework from which the other cases (chapters) were formulated and cross-analysed.
LIST OF FIGURES
LIST OF ACRONYMS AND ABBREVIATIONS
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
1.1 PROBLEM STATEMENT
1.2 RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND OBJECTIVES
1.3 JUSTIFICATION AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
1.4 SELECTED STUDY AREAS
1.5 THESIS OUTLINE
CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW
2.2 CLIMATE CHANGE
2.3 CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION
CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
3.2 PROPOSED METHODOLOGY
3.3 RESEARCH STRATEGY: MULTIPLE CASE STUDY APPROACH
3.5 DATA ANALYSIS AND INTERPRETATION
3.6 ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
CHAPTER FOUR: CLIMATE CHANGE VULNERABILITY AND ADAPTATION STRATEGIES AT THE MPUMALANGA COALFIELDS
4.2 KRIEL COLLIERY AND THE NEARBY POWER STATIONS
4.3 ANNUAL RAINFALL TRENDS IN KRIEL
4.5 OTHER CONCERNS
4.6 FINDINGS FROM THE NEW DENMARK COLLIERY
4.7 SEASONAL AND MONTHLY RAINFALL IN STANDERTON
CHAPTER FIVE: CLIMATE CHANGE VULNERABILITY AND ADAPTATION STRATEGIES AT THE NEW VAAL COAL MINE
5.2 RAINFALL PATTERN
5.3. Monthly and seasonal rainfall variations
CHAPTER SIX: CLIMATE CHANGE VULNERABILITY AND ADAPTATION STRATEGIES FROM KWA ZULU-NATAL COAL FIELDS
CHAPTER SEVEN: SUMMARY OF FINDINGS, CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTIONS
7.1 SUMMARY OF THE STUDY
7.2 SUMMARY OF MAJOR FINDINGS
7.5 Contribution to knowledge
7.6 SUGGESTED FURTHER RESEARCH
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