#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?

EGU Day 1 – Spaceships and science communication


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!


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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?