EGU 2014 Day 5 – The big presentation, widening participation and communicating global risk

So here we are. The final day at EGU and I’m about to present in my first international conference. To add to all that I actually have a pretty busy day as I have to be in Lyme Regis in Dorset this evening – so packing, catching the flight and driving for 3 hours back to Lyme were all also in my schedule today. Nevertheless I appeared all ready for my talk at 8am this morning – and was welcomed by my name on the board!

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The session I was presenting in was called ‘Geoscience Education for Sustainable Development and Widening Participation‘ (EOS7) and was a mix of talks looking at geoscience communication and understanding from how to communicate your science, to using serious games to increase understanding about CO2 storage, to using place-based learning to help students engage with geology. Now I know I’m biased, but I thought the session was great – lots of interesting ideas and new concepts. My talk went pretty well I think – I always worry about speaking to an academic audience, especially when I’m an interdisciplinary. How many terms from cognitive science can I use without it being jargon? This is a highly educated audience after all! So I retreated into my preferred method of assuming some knowledge, but embroidering any terms with an accompanying image or explanation. I hope it worked!! In any case, after the initial terror faded I actually really enjoyed it (despite having to present after the dynamic and accessible presenting style of Sam Illingworth – gulp!). Hooray!

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The orals were followed by the poster session of the same name, and I went along to have a look at the posters presented. Again there was a huge variety, but one of my favourites was about ‘A New Protocol in La Spezia for Elementary and Secondary School Students for Monitoring Perception Towards Science and Performance in School Classrooms‘. I had a long talk with Mascha Stroobant and Silvia Merlino about their research and during this talk I couldn’t help thinking how it was really difficult to know what was happening in science perception studies in other countries as all our research is at such an early stage. There seemed to be no advanced or established research in science perception at EGU (that I could find, but I will kick myself if there was and I missed it), which makes it difficult to know what mistakes have been made before, how to avoid those pitfalls and the best methods for ensuring we have valid data.

My final session of Friday (and of EGU) was ‘Global and Continental Scale Risk Assessment for Natural Hazards: Methods and Practice‘ (NH9.13). I could only go to half of this session and I wanted to go to support a friend who was presenting there – the brilliant Joel Gill, PhD student at Kings College London and founder/director of Geology for Global Development. He was presenting his work on ‘Reviewing and Visualising Relationships Between Anthropic Processes and Natural Hazards within a Multi-Hazard Framework‘. The brilliant thing about his research is that he presents risk within a continuum of natural and anthropic causes of hazard, not just in terms of vulnerability.

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Unfortunately after Joel’s talk I had to dash off to catch the coach and so that was the end of my first EGU experience. I learned that geoscience is a much broader subject than I ever thought it was, and that people like myself in all varieties of interdisciplinary research are attempting to expand our understanding of the planet to new fronteirs. I learned that communication and public understanding of geology isn’t just important to industry, but to ALL geoscientists and even those working in narrow fields see the value of speaking about their research. I learned that I am part of a vibrant, enthusiastic and welcoming community, and all those things that I think I am alone in worrying about (because they are about interviews, psychology and data representation) are shared in different forms by many other reseracheres. I also learned that there is so much more to learn – and EGU just got me even more fired up to go back into the field and get back into my office – BRING ON THE DATA!!

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EGU 2014 Day 2 – when moderators go wild, policy and earthquakes

Today was a loooooooooong day! You know that feeling when you are sat in a presentation and the speaker is on slide 14 of 27 and ran out of time 5 minutes ago? Well image how much worse it is when the person rambling, prevaricating and generally being annoying is the one who is supposed to be keeping order?! This was my experience today – of a moderator gone wild!! It was really frustrating!!!!

Anyway, I arrived in the morning for my first session, which was supposed to start at 8.30am, but the first talk was cancelled so it actually got going at 8.45 (oh the luxury!).

