EGU 2014 Day 3 – Science is for everyone!, the value of an open mind and when is a debate not a debate

Day three, one of the quieter days on my schedule meant I could a) relax a little and b) go looking for sessions I never would have thought of attending.

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I started the day in Citizen Empowered Science and Crowdsourcing in the Geosciences (EESI1.8/EOS6) the second half of the session I attended yesterday. There were a couple of interesting presentations, including a plan for a citizen controlled platform for communicating climate science, but I often feel like the geoscience community is teetering on the edge of just accepting Citizen Science as a valid method of data collection, but right now they are still a bit unsure. As such the presentations today came across as enthusiastic but uncertain. I really liked Simone Frigerios presentation of ‘MAppERS: a peer produced community for emergency support’, partly because he said that we need to stop seeing communities at risk as victims, but instead as resource for disaster prevention and mitigation. Another project that I liked was Nuria Castell’s initiative ‘Building and Evaluating Sensor-based Citizens’ Observatories for Improving Quality of Life in Cities’. The project has set up citizen observatories (called CITI-SENSE) all across three target cities, Oslo, Ljubljana and Vienna. The great thing about these observatories (just sensors really) is that most of them do more than just one thing. They record air pollution (levels of O2, CO etc), wind data, UV and noise. There is also a link to an app that allows people to record how they feel in a place so the project results in a much more representative picture of the quality of life in these cities.

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I also attended the session on Long-term Storage of CO2 and the Petrophysics of Unconventional Hydrocarbons: Results from Laboratory Studies (ERE2.2), which covered topics like carbonate dissolution and how to prevent CO2 leakage from a well and listened to a talk on ‘An Experimental Study of Basaltic Glass-H2O-CO2 Interaction at 22 and 55 degrees C’ and saw an extraordinary outburst from one of the audience, who at the end of the session said that the timescales were not big enough to make the results relevant and called it ‘trivial research’. Now this seems to have arisen from the fact that this researcher was a computational modeller and the young scientist presenting was a physical or experimental modeller, so instead of running a computer simulation that approximated 1000’s of years, she had actually done the experiment in a lab over a period of months instead. It highlighted to me how some scientists get so buried in their own method they resist any other method. Even though the moderator came to the defence of the young scientist by highlighting that computer models could not be run without the data from shorter term experimental models, the questioner appeared to remain firm in her dismissal of the work. Which just made me feel a little sorry for her, that she was so closed minded that she couldn’t see the value in other people’s work.

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Towards the end of the day I attended an event that I had been looking forward to all week – the Great Debate on ‘Metals in our Backyard: to Mine or not to Mine‘. This session was proposed as a debate on the moral and social implications of mining in Europe. The panellists were:

Lluis Fontbote from the University of Geneva,
Roland Oberhansli from the Univerisity of Potsdam,
Alina Stadniskaia from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Reasearch (Royal NIOZ),
Joshua Brien from the Economic and Legal Section of the Commonwealth Secreatriat,
Gillian Davidson from the World Economic Forum.

Now although the panellists were great and the subject was right up my street, because no one was really against mining in Europe it was pretty much impossible to get any kind of debate going. What I didn’t understand is why no-one from the environmental community was willing to engage in the debate? If they really want to affect how mining is done, surely the way to do it is to go at it from the inside (how can we change our minds when we don’t even know what they think)? So much so that, apart from some interesting slides that I have included below, it was really a debate that wasn’t a debate.

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We are not going to run out of metals – says Lluis Fontbote

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Stone and mineral resources are fundamental to our society – says Roland Oberhansli

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The future is in subocean mining – says Alina Stadniskaia

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We need a roadmap – says Gillian Davidson

So, all in all a quiet day.

For a closing image – check out the world’s creepiest tube train signs!

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EGU 2014 Day 2 – when moderators go wild, policy and earthquakes

Today was a loooooooooong day! You know that feeling when you are sat in a presentation and the speaker is on slide 14 of 27 and ran out of time 5 minutes ago? Well image how much worse it is when the person rambling, prevaricating and generally being annoying is the one who is supposed to be keeping order?! This was my experience today – of a moderator gone wild!! It was really frustrating!!!!

Anyway, I arrived in the morning for my first session, which was supposed to start at 8.30am, but the first talk was cancelled so it actually got going at 8.45 (oh the luxury!).

