EGU Day 3 – cycles of change (climate, vulnerability and professional behaviour)

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You know when you are at a conference and the days seem to sort themselves into themes? Regardless of the subjects of that talks you go to and the posters you see? Well for me, Day 3 was all about change. Change that was happening, change that was recorded, change in subject silos and change that I wanted to see.

The first session of the day was NH9.7 Resilience and vulnerability assessments in natural hazards and risk analysis

An interesting session, with an inclusive approach to social and physical data, the session explored many aspects of risk analysis, from social vulnerability, to assessing impacts and examining factors of sensitivity, this was the session where I wanted to see change. In the sessions that I saw the main issue I felt was that the social side of the data did not go far enough, the population was reduced to another set of data points – you are vulnerable because you live on this street, with this income and this family. In risk assessment a lot of resilience comes from the perception of risk (Slovic, 1987) and despite data, people can often be more or less susceptible to hazard because of the way that they think about it. Flooding, which has been a big part of this conference, is a particularly good example of this with people that have been exposed to a small scale flooding event changing their attitude and therefore being less likely to respond to the hazard in the same way (Grothmann and Reusswig, 2006). I find it hard to agree with risk assessments that claim to include social science, but ignore the qualitative altogether – there is a need for both forms of data in this field.

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The next session I went to was the Penck lecture (which I just realised was autocorrecting to Planck on Twitter – oops) on Geomorphology by Dr Ann Rowan, titled ‘What can mountain glaciers tell us about climate change? Quantifying past and future discharge variations in the Southern Alps and Himalaya’ a brilliant talk about climate change and also a change to the way that Geomorphology is done. According to Andreas Lang, the convenor, European geomorphology breaks down into two camps – the outcrop based and the process based. Ann’s lecture combined these two camps to give insight about climate change, as mountain glaciers respond much faster than other glaciers and ice masses to global temperature changes. There were many interesting parts to her talk – the fact that some mountain glaciers don’t look the way we think they do because they are covered in debris, and that can help them last longer because of insulation and reduced albedo…

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But also that glacial landscape record climate change, and this I found particularly interesting as mountain glaciers provide evidence for anthropocentric climate change. According to Ann’s research usually mountain glaciers in the northern and southern hemisphere operate on a cycle. When glaciers in the north are advancing, glaciers in the south are retreating (and visa versa), and this has been true according to the data for the last few thousand years. However, in the last 100 years, for the first time, both sets of mountain glaciers are retreating. This was really interesting to me and another example for how change is evidenced not just in the results that we get as scientists, but the way we do science!

 

After the Penck lecture I nipped into a talk on Bárdabunga (GMPV6.1 The Bárdabunga rifting event and associated volcanic eruption) becuase, why not, and learnt that because of an extremely timely award for additonal monitoring of volcanes in Iceland in 2013 scientists were much better able to track earthquake swarms as they moved around the volcano and also deformation. Then I nipped over to G1 to see a talk by Plymouth University’s own Andy Merritt on Landslide Monitoring (NH3.4 Characterising and monitoring landslide processes using remote sensing and geophysics).

The afternoon I spent in a different kind of session; EOS8 Geoethics for society: General aspects and case studies in geosciences. This was a session that examined the changes we as scientists need to make to ensure our continued reputation as responsible and trustworthy  champions of our data. The session covered industrial, professional, academic and hazard communication ethics, as well as our ethical reponsiblity as storytellers and communicators. There were representatives from professional bodies, industry and academics from all over the globe – including a very interesting talk by Megumi  Sugimoto on the ethical probems that contributed to the distaster that followed the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. One talk in particular that stood out was presented by Ruth Allington and she mentioned the importance of a professional standard for both industry scientists AND academics, because, as she correctly stated, academic scientists and professional scientists are not members of a different world, they just have different responsibilities. We should all be behaving in a professionally responsible way and providing examples of this in our own behaviour. After all, we are the guardians of the public as well as of science!

 

I ended the day in a short course on applying for grant funding (SC39 Finding funding: how to apply for a reserach grant). The course was brilliant – succinct and specific, it changed the way that I thought about applying for grant funding (something basically unachievable) and made me see it as something taht I could actually do. The main points  were to be confident in your ideas, separate your work from your supervisor’s and host institution (you need to be seen as a research leader) and don’t underbudget- cheap research is not better research. All in all a very enlightening day!

  

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EGU Day 2 – early life, energy and #EarlyCareersScientists

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Day 2 dawned bright and early and the excitement of being here in Vienna got me up and out of bed MUCH quicker than usual. Riding the train to the conference centre is also part of the moment as people wearing the EGU lanyards board at every stop until the whole train feels like it’s full of delegates (sorry to any Viennese residents inconvenienced by our mass exodus).

