Archive | January, 2012

Imaggeo on Mondays: Zurich lit by lightning

30 Jan

Zurich lit by lightning by Ryan Teuling, distributed by EGU under a Creative Commons licence.

In Zurich, Switzerland, June is often the wettest month of the year. Summer thunderstorms that give clouds a purple-grey colour and bright up the skies with strong lightning bolts are common place. This picture, taken by Ryan Teuling from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, captures one of these bolts, lighting up the centre of the city.

Teuling took this photo in June 2008 when he worked at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science (CHN) in Zurich, following the Institute’s yearly barbecue.

“From the upper floor of the CHN building we had a great view of the centre of Zurich, the lake, and the active lightning. The lightning was so intense that I could take the picture by controlling the shutter by hand in response to lightning flashes, and not in automatic or repeat mode,” Teuling said. The storm front was stationary over Lake Zurich, visible in the centre of the frame, he added.

Thunderstorms occur when warm, moist air rises rapidly upwards, cools and condenses forming clouds and water droplets. These strong convective cells of air develop easily in the diverse topography of Zurich, a city located in a valley in the north tip of Lake Zurich, near the Albis chain of hills.

Imaggeo is the online open access geosciences image repository of the European Geosciences Union. Every geoscientist who is an amateur photographer (but also other people) can submit their images to this repository. Being open access, it can be used by scientists for their presentations or publications as well as by the press. If you submit your images to imaggeo, you retain full rights of use, since they are licenced and distributed by EGU under a Creative Commons licence.

Register for the EGU General Assembly 2012

25 Jan

Online registration to the 2012 General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union (EGU) is open until 22 March 2012. The meeting, taking place in Vienna from 22–27 April, brings together over 10,000 scientists from all over the world and covers all disciplines of the Earth, planetary, and space sciences.

To register, you will need to create an account with Copernicus, our meeting’s organiser, if you don’t already have one. The registration fee includes the participation in the meeting, free local transportation from Monday–Friday, 23–27 April 2012, the information & schedules book, along with the abstracts USB flash drive.

You also have the option to contribute to EGU on Renewables, a programme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to help support EGU Outreach activities. These include co-sponsoring meetings, such as the Alexander von Humboldt conferences, organising the GIFT programmes for teachers, and running this blog, among many others.

The General Assembly will be held at the Austria Center Vienna at Bruno-Kreisky-Platz 1, Vienna, Austria. For more information about the venue and how to get there, please refer to the Venue page on the General Assembly website. For information on accommodation options, see the Accommodation page.

With over 13,800 abstracts submitted and a preliminary programme featuring more than 700 scientific sessions, the 2012 General Assembly is set to be a great success. We look forward to welcoming you in Vienna!

Imaggeo on Mondays: El Tatio geyser field

23 Jan

El Tatio Geyser Field by Simon Gascoin, distributed by EGU under a Creative Commons licence.

Excursions following scientific conferences often give researchers a chance to observe geosciences phenomena in remote areas. That was the case for Simon Gascoin, from the Centre d’Etudes Spatiales de la Biosphère in Toulouse, France who got to photograph geysers in a Chilean desert after the EGU Alexander von Humboldt conference in Santiago de Chile in late 2008.

“The picture shows the El Tatio geyser field, located at 4,200 metres above sea level, in the hyperarid Atacama desert. Steam columns and boiling water are caused by the high geothermal fluxes in this volcanic region, which heat the groundwater,” Gascoin explained.

The El Tatio geyser field is the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere with no less than 80 active geysers. Eruptions of groundwater heated by magma at El Tatio have an average height of 75 centimetres, but the record steam and water jet reached some six metres above ground.

The Chilean Government declared the field a protected area in 2010.

Imaggeo is the online open access geosciences image repository of the European Geosciences Union. Every geoscientist who is an amateur photographer (but also other people) can submit their images to this repository. Being open access, it can be used by scientists for their presentations or publications as well as by the press. If you submit your images to imaggeo, you retain full rights of use, since they are licenced and distributed by EGU under a Creative Commons licence.

