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?

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Rural communities and flooding

Over the last few weeks we have once again been faced with the impact of flooding on a huge scale. While we have heard a lot about flooding in the North of England (quite rightly) there has been rain all over the country and on a recent train trip I saw flooding in fields across the Westcountry, but looking back at the reports of flooding, this flooding of rural areas across the UK appears a background story to the flooding of towns – if it is mentioned at all in the general media. Farmers are much more frequently the victims of flooding, but because it is fields and livestock that are affected rather than houses and people this flooding is often overlooked. Added to this is the recent suggestion that farmers should be paid to let their fields flood, thus lessening the burden on downstream urban residents, without any real thought as to how our building practices often exacerbate the problem in the first place.

A photo (taken from the train!) of flooded fields in the Westcountry.

A photo (taken from the train!) of flooded fields in the Westcountry.

Recently, I ran a stakeholder case-study workshop for Environmental Science students in Plymouth University and one interesting issue was that the majority of students placed greater value on communicating with residents of a town affected by the hypothetical situation than the rural residents. In one example, a student playing the role of ‘National Government’ said that it was a ‘numbers thing’, but as another student pointed out in rebuttal for this statement; people in the country, although they may appear more resilient, can actually be more vulnerable due to their isolation and dependence upon the land for their livelihoods. So why do we have this focus on urban (or semi-urban) residents over rural? Is it because increasingly more and more of us live in urban centres as opposed to the country? Or because large media distributors (the gatekeepers of most of our information) are based in cities?

A picture of the board used during the stakeholder workshop to assign communication priorities. Note how many more are listed under the locat residents (t - for town) column, than there are under the local residents (c- for countryside) column.

A picture of the board used during the stakeholder workshop to assign communication priorities. Note how many more are listed under the local residents (t – for town) column, than there are under the local residents (c- for countryside) column.

Often communicators (including the media) target the easiest or most visible community, not always out of choice. Hard-to-reach audiences, whether geographically or ideologically can be a challenge to communicate with or about, without seeming patronising. The issues that are important to these communities can seem odd or irrelevant to those communicating, but by ignoring or marginalising the hard-to-reach community you are weakening any further attempt to connect. This is an important issue because these future contacts might be life or death situations and by that time, it’s too late to be feeling your way into a community. In this instance, by lessening our knowledge of the impacts and extent of flooding on rural communities, we may lessen our acceptance to finance flood defence measures that may be better long term solutions, but that focus their protection on our rural communities – the frontline of the majority of flooding in the UK – instead of urban ones.

In order to fix this issue, mainstream communication channels, such as the visual and print media, should be encouraged to take into account new research being published on how different populations approach different sciences, particularly the environmental sciences. An upcoming special issue of Natural Hazards and Earth System Science and Hydrology and Earth System Science called Effective Science Co​mmunication and Educ​ation in Hydrology a​nd Natural Hazards ​(NHESS/HESS Inter-Jo​urnal SI)​  seeks to address this issue, and I would hope that it will be used to try and improve our national communication strategy.

The closing date for this special issue if you want to submit a paper is the 15th January, so there is still time to get your research in there if you want to join in with this critical conversation.

Snowflake Obsidian – Day 25 of the Mineral Advent Calendar

This holiday season, why not get a mineral every day instead of chocolate? Today’s mineral is Snowflake Obsidian find out more about it below..

Well that’s it for the Mineral Advent Calendar this year, I hope you enjoyed it! I finish us off today with the only snow we are likely to see in the UK today and that is Snowflake Obsidian.

Not this snowflake, that's one I made!!! Because I really wish it would snow.

Not this snowflake, that’s one I made!!! Because I really wish it would snow.

Snowflake Obsidian forms as a variety of Obsidian, which has inclusions of the mineral Cristobalite in the Obsidian. The Cristobalite forms these gorgeous white snowflake shaped growths that give rise to the name. So in a way the final mineral today is two-for-the-price-of-one! BUT Obsidian is not actually a mineral – it is a type of volcanic glass that has crystals of silica so small you can’t see them with the naked eye. We call it crypto-crystalline.

Snowflake Obsidian from Wikipedia.

Snowflake Obsidian from Wikipedia.

Obsidian:
Chemical formula: SiO2
Colour: Black to grey black
System: N/A
Hardness (Mohs): N/A
Can you find it in the UK? No

Christobalite:
Chemical formula: SiO2
Colour: Colorless, white, also blue grey, brown, grey, yellow
System: Tetragonal
Hardness (Mohs): 6 – 7
Can you find it in the UK? Yes

Whatever you are celebrating this winter season, I wish you joy!!