This was the session on Geoethics and Geoeducation (EOS1) and included presentations on Fukushima, nano technology and Antarctic lake exploration. The presenters weren’t pulling their punches about the failings of those in and associated with the geoscience community in terms of ethical behaviour, but by far the most outspoken present was Tokio Oshka from Japan. He implied that the accident at Fukushima, was actually caused by a lack of corporate responsibility on the part of the company, which didn’t have any capacity for negative feedback, in order to improve safety at the site and that the government was complicit because it held shares in the company. The presentation was conducted with great passion and it certainly made me think more about the ethical implications of a government apparently being so (financially) closely linked to a company.

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But Tokio Oshka was not the only vociferous speaker – the moderator for the session at one point launched into an accusation that the Ethics, education and communication sides of EGU were ‘discriminated against’ mostly because the partner poster session to this mornings ovals was at the same time, so many people who would have normally gone to both, could not. And I can kind of see his point – this year the Education and Outreach symposia has a much higher profile than the subject in previous years, but it is still very much at the edges of the conference. Perhaps it is because ethics, education and communication does not have a ‘division’ within EGU to protect its’s interests in the same way as the other groups do, though the team of staff who organised the Symposium are just as talented and dedicated as those in the divisions.

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The second session I attended was EG1 The Role of Geoscientists in Public Policy – a panel discussion about the state of geoscience policy in Europe and the world. The Panel consisted of:

Lydia Harriss, Scientific Advisor in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)
Pascale Ehrenfreund, Research Professor of Space Policy and International Affairs, The George Washington University, Washinton D.C. and President of the Austrian Science Fund
Gunter Bloschl, President of the European Geosciences Union
Reinhard Huttl, Scientific Director of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam
Luca Demicheli, Secretary General of EuroGeoSurveys – the Geological Surveys of Europe
Iain Stewart, Professor of Geoscience Communication at Plymouth and my supervisor (very important that!)

The panel discussed a wide range of ideas relating to policy, including; science-politics dialogue, the differences in different countries, interdisciplinarity, permanence of geoscience in the public realm (not just after a disaster), open access, training future generations and why scientists are reluctant to make statememts. Two particularly interesting questions to me were, are we overlooking local and regional government in favour of national and international, and how does scientific thinking affect our ability to communicate? To be honest I felt that both questions were rather dismissed – the first by saying that national and international governance informs local and regional decisions, but I think that is simplifying local political concerns. In my recent work I have been interviewing village residents in the south west and I have found that local politics is far more important to most people I have spoken to than national. The second question was approached as being a good idea, and the value of interdisciplinarity was raised (again), but the panellist seemed to quickly return to the bastion of old science.

Still it was an interesting session.

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My afternoon was a bit spotty – I sat in on a couple of presentations about Thermal and Mechanical Processes and Energy Storage in Porous and Fractured Aquifers (HS 8.2.5), but ran away when the equations started to fill the whole screen, though I did learn that the amount of shearing in marbles does appear to improve their thermal conductivity. I also attended Biochar and Organic Waste in Soils (SSS6.5) on the recommendation of @EuroGeosciences and listened to a talk on the Economic feasibility of biochar to soils in temperate climate regions by Gerhard Soja. This was interesting because I didn’t really know anything about biochar before – so just as was suggested at the beginning of the conference, I tried something new!

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I also attended the Citizen Empowered Science and Crowdsourcing in Geosciences session (ESSI1/EOS6) and spoke to Luca D’Auria about his poster on Real-time mapping of earthquake perception areas of the Italian region from Twitter streams analysis. Basically, the research used people’s comments on twitter that were geolocated to identify areas of increased perception of the earthquakes. I was interested to learn how they dealt with retweets and quoted or modified tweets. Dr D’Auria said that in order to take this into consideration they didn’t include any retweets in the dataset and they also collected background data in order to normalise the responses and counter any false positives that may be collected. What this normalised data showed was that although there was strong trend towards the cities without calculation, after the data was normalised the trend in the cities disappeared and the only identified highlight was in the east of Italy, around the area where the epicentre had been recorded. This research is interesting as it could be used to asses perception of strength and a better way to interpret earthquake risk to people in seismically active areas.

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I ended the day at the ‘Scientists Must Film‘ workshop, a very entertaining and informative workshop presented by a pair of filmmakers who could have had their own double act!

Great fun and a great end to the day!

