#EGU16 Day 2 – perceptions, IODP/ICDP and poetry

Day two is over and it was another great day! The weather was beautiful today, really tempting people out of the conference centre and into the lovely Vienna, but luckily there were also lots of brilliant talks to draw people in, including the ones I attended today!

I started off at the Interdisciplinary approaches in climatic change research and assessment, at a talk presenting work examining the contrasting perceptions of anthropogenic coastal agricultural landscapes in Canada and Italy.

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The presenter, Stefano Targetti, discussed his work about the perceptions of two case study populations (one in Canada and one in Italy) relating to their anthropogenic coastal landscapes. What he found after conducting a series of online surveys, was that the relative age of an anthropogenic landscape plays an important role in their perceptual value. In Canada, the artificial dykes are considered a human masterpiece, but in Italy, similarly industrialised landscapes that are newer are viewed as an alien landscape. At the conclusion of the presentation, Stefano suggested that in order to best manage vulnerable coastal landscapes, the greater effort needs to be made to highlight the value of services above and beyond their monetary value. 

The next session I went to was all about poetry. Science poetry to be specific! In this session called Rhyme-your-research I: Composition, scientists and poets Sam Illingworth, Esther Posner and Tim van Emmerik encouraged the delegates from across the conference to think about how they can communicate their science in poetry form. 

I keep six honest serving-men,
They taught me all I knew
Their names are What and Why and When,
And How and Where and Who.

– The Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling

After listening to some poetry, reading some poems aloud to each other and attempting to analyse what poems might mean for us, it was time to have a go a writing our own. We started simply, by trying to write Acrostic poems, where a letter at the beginning of the sentence spells a word – in our case it was obviously E, G and U! A couple of the poems that the participants came up with are included below – what would you do?

After that we learned about rhyming and non-rhyming poems and were challenged to write a proper poem to share at the end of the session. I chose to try and do a Kyrielle poem, which has a strict set of rules, but is really great for science communication as the repeating last line emphasises the key point of the research.

This is my first attempt at a poem that is about my science studies – I couldn’t go so far as to make it rhyme properly – that’s my next task!

Tall chimneys litter the landscape
whilst old men share crystals they found
people who live here are happy
using mines to see underground

Geologists like to use maps
taking clues from the land around
they don’t understand the locals
using mines to see underground

What I learned is that poetry is a fun and interesting way to explore your science and you shouldn’t be afraid to give it a go!! This was only the first of three science poetry sessions that will be spread across the week of EGU.

The session for me today was the IODP/ICDP Townhall meeting. Now IODP stands for International Oceanic Drilling Programme and ICDP stands for the International Continental Drilling Programme. The great thing about these two initaives is that they don’t specify what the resrachers who work with them study – they just go along on the expeditions that they are interested in. This year is the ICDP’s 20th anniversary and as part of the meeting, a colleague of mine Dr Michelle Harris was presenting her experiences of working with both of these groups in a great example of how scientists with different backgrounds can apply their knowledge in a whole range of situations. Michelle’s work is on ocean crust using petrology and geochemistry. Now you may be wondering how an ocean crust researcher gets to work on a continental drilling program, but the answer is something called an ophiolite. Ophiolites are large sections of ocean crust that have been emplaced on top of the continental rocks. Michelle was explaining her role in drilling some ophiolites in Oman to answer a series of questions related to hydrothermal alterations of the rock that have implications for carbon capture and storage, carbon sequestration and a whole series of scientific questions about the alteration of oceanic rocks.

A sketch of how ophiolites are formed (Image credit: volcano world, Oregon State University)

A sketch of how ophiolites are formed (Image credit: volcano world, Oregon State University)

If you are interested in this kind of thing and want to get involved, the application for participants in the Oman drilling project has just opened and can be accessed here. This session finished as many do with geologists – in a celebration of good drinks and good company!

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How was your second day – did you enjoy it as much as I did?!

#EGU16 Day 1 – Ethics, planets and fractals.