This was the session on Geoethics and Geoeducation (EOS1) and included presentations on Fukushima, nano technology and Antarctic lake exploration. The presenters weren’t pulling their punches about the failings of those in and associated with the geoscience community in terms of ethical behaviour, but by far the most outspoken present was Tokio Oshka from Japan. He implied that the accident at Fukushima, was actually caused by a lack of corporate responsibility on the part of the company, which didn’t have any capacity for negative feedback, in order to improve safety at the site and that the government was complicit because it held shares in the company. The presentation was conducted with great passion and it certainly made me think more about the ethical implications of a government apparently being so (financially) closely linked to a company.

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But Tokio Oshka was not the only vociferous speaker – the moderator for the session at one point launched into an accusation that the Ethics, education and communication sides of EGU were ‘discriminated against’ mostly because the partner poster session to this mornings ovals was at the same time, so many people who would have normally gone to both, could not. And I can kind of see his point – this year the Education and Outreach symposia has a much higher profile than the subject in previous years, but it is still very much at the edges of the conference. Perhaps it is because ethics, education and communication does not have a ‘division’ within EGU to protect its’s interests in the same way as the other groups do, though the team of staff who organised the Symposium are just as talented and dedicated as those in the divisions.

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The second session I attended was EG1 The Role of Geoscientists in Public Policy – a panel discussion about the state of geoscience policy in Europe and the world. The Panel consisted of:

Lydia Harriss, Scientific Advisor in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)
Pascale Ehrenfreund, Research Professor of Space Policy and International Affairs, The George Washington University, Washinton D.C. and President of the Austrian Science Fund
Gunter Bloschl, President of the European Geosciences Union
Reinhard Huttl, Scientific Director of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam
Luca Demicheli, Secretary General of EuroGeoSurveys – the Geological Surveys of Europe
Iain Stewart, Professor of Geoscience Communication at Plymouth and my supervisor (very important that!)

The panel discussed a wide range of ideas relating to policy, including; science-politics dialogue, the differences in different countries, interdisciplinarity, permanence of geoscience in the public realm (not just after a disaster), open access, training future generations and why scientists are reluctant to make statememts. Two particularly interesting questions to me were, are we overlooking local and regional government in favour of national and international, and how does scientific thinking affect our ability to communicate? To be honest I felt that both questions were rather dismissed – the first by saying that national and international governance informs local and regional decisions, but I think that is simplifying local political concerns. In my recent work I have been interviewing village residents in the south west and I have found that local politics is far more important to most people I have spoken to than national. The second question was approached as being a good idea, and the value of interdisciplinarity was raised (again), but the panellist seemed to quickly return to the bastion of old science.

Still it was an interesting session.

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My afternoon was a bit spotty – I sat in on a couple of presentations about Thermal and Mechanical Processes and Energy Storage in Porous and Fractured Aquifers (HS 8.2.5), but ran away when the equations started to fill the whole screen, though I did learn that the amount of shearing in marbles does appear to improve their thermal conductivity. I also attended Biochar and Organic Waste in Soils (SSS6.5) on the recommendation of @EuroGeosciences and listened to a talk on the Economic feasibility of biochar to soils in temperate climate regions by Gerhard Soja. This was interesting because I didn’t really know anything about biochar before – so just as was suggested at the beginning of the conference, I tried something new!

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I also attended the Citizen Empowered Science and Crowdsourcing in Geosciences session (ESSI1/EOS6) and spoke to Luca D’Auria about his poster on Real-time mapping of earthquake perception areas of the Italian region from Twitter streams analysis. Basically, the research used people’s comments on twitter that were geolocated to identify areas of increased perception of the earthquakes. I was interested to learn how they dealt with retweets and quoted or modified tweets. Dr D’Auria said that in order to take this into consideration they didn’t include any retweets in the dataset and they also collected background data in order to normalise the responses and counter any false positives that may be collected. What this normalised data showed was that although there was strong trend towards the cities without calculation, after the data was normalised the trend in the cities disappeared and the only identified highlight was in the east of Italy, around the area where the epicentre had been recorded. This research is interesting as it could be used to asses perception of strength and a better way to interpret earthquake risk to people in seismically active areas.

