#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?


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!