We’re here!! Day one of #EGU16 has been and gone and wow was it a cracker! I got to attend lots of interesting sessions today, starting off with the ‘Geoethics: theoretical and practical aspects from research integrity to relationships between geosciences and society‘  session in the morning, which featured some really interesting talks on the place of ethics in geoscience. Its a conversation that I feel is really important – as an interdisciplinary researcher coming from a geoscience background, I had never really considered ethics before I started the psychology side of my studies, but you would perhaps be surprised at how necessary it is to mainstream geoscience. One of the speakers Stefano Tinti discussed the difficulty of providing short term hazard assessments, as unlike long term assessments, they were harder to prove ‘scientifically’. Instead he proposed a cyclical interaction between geohazard assessors and the users.

“Science assessment needs to replace a line with a loop”

Stefano Tinti, University of Bologna

Next we heard from a colleague of mine Johanna Ickert, who is a transdisciplinary visual anthropologist studying seismic risk communication in Istanbul. Ethics is very much at the centre of Johanna’s work, so it comes as no surprise that her work had produced some very interesting results. Key amongst her findings from was the perception that locals judged the scientists to have a moral responsibility as a major player in the approach to seismic risk in Istanbul, but that the scientists expressed a reluctance to go beyond their established role as subject expert.

Johanna Ickert's talk front slide

Later in the day I attended a joint NASA-ESA-EGU Union Session and observed a talk on NASA’s planetary missions, given by Jim Spann. This was a great talk, not only because it gave insights about a whole host of different missions, but also highlighted the truly international remit of space exploration. Often I hear people bemoan the UK’s lack of a space programme, but this talk showed that it doesn’t matter which country you live in, you can still get involved in a space programme! Jim described the two main types of mission, entire (where the whole mission objective is completed in one go) or strategic (where it might take several missions to complete the objective).

Number of NASA missions with an international component

He described how many of the missions have an international component that you might be surprised by – the photo above has circles around all the mission with international collaboration, which although you can’t see any of the detail, really goes to show how much of NASA’s missions rely on the scientific, technical and logistical support of other countries around the world. Also I was surprised to hear about the unexpected durability of some of the spacecraft – the Cassini mission has been extended TWICE, which Jim said is a stamp for the success and longevity of international endeavours. He ended his slide with an image which is so far my favourite of the conference – if anyone knows where it is from, please let me know, as I think it is spectacular!!

girl blowing planet bubbles NASA

One of my final sessions of the day was one that I mentioned in yesterday’s post 5 sessions you may have missed. Yes, of course I mean the session on fractals!! Or to give it the correct name: ‘Multifractals and singularity analysis in mineral exploration and environmental assessment‘. Now maths is not one of my easiest languages – it can be quite a struggle for me sometimes, but a talk combining fractals, singularities and geology?! COME ON!!! So I went to find out about fractals. The talk I saw was presented by Claudia Oleshko, and discussed the use of fractals in geoengineering for hydrocarbon reserves. As far as I understood the talk, she said that you can’t use fractals if you have no idea of the physics of the region you are trying to model, but that if you do, fractals provide a way to combine and integrate heterogeneous data (aka data that is all different types/kinds) at a range of scales. When you do this you get better quality information about how fluid flows inside pores, that can be used by industry  to improve oil and gas extraction. And just to be clear here when I say fractals, I mean fractals like this:


What a day!! I’m looking forward to tomorrow now, what sessions have you got planned?


5 sessions you might have missed for #EGU16

It’s that time of year again – Vienna is full of confused looking geologists, people are trying to spot the maximum number of poster tubes on a plane and everyone is wearing jazzy blue lanyards – yes the European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2016 or #EGU16 has arrived!!

My EGU16 Bible

The only book you need during EGU – what if your phone battery dies!?!?!