Whatever you are celebrating this winter season, I wish you joy!!

 

For more information about Snowflake Obsidian please visit the MinDat website.

 

Gold – Day 24 of the Mineral Advent Calendar

This holiday season, why not get a mineral every day instead of chocolate? Today’s mineral is Gold find out more about it below..

We are coming to the end of our Mineral Advent Calendar, and if you are of Christian faith (or attended ANY school where a Nativity play was performed at Christmas) you will recognise the significance of today’s mineral as one that apparently a wise man headed out carrying to celebrate the birth of a baby – Jesus – the relious reason behind the celebration of Christmas. Though to be honest all of the new mums I know would prefer food (especially fresh veggies!) to Gold (or Frankincense or Myrrh), it’s still a great mineral for today’s advent! But whatever your religion, I hope you are enjoying the season!

Gold comes in many form but these dendritic crystals are one of my favourites. Image from Wikipedia.

Gold comes in many forms but these dendritic crystals are one of my favourites. Image from Wikipedia.

Gold:
Chemical formula: Au
Colour: Gold!
System: Isometric
Hardness (Mohs): 2½ – 3
Can you find it in the UK? Yes.

 

UK Gold (specifically Welsh) has been used in the rings of the royal family for over 80 years. Image from the Telegraph.

UK Gold (specifically Welsh) has been used in the rings of the royal family for over 80 years. Image from the Telegraph.

Gold can be found in many locations across the UK, it is a common accessory mineral to lots of other minerals mined commercially including Copper, Lead and Silver and if often found near quartz minerals. Careful not to mistake it’s more common counterpart Pyrite (or Fools Gold) which also grows in similar conditons, but it actually quite a different, more brassy colour. Famously UK gold has for over 80 years been used in the production of Royal wedding rings, including the most recent wedding between Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

For more information about Gold please visit the MinDat website.

 

Halite – Day 23 of the Mineral Advent Calendar

This holiday season, why not get a mineral every day instead of chocolate? Today’s mineral is Halite find out more about it below..

It’s December 23rd and if you have finished work and are lucky enough to have tomorrow off, you might now very be….

If so, please be safe when driving back; if the rest of the country is anything like Devon tonight the roads are pretty wet!! Fortunately (or not, depending on how much rain you get) that means we probably won’t see any of a mineral that is usually EXTREMELY common this time of year – no not Ice, but it’s related – that is rock salt, used in grit to keep the roads safe. The reason salt is used to grit roads is because it lowers the freezing point of water (meaning it has to get much colder before the water will freeze), though this only really works when the temperature is above -5 degrees. In this paper by Ari Venäläinen, researchers tried to use the mean air temperatures to gauge how much salt would be used in Finland during the winter period, but as I’m sure you can guess, the result was that although air temperatures give some guide as to how much salt people use on the roads, modelling accurate amounts was dependent on a combination of issues, including road maintenance and people’s behaviour.

Salt is most definitely a mineral, as anyone who has ever been to a salt mine can attest. Rock salt, more properly called Halite when in it’s mineral form, is something that although we may be more familiar with it on the kitchen table, is essential for safe driving at this time of year.

So stay safe on the roads if you are driving home tonight, and check out this amazing microscope image of a Halite crystal taken by Dr Natasha Stephen in Plymouth University Electron Microscopy Centre.

A lovely Halite crystal photograph taken by Dr Natasha Stephen at the Plymouth University EM centre.

A lovely Halite crystal photograph taken by Dr Natasha Stephen at the Plymouth University EM centre.

Halite:
Chemical formula: NaCl
Colour: Colourless, white, yellow, red, purple or blue
System: Isometric
Hardness (Mohs):
Can you find it in the UK? Er yes! (In fact it is still mined in Cheshire)

 

Cheshire's salt mines are still very much active! Image from the BBC.

Cheshire’s salt mines are still very much active! Image from the BBC.

Halite is a common mineral all over the world and although I have been talking about it in it’s mineral sense (that can be mined – a type of mineral called an evaporite), let’s not forget that you can also get halite when it is exsolved out of (as opposed to dissolved into) sea water! This can cause Halite to crystallise in sheltered spots around the coast, so keep an eye out for these little white-pink cubes, you may find it more easily than you think!

For more information about Halite please visit the MinDat website.