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I ended the day at the ‘Scientists Must Film‘ workshop, a very entertaining and informative workshop presented by a pair of filmmakers who could have had their own double act!

Great fun and a great end to the day!

I also had a conference selfie moment with #EGUlegend Gunter Bloschl and Rachel Hay (@geogrhay)!!

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EGU 2014 Day 1 – Volcanoes, good neighbours and career opportunities.

Phew what a day!

Well day one was a cracker here at EGU. I started the day badly – I forgot that I hadn’t changed my watch and with no other clocks here at the Brigittenau Youth Hostel, I didn’t realise I was actually running an hour late (whoops) meaning I missed the beginning of my first session. Note to self – always double check all your clocks!

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When I arrived at the conference centre I went straight into my first session – NH 2.1Quantifying Volcanic Hazards. It was a really interesting session with presenters defending abstracts based on a wide range of volcanic topics, from pyroclastic flow modelling on Mt Merapi in Indonesia, to using the eruptive history of Laki in Iceland to help the UK government prepare for the effects of another Icelandic eruption (which, let’s face it, is just a matter of time). Who knew that actually a Laki-like eruption is ranked as one of the top three risk scenarios, in terms of impact, only preceded by pandemic flu and east coast flooding!

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One of the most interesting presentations for me, was on the subject of a bayesian probability event tree, developed to examine the likelihood of volcanic unrest on El Hierro island in the Canary Islands and relating it to what is the origin of that unrest is, how it would evolve, location of the event, magma composition, size or magnitude of the event, products of the unrest and the extent of those products.

What particularly interested me, was the fact that although there were many geologists, physicists, chemists and other scientists on the team, it seemed like something that could be used by a non-expert planner, or even a civilian resident in the area. After the presentation, I spoke to Dr Joan Marti from the Instituto de Ciencias de la Tierra Jaume Almera, in Spain about the research.

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He told me that the production of a hazard map from the data depends on the reproduction of a probabilistic model for each of a varied type of unrest scenario (bearing in mind the special temporal probabilities), that when combined with an interpretation of the historical activity of the island (which has been dived into zones) produces a qualitative, not quantitative, hazard map of the whole island – given the probabistic liklihood of activity and what type, magnitude etc etc. What Dr Marti also told me was that the new event tree was designed to be used by local government, because the probabilities and uncertainties have been incorporated within the program. The really great thing about this plug-in is that it can be used to calculate risk from any number of hazards, that may be related. All in all, it’s a tool that will improve local government response to geological unrest on El Hierro. You can read more about this work here.

I also looked at the session ERE 3.2 Ore deposits: origin, exploration and mining and although there was a lot of focus on copper ore deposits a couple of presentations caught my eye – the first was a piece of work on Rare-Earth Elements in Pacific seafloor sediments (an interesting idea presented by Jeremie Melleton), but the best presentation for me was by Alexandra Masaitis from the University of Nevada on ‘Good Neighbour Agreements’. The work centred on the idea that above and beyond a social contract, mining companies should be seeking to be ‘good neighbours’ and establish trust with the host community. I was particularly interested because Alexandra’s case study was based in the US, with all the associated legal issues that mining in a developed country can bring. The poster described the implementation process and what was necessary, but didn’t say if the Good Neighbour Agreement was actually considered successful by the stakeholders and the company. One surprising risk that was highlighted was the idea that the company could raise the expectations of the stakeholders to a level beyond that which could reasonably be met, thereby weakening the process.

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Finally at the end of the day I attended a workshop on Enhancing your Career Prospects – adding value to your research experience. The focus of the workshop was on making the most of your time as a researcher by forming your ‘personal brand’ and using networking effectively. Now I must admit I find networking for the sake of networking a bit stupid (Id rather have something to talk about), but after this session I started to realise what it was all about. The most valuable conversation I had though, was about my personal brand. Who am I and what do I want to be? The thing that came out most for me? As an interdisciplinary researcher, I want credibility within BOTH of my disciplines. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone – but how do we achieve this?

Answers on a postcard….

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(One for the office chatters – see, it’s networking really!)

EGU 2014 – the conference of champions!

Well it’s that time of year – the time where if you email an academic, chances are you will get an out of office response. It’s not business time – those aren’t business socks, they are conference socks! It’s conference … Continue reading