Now you may have searched your keyword using the EGU app or flicked through the online programme. Maybe you got here early today and have already highlighted your sessions in the information and schedules book, but just in case you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary, here are five sessions that you may have missed…

1. Multifractals and singularity analysis in mineral exploration and environmental assessment (Monday 18th, 17.30-19.00, Rm -2.47)

Nonlinear modelling studies may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but who knew you could use fractals and singularity analysis to learn more about mineral resources?!? If that doesn’t belong on a future episode of the Big Bang Theory, I don’t know what does.

sheldon geology book wiki

Sheldon’s interactions with geology should be more fun – maybe fractals are the way!! (Image credit BigBangTheory wiki)

2. Rhyme-your-research I: composition (Tuesday 19th, 12.15-13.15, Rm -2.85)

As it is international Haiku Day, I thought it was totally appropriate to highlight this session on turning your work into art, or in this case poetry. This session on turning your work into poetry is convened by Dr Sam Illingworth who performs his science inspired poetry on his regular Periscope broadcasts.

3. Join us! Community experiments in water science by using open data and software (Wednesday 20th, 12.15-13.15, Rm 2.15)

Open access, open science and open data are subjects under much discussion at present in the scientific community and this session provides an active opportunity to get involved with opening your science to the public. The session proposes to offer pop-up presentations to the audience about software and data that anyone can use and should give an interesting insight into how we can use and promote open access data and research.

4. Promoting and supporting equality of opportunities in geosciences (Thursday 21st, 13.30-17.00, Rm -2.16)

Another visible issue in science today is the role of equality (gender, cultural and national). As questions of the value of diversity in our research institutions are difficult to address when cloaked in silence, this very valuable session will focus both on the obstacles to inclusion and the concrete actions we can take to increase diversity and acceptance in the lab, the field and the office.

5. Geoscience processes related to Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear accidents (Friday 22nd, 10.30-15.00, Rm -2.47)

Whilst nuclear accidents such as Fukushima and Chernobyl are often the most visible part of the nuclear energy industry, but they also represent truly interdisciplinary studies that include soil science, atmospheric science, hydrology, natural hazards and ecosystems. By comparing historical accidents such as Chernobyl to more recent events such as Fukushima we are able to much better assess the potential impact of nuclear materials on our environment.

Finally I have to end with a plug – a session that I am co-convening is also running on Friday, called Geoscience for Society: collaborative research management and communications strategy (15.30-17.00, Rm -2.16). It’s a session combining issues of project management and geoscience communication used as a tool to address some of the major issues in society today and is DEFINITELY worth a visit.

So what do you think? Any other sessions that have caught your eye this week?

Facing impostor syndrome as an interdisciplinary PhD student

I can’t tell you how many of my fellow PhD students, at one time or another, have mentioned recognising that moment when someone describes impostor syndrome to them for the first time.

‘Hang on, you mean that feeling that you are about to be discovered as a fraud who hasn’t worked hard enough, isn’t smart enough and is about to be publicly shamed and cast out of your research institution, is an actual thing? And I’m not the only one who feels this way?!’

The grad school spiral of doubt – often followed by ‘I’m a fraud!’

Yes impostor syndrome, the crushing fear of being found out, seems to be a pretty universal PhD experience, much like sleepless nights and having moments of extreme hatred for your computer. But there an interesting aspect of this that I recently realised – and that is the experience of impostor syndrome for the interdisciplinary student. The reason that it’s different for interdisciplinary students is because, in a way, you actually ARE an impostor in your new subject. In my field I know that I can hold my own with geology, and am confident defending my position, but I only started studying psychology as a PhD student – my contemporary psychology PhDs have a depth of knowledge from their undergraduate and masters degrees that I just don’t have. 

How I feel when presenting to psychologists…

This lack of background knowledge makes it very difficult for me to argue my position, as I automatically assume that the person who has an opposing view knows better than I do, so they must be right. I get extremely stressed when I have to present my work for an audience that has a psychologist in it, and immediately loose confidence in my work – just waiting for someone to stand up and yell ‘that’s rubbish!’ from the back of the room.

Of course I know that this reaction is illogical. I have worked hard to study my adopted subject, and read as widely around my area as possible. My research is interesting and has been successfully peer reviewed. I know that it is extremely unlikely that anyone will stand up during a presentation and yell at me and in fact any time I have presented to psychologists they have been amazingly supportive, helpful and encouraging, with great suggestions. 