The first session of my day was on the origin of life – not a small topic to kick off with but one that I had been looking forward to since I had seen it advertised, conjuring up images of Darwin as an astronaut or what he might have discovered if he had been alive today (all paradoxes ignored!). The session, PS8.1/BG8.1 Origin of life and habitability: from early Earth to the Solar System and beyond, although it featured brilliant talks looking at the influence of large impactor events on H2O in the atmosphere and fossilised microbes found in veins of minerals like aragonite, turned out to be more than I could handle scientifically – the topic very quickly went beyond my realm of understanding and though some may argue that this is the fault of the speaker not explaining it well wnough, I know how hard it is to get an easily explained basic concept across in 12 minutes, let alone a concept, methodology and new discovery. So I left that session in search of more informative ground…

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And I found it in ERE3.2 Exloration, development and production of geothermal resources. In this session I learned how scientists are using ambient noise to help image geothermal reservoirs, which means they don’t have to wait for large seismic events or rely on expensive geophysics (though there are problems with the background noise not being uniform), and that hot springs are actually indicators of geothermal potential – which may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how often that obvious is not the case! There were also lots of beautiful maps used to illustrate the many way that we explore for geothermal resources, from bathymetry, to heat flow maps, from gravity to tectonic.

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Then I was back in G6 for NH9.5 Natural hazard impacts on technological systems and urban areas and heard a talk on the historical analysis of US pipeline accidents. Pipelines are a big deal for us as many nations rely on oil and gas to run electricity systems and other infrastructure. It was interesting to see the impacts that events such as freezing and hurricanes had on pipelines an to think how this might hurt our energy resources. It was also funny to hear how this was supposed to be a European piece of research, but that they couldn’t find any accidents to analyse!

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Then it was lunchtime and on to the Young Scientists Forum OM2. I was keen to attend this partly out of interest and partly because as a Social Geoscientist I feel marginalised by the conference as I identify far more strongly with the Education and Outreach Symposia (EOS) than with any of the divisions and as such I am not represented on the council (as EOS is a special event, not a division). It was particularly good to hear that Young Scientists will no longer be called that – because, let’s face it, I’m not young anymore – but will be called Early Careers Scientists instead to reflect the greater diversity of career choices that lead people to become professional scientists. Apart from that we spent the meeting feeding back what could be improved, and if you want to add your two cents, please fill in the survey here (available soon).

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The afternoon was a bit more scrappy. I attended NH9.12 Modelling of dangerous phenomena and innovate techniques for hazard evaluation and risk mitigation and saw talks on rockfalls imaged by game engines, slope failure interpreted in 3D and coal and gas outbursts in Turkey. Similar to yesterday I felt that many of the scientists regarded the societal element as one more piece of data to be factored in statistically, and it would have been interesting to see a more considered approach. I also attended SSP4.2.5 Stratigraphic Palaeobiology: deep time to recent to watch a talk by Plymouth University staff member Uwe Balthasar on aragonite/calcite seas and biomineralisations. Finally I took a turn around the poster hall, but that is a post for next week!

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The other thing about today was that I had a lot of great talks with people, notably Loïc Rossi (@AstroLR) about his work researching Venus, and it was so interesting so get some small insight into the struggles that scientists of otehr disciplines have. As an interdisciplinary student it is easy to feel marginalised and forgotten, that your struggles outweigh others’ because you are wrestling with two subjets that often don’t want to go together, but by speaking with other researchers you realise you are not alone, and although it doesn’t make your life any easier, it does make you feel more resilient to the process of being a researcher.

‘If others can do it, so can I’ is the way this feels. And it gives me a more positive mindset for the future.

What have you learned so far at EGU? Let me know below or on twitter @iamhazelgibson

EGU Day 1 – Spaceships and science communication

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So the first day of EGU has come to a close and boy was it a cracker! I had a great mix of talks that were pertinent to my research and talks that I indulged myself by attending, particularly two that I had highlighted at the beginning of the week – PS4.1 Comets, Asteroids and Dust and PS4.2 Rosetta: first results from the prime mission. All in all I had a great day, and felt really glad to be back at EGU again!

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The first session I attended today was NH9.2 Forensic Disaster Analyses – Learning from Disasters. The session was mostly about flooding, but approached the challenge of learning through and from crisis situations in a a series of novel ways. There was crowdsourcing flood data, post event adaption analysis using relocation and collecting and storing complete event data, with an eye to the needs of the end user. One surprising thing I learnt from this session was that the majority of flood damage occurs to infrastructure when water comes into contact with electrical equipment, and that this is rarely taken into account when planning mitigation. Interestingly the presentations felt to me that they addressed the societal element as one more data point, rather than engaging more fully with the issues and concerns of people affected by flooding, and I would have been interested to see how the subject was approached differently if a more holistic approach was taken.