Become a freelance writer for the EGU newsletter!

18 Jan

Interested in science writing? Are you looking to get published and get paid for it? Keep reading.

The newsletter of the European Geosciences Union, currently known as The Eggs, is a magazine and information service distributed for free to all EGU members — around 12,000 scientists. It will be rebranded and relaunched in late February or early March with a new layout, content structure, and name: GeoQ. The new version will keep much of the informative material of its predecessor, but will also see some changes. In particular, we want to feature even more pieces on recent research in the earth, planetary and space sciences written for a general (technical) audience.

We are looking for young scientists or established researchers with a demonstrable passion and aptitude for science communication interested in writing for GeoQ on a freelance basis. Science writers are also welcome to apply to contribute to the newsletter. Freelancers will not only see their texts published in a magazine with a wide readership, but will also receive a €100 Amazon voucher per 800 to 1000-words article as payment.

If you are interested in this opportunity, contact GeoQ’s Chief Editor, Bárbara T. Ferreira, at geoq@egu.eu for more information.

GeoQ, the new EGU newsletter. Coming soon!

Imaggeo on Mondays: Huts in Arcachon Bay

16 Jan

The Tchanquees Huts in the Arcachon Bay by Yann Vitasse, distributed by EGU under a Creative Commons licence.

Yann Vitasse, now a researcher at the Institute of Botany, University of Basel in Switzerland, got a wonderful present in 2009 for completing his PhD: a flight on an ultralight aircraft above the southwest coast of France. It was then he took this stunning photo of the Arcachon Bay, a water area near Bordeaux that is fed by the Atlantic Ocean and by a number of fresh waterways.

“Here you see the famous Tchanquees Huts which were built on stilts in the middle of the Arcachon Bay, on the bird island. These huts were originally used for monitoring oyster beds,” Vitasse said.

The photo was taken at low tide, a time when the water covers an area of only 40 square kilometres. By comparison the bay takes up some 150 square kilometers at high tide, when the entire area to the left of the huts is covered by sea water.

The bird island, starting to the right of the huts, also varies in area being some 10 times larger at low tide. Geologists are still out on the origin of this structure. Some defend it is a former sandbar while others prefer the theory that it formed from the remains of a high dune shaped by the wind and the ocean.

Imaggeo is the online open access geosciences image repository of the European Geosciences Union. Every geoscientist who is an amateur photographer (but also other people) can submit their images to this repository. Being open access, it can be used by scientists for their presentations or publications as well as by the press. If you submit your images to imaggeo, you retain full rights of use, since they are licenced and distributed by EGU under a Creative Commons licence.

Geosciences column special: Planetary science, part 2

13 Jan

This month we have a special edition of our Geosciences column with two pieces on planetary science written by external contributors. Whereas the first piece, published yesterday, focused on Martian water, this second article examines the internal structure of the Moon.

If you’d like to contribute to GeoLog, please contact EGU’s Media and Commmunications Officer, Bárbara T. Ferreira at media@egu.eu.


Moon not made of cheese!

A Science paper published last year re-examines previously obtained lunar seismograms to provide evidence that the moon’s core, like that of Earth, has a partly liquid exterior and a solid interior.

Although its surface is barren, the moon's internal configuration is multilayered and resembles Earth's (Source: Wikipedia)

It is likely that, as generations of star-crossed lovers gazed towards the round face of the moon in the night sky, they could not help but wonder what it was made of. “Green cheese” (then referring to freshly made, or immature), as John Heywood proposed in 1546, was probably as good a guess as any. When telescopes allowed a closer view it came with a big disappointment for cheese lovers: all this time, humankind had been staring at a rocky sphere that, furthermore, appeared passive and sterile.