I also had a conference selfie moment with #EGUlegend Gunter Bloschl and Rachel Hay (@geogrhay)!!

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EGU 2014 Day 1 – Volcanoes, good neighbours and career opportunities.

Phew what a day!

Well day one was a cracker here at EGU. I started the day badly – I forgot that I hadn’t changed my watch and with no other clocks here at the Brigittenau Youth Hostel, I didn’t realise I was actually running an hour late (whoops) meaning I missed the beginning of my first session. Note to self – always double check all your clocks!

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When I arrived at the conference centre I went straight into my first session – NH 2.1Quantifying Volcanic Hazards. It was a really interesting session with presenters defending abstracts based on a wide range of volcanic topics, from pyroclastic flow modelling on Mt Merapi in Indonesia, to using the eruptive history of Laki in Iceland to help the UK government prepare for the effects of another Icelandic eruption (which, let’s face it, is just a matter of time). Who knew that actually a Laki-like eruption is ranked as one of the top three risk scenarios, in terms of impact, only preceded by pandemic flu and east coast flooding!

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One of the most interesting presentations for me, was on the subject of a bayesian probability event tree, developed to examine the likelihood of volcanic unrest on El Hierro island in the Canary Islands and relating it to what is the origin of that unrest is, how it would evolve, location of the event, magma composition, size or magnitude of the event, products of the unrest and the extent of those products.

What particularly interested me, was the fact that although there were many geologists, physicists, chemists and other scientists on the team, it seemed like something that could be used by a non-expert planner, or even a civilian resident in the area. After the presentation, I spoke to Dr Joan Marti from the Instituto de Ciencias de la Tierra Jaume Almera, in Spain about the research.

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He told me that the production of a hazard map from the data depends on the reproduction of a probabilistic model for each of a varied type of unrest scenario (bearing in mind the special temporal probabilities), that when combined with an interpretation of the historical activity of the island (which has been dived into zones) produces a qualitative, not quantitative, hazard map of the whole island – given the probabistic liklihood of activity and what type, magnitude etc etc. What Dr Marti also told me was that the new event tree was designed to be used by local government, because the probabilities and uncertainties have been incorporated within the program. The really great thing about this plug-in is that it can be used to calculate risk from any number of hazards, that may be related. All in all, it’s a tool that will improve local government response to geological unrest on El Hierro. You can read more about this work here.

I also looked at the session ERE 3.2 Ore deposits: origin, exploration and mining and although there was a lot of focus on copper ore deposits a couple of presentations caught my eye – the first was a piece of work on Rare-Earth Elements in Pacific seafloor sediments (an interesting idea presented by Jeremie Melleton), but the best presentation for me was by Alexandra Masaitis from the University of Nevada on ‘Good Neighbour Agreements’. The work centred on the idea that above and beyond a social contract, mining companies should be seeking to be ‘good neighbours’ and establish trust with the host community. I was particularly interested because Alexandra’s case study was based in the US, with all the associated legal issues that mining in a developed country can bring. The poster described the implementation process and what was necessary, but didn’t say if the Good Neighbour Agreement was actually considered successful by the stakeholders and the company. One surprising risk that was highlighted was the idea that the company could raise the expectations of the stakeholders to a level beyond that which could reasonably be met, thereby weakening the process.

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Finally at the end of the day I attended a workshop on Enhancing your Career Prospects – adding value to your research experience. The focus of the workshop was on making the most of your time as a researcher by forming your ‘personal brand’ and using networking effectively. Now I must admit I find networking for the sake of networking a bit stupid (Id rather have something to talk about), but after this session I started to realise what it was all about. The most valuable conversation I had though, was about my personal brand. Who am I and what do I want to be? The thing that came out most for me? As an interdisciplinary researcher, I want credibility within BOTH of my disciplines. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone – but how do we achieve this?

Answers on a postcard….

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(One for the office chatters – see, it’s networking really!)

EGU 2014 – the conference of champions!

Well it’s that time of year – the time where if you email an academic, chances are you will get an out of office response. It’s not business time – those aren’t business socks, they are conference socks! It’s conference … Continue reading