An interesting question that relates to this issue was the design of the crowdsourcing app to collect first hand data. One of the strengths of the app was presented that it gave residents control and engagement with the scientific process, and there was a lot of discussion about how you would get people to complete the data in the face of a crisis, but no-one addressed the question of whether people would voluntarily submit flooding data that may increase the cost of insurance in their area? Still at least the subject was being discussed, which is a positive move forward.

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After a short coffee break I was on to my second session: PS4.1 Comets, Asteroids and Dust. This session was brilliant, often over my head, but filled with several interesting stories. My favourite was the presentation concerning the Student Dust Counter (not a new typ of student housing vacuum cleaner) – a spaceship designed, launched and maintained (including data analysis) by students. The spacecraft has been on it’s mission for 9 and a half years so far and is slowly approaching Pluto (right now it’s at Jupiter), it’s first target, before moving on to the Kuiper Belt. Most of the spaceship is dormant, but a few instruments are recording and transmitting data, riding along like barnacles on a whale!

The best thing about this, and a question someone raised, is that this mission began over 9 years ago, which is well beyond the scope of a (European) student position – so how can it still be a student mission? Well the simple answer is that the mission, the data and the link to spacecraft are handed down, student to student, each old one training the new and so on, which I think is a brilliant science story – a whole generation of planetary scientists training each other to pass this little spaceship out beyond the furthest reaches of our solar system.

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The third session of the day was NH9.4/EOS19 Natural Hazard Education, Communications and Science-Policy-Practice Interface. This was a brilliant session of both new ideas and lessons learned in science communication, from using board games to teach volcanic awareness, to encouraging students to design their own web app that would increase their understanding of geo-hydrological terms and how to use narratives to build the resilience of small businesses to flood events. There was also a presentation by a group os researchers from the CNR-IIA in Monterotonto and the University of Turin who were talking about the information deluge that you experience during a crisis and how people make sense of that deluge. They had designed a wiki to help with the provision of accurate and reliable data, but there were a couple of questions around the data. Clearly the idea was a great one, but the initial data had not been collected during a time of crisis, so all the conclusions were not related to the main crisis event, there was no knowledge of whether a crisis event changed the nature of people’s searches online. Also the wiki was called nhwikisaurus – which was a play on the thesaurus connectionn, but the icon was of a dinosaur, so this may be confusing for people who go there expecting it to be a dinosaur wiki. It was really good to see people trying to positively engage with risk communication in a new way.

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I then ducked quickly into the session on the initial results from the prime Rosetta mission and spent most of my time being absorbed by the gorgeous photos of the comet! I did find out though that Rosetta has a mass spectrometer on board and that they have a twin of the instrument in the lab in case of any issues!

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My last observational session of the day was SSS11.5/EMPR4.1/ERE2.5/NH4.4 Communication of uncertain information in earth sciences: data, models and visualisation. Now the informatics talks have somewhat put me off in the past as they seemed to revolve around finding statistical ways to represent uncertainty but the session today actually focussed on communicating that uncertainty. My favourite talk (that I was able to see -bit of an overlap) examined intuitive responses to IPCC diagrams and found that the colour schemes can often give false representations and that often the caption isn’t actually helpful in interpreting the image.

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The last thing I did today was to take part in a panel discussion: SC22 Open Science, Public Engagement and Outreach: why bother? I was joined on the panel by Ivo Grigorov from the Technical University of Denmark, and Ulrich Poschl from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, and chaired by Sam Illingworth, lecturer in science communication from Manchester Metropolitan University.

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To say I was intimidated would be an understatement, especially when Sam introduced Uli as ‘if not the father, then the kind uncle’ of the open science movement! But the discussion was lively and informal and by the end I had relaxed into it. The talk ranged across topics like what is open science, how to we make open access more avaliable, how do we deal with the issue of cost for open access (turns out that if all universities stopped paying subscriptions they could afford to get all papers published open access), why do we engage with the public, how to avoid or manage the ‘dinosaurs’ in your department who don’t approve of open science or public engagement, how to balance the ethos of open access with the realities of life as a young scientist and ‘Science 2.0’. It was a great evening and I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was left with lots of meaty issues to ponder – can we come up with our own metric of impact and how do you ensure that open science and engagement are not the last things on the list and the first to go in academic life?

So all in all day 1 – I would say you’ve been fabulous. But what were your first impressions? And any tips for good sessions to drop in on the rest of the week?