But that doesn’t stop the fear.

What I have gradually learned to do during my PhD is grab that fear by the neck and march myself over to people with interesting, alternative, challenging or more advanced knowledge and ask them to talk about my studies. I frequently feel my inadequacy during these conversations, but ALWAYS come away understanding my research better. It’s uncomfortable, but rewarding and I wish that I had done it more often during my PhD. Forcing yourself to examine the weakest area of your studies is one of the things I think makes a great scientist – if your work won’t stand up to criticism then it’s not worth as much, in my opinion. None of us wants to be told that years of work are irrelevant or unsubstantiated, but I would rather find that out as part of a dialogue, than be presented with it at a later stage. I hope that as I progress as a researcher I won’t let fear of being a subject impostor hold me back from questioning my research and continuing to learn.

So that one day I won’t be an impostor any more, in either of my subjects.

Ubiquitous motivating statement, but you can, in fact, do this.

Rural communities and flooding

Over the last few weeks we have once again been faced with the impact of flooding on a huge scale. While we have heard a lot about flooding in the North of England (quite rightly) there has been rain all over the country and on a recent train trip I saw flooding in fields across the Westcountry, but looking back at the reports of flooding, this flooding of rural areas across the UK appears a background story to the flooding of towns – if it is mentioned at all in the general media. Farmers are much more frequently the victims of flooding, but because it is fields and livestock that are affected rather than houses and people this flooding is often overlooked. Added to this is the recent suggestion that farmers should be paid to let their fields flood, thus lessening the burden on downstream urban residents, without any real thought as to how our building practices often exacerbate the problem in the first place.

A photo (taken from the train!) of flooded fields in the Westcountry.

A photo (taken from the train!) of flooded fields in the Westcountry.

Recently, I ran a stakeholder case-study workshop for Environmental Science students in Plymouth University and one interesting issue was that the majority of students placed greater value on communicating with residents of a town affected by the hypothetical situation than the rural residents. In one example, a student playing the role of ‘National Government’ said that it was a ‘numbers thing’, but as another student pointed out in rebuttal for this statement; people in the country, although they may appear more resilient, can actually be more vulnerable due to their isolation and dependence upon the land for their livelihoods. So why do we have this focus on urban (or semi-urban) residents over rural? Is it because increasingly more and more of us live in urban centres as opposed to the country? Or because large media distributors (the gatekeepers of most of our information) are based in cities?

A picture of the board used during the stakeholder workshop to assign communication priorities. Note how many more are listed under the locat residents (t - for town) column, than there are under the local residents (c- for countryside) column.

A picture of the board used during the stakeholder workshop to assign communication priorities. Note how many more are listed under the local residents (t – for town) column, than there are under the local residents (c- for countryside) column.

Often communicators (including the media) target the easiest or most visible community, not always out of choice. Hard-to-reach audiences, whether geographically or ideologically can be a challenge to communicate with or about, without seeming patronising. The issues that are important to these communities can seem odd or irrelevant to those communicating, but by ignoring or marginalising the hard-to-reach community you are weakening any further attempt to connect. This is an important issue because these future contacts might be life or death situations and by that time, it’s too late to be feeling your way into a community. In this instance, by lessening our knowledge of the impacts and extent of flooding on rural communities, we may lessen our acceptance to finance flood defence measures that may be better long term solutions, but that focus their protection on our rural communities – the frontline of the majority of flooding in the UK – instead of urban ones.

In order to fix this issue, mainstream communication channels, such as the visual and print media, should be encouraged to take into account new research being published on how different populations approach different sciences, particularly the environmental sciences. An upcoming special issue of Natural Hazards and Earth System Science and Hydrology and Earth System Science called Effective Science Co​mmunication and Educ​ation in Hydrology a​nd Natural Hazards ​(NHESS/HESS Inter-Jo​urnal SI)​  seeks to address this issue, and I would hope that it will be used to try and improve our national communication strategy.

The closing date for this special issue if you want to submit a paper is the 15th January, so there is still time to get your research in there if you want to join in with this critical conversation.