#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?!

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


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.


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…


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!


5 things you wouldn’t expect to find at a geology conference

One of the things that I realised whilst at EGU last week was how broad the subject of geology actually is and how we don’t always appreciate the breadth of our subject. Some of this obviously come from the influence of interdisciplinary studies like my own, but some it comes from the unique and innovative ways that geoscientists are attempting to broaden our understanding of the planet. To highlight this I have picked out 5 things you wouldn’t expect to see at a geology conference – some more than others.

1- Astronaut photographs

Automatic Georeferencing of Astronaut Auroral Photography: Providing a New Dataset for Space Physics‘ from Multi-scale Plasma Processes in the Earth’s Environment session (ST2.2) – using data from recent space missions to advance our understanding of space physics.

Recently, the work of astronaut Commander Hadfield brought the activities of the people who get strapped to a rocket and propelled beyond our atmosphere to learn more about our planet back into the public eye. But although the images they produce are beautiful, inspiring and humbling all at the same time, they are often not very useful because there is no way for scientists to tell the scale of the image or where exactly it was taken. The work of Reichart, Walsh and Taylor addresses this problem by using ‘starfield recognition software‘ to calculate the height and location of the images. Now I don’t know about you, but there is something so romantic sounding about starfield recognition software. It makes me think that the software we so often associate with catching criminals can actually be used for something uplifting and will, once fully developed, improve our understanding of how the Auroras (both Australis and Borealis) work.

2- Willow tree root growth patterns

Root Growth Studies of Willow Cuttings using Rhisoboxes‘ from How Vegetation Influences Soil Erosion and Slope Stability: Monitoring and Modelling Eco-hydrological and Geo-mechanical Factors session (SSS2.10/BG9.7/GM4.8/HS8.3.9/NH3.9) – the relationship between vegetation and how soil behaves, especially focussing on land restoration projects and management plans.

When you think of geology, willow is probably not the first thing that springs to mind. However, when you think about landslides – which are most definitely geological – the presence, absence or behaviour of plants is very important. In Central Asia (amongst other places) willow is vital in facilitating the colonisation of other tree species in forests that help protect the soil from erosion. This study, although it seems like it belongs in a botany (or at least biology) conference is actually examining the material necessary to mitigate the effects of erosion, which can lead to lots of other geological problems.

3- Fluid dynamics of cars

A Preliminary Numerical Model on the Incipient Motion Conditions of Flooded Vehicles‘ from Flood Risk and Uncertainty session (NH1.6) – predicting current and future flood risk using state of the art flood risk assessment methodologies.

This had to be one of my favourite posters – mostly due to the obvious/unexpected dichotomy of the contents. If you picture a flood, what do you see? Rushing muddy brown water tearing away at the countryside, carrying the odd tree? Perhaps. But more and more often nowadays floods are affecting our urban areas, and the thing the floodwater is likely to be dragging is a car not a tree. This work by Arrighi, Castelli and Oumeraci takes a closer look at how vehicles are affected by flood water and how they affect the flow themselves. It’s also a sobering look at how easy it is to loose control of a vehicle in a flood and explains why most studies identify the greatest cause of deaths from drowning in a flood to be a car.

4- Coffee residue

Biochar from Coffee Residues: A New Promising Sorbent‘ from Novel Sorbent Materials for Environmental Remediation session (SSS9.8) – the use of sorbent materials (a material that can collect molecules of another substance) for environmental applications.

If the conference last week was attended by over 12,000 delegates, how many cups of coffee were drunk do you think (added to the fact that it was nigh on impossible to get a good cup of tea)? Now imagine you could take the dregs of all that coffee and do something useful with it! Well that is precisely what Fotopoulou, Karapanagioti and Manariotis were exploring- how to use coffee residues to make biochar. Biochar is a carbon-rich substance that is added to soils in order to sequester carbon, improve the quality (fertility) of the soil and assist in environmental remediation. Who knew an old cup of coffee could be so useful?!

5- Wind patterns in the Pacific

Origin of Wind Events in the Equatorial Pacific‘ from ENSO: Dynamics, Predictability and Modelling session (NP2.1) – ENSO stands for the El Niño Southern Oscillation and includes all studies of El Niño and La Niña.

So wind may not be that disconnected from geology – but wind patterns? Over water? Yes at a geology conference a geoscientist’s awareness of the processes that shape our planet extends even to the climate. Which is not all that surprising really when you consider that one of the biggest issues and areas of study that geologists deal with nowadays is climate change.

These are only the posters that I came across and thought interesting during the conference – I’m sure there were many many more! Did you see any examples of a poster or a presentation that you wouldn’t expect to see at a geology conference?!