But things are not always as they seem. By re-evaluating data obtained decades ago by the Apollo missions, Renee Weber and her team of planetary scientists at NASA provide, for the first time, a detailed picture of the moon’s interior. Moreover, they show that the moon is remarkably similar to Earth. It comprises a small inner core enclosed by a slightly larger fluid outer core, both of which are surrounded by an even larger partially molten zone, a solid mantle, and finally, a crust.

The Science study relates the polarization of shock waves created by seismic events to the likely internal configuration of the moon. The waves, recorded in the early 1970s, were digitally stacked and filtered, enabling the researchers to better pinpoint the precise point where the shock event took place, determining its velocity and direction. By identifying waves which may have been directed towards the centre of the moon from each area of seismic activity, or cluster zone, and reflected back from the lunar core, the results provide indirect information on the boundaries separating each of the moon’s layers.

Seismic events create different types of waves. Longitudinal, or primary (p-), waves are fast and weak, progressing in a vertical motion, superficially resembling the locomotion of a caterpillar. Shear, or secondary (s-), waves are slower but stronger, and their movement is horizontal, as in the movement of a snake. When p- and s- waves travel in the same direction, they are orientated perpendicular to each other and are polarized.

The waves also differ according to the medium in which they are moving. In fluid, shear waves are attenuated, gradually losing their energy (which is why on Earth we cannot measure direct shear waves from quakes occurring on the other side of the planet, as they would have to pass through its outer core comprising mostly molten iron). This is how Weber and her colleagues were able to indirectly investigate the density of each of the moon’s internal layers.

The recent study would be impossible without data obtained from the Apollo missions, the last of which left the moon in 1972. They left behind enough strategically placed seismic detectors to form a triangle, with edges of over 1,000 km in length, and thus distant enough from each other to pinpoint the location of underground tremors, previously not known to have existed. The lunar Passive Seismic Experiments (PSE), as they were called, continuously recorded five years of data and sent them back to Earth, identifying over 12,000 seismic events, including likely meteorite impacts and moonquakes. These data were reinforced by later research showing that most deep moonquakes occurred repeatedly in particular source regions, located around 1,000 km below the surface, and were associated with constant tidal pressure changes that the moon experiences as it rotates around Earth and the sun.

Plans to place additional seismometers on the moon have thus far been postponed or scrapped and, therefore, the PSE catalogue has remained the only data source for moonquakes. However, as lovers may today still gaze at the moon, at least they can be certain it is not made of cheese.

By Till  F. Sonnemann, researcher at the University of Sydney 

Geosciences column special: Planetary science, part 1

12 Jan

This month we have a special edition of our Geosciences column with two pieces on planetary science written by external contributors. The first article, published today, focuses on Martian water while the second, to be published tomorrow, examines the interior structure of the Moon.

If you’d like to contribute to GeoLog, please contact EGU’s Media and Commmunications Officer, Bárbara T. Ferreira at media@egu.eu.


Martian water lasted longer than previously suspected

There is no liquid water on Mars today, but an article published in Geology late last year suggests some areas of the Red Planet may have held water for longer, and more recently, than scientists previously believed. Mineralogical data gathered by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), from two troughs in the Noctis Labrynthus area of Valles Marineris, show evidence of the continuous presence of water only two billion years ago. Most other traces of Martian water date back to at least three and a half billion years ago, a significant difference even in geologic time.

“It’s twice as young as other places where water used to exist,” said Catherine Weitz, lead author of the paper and a researcher at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona.

Valles Marineris is a system of canyons running along the equator of Mars. (Source: Wikipedia)

Four billion years ago, Mars was a very different place from the arid red planet we know today. Liquid water could have flowed across the surface of the planet and there may even have been rudimentary life. But unlike Earth, Mars could not sustain this kind of environment and began to dry out. Surface water, along with oxygen and other atmospheric elements, evaporated away into space and temperatures dropped. Now, any water left on Mars is either deep underground or frozen in the small polar ice caps. “It didn’t happen all at once,” Weitz said. “It was a slow process, taking place over hundreds of millions of years.”

Although several deep valleys and troughs on Mars show signs of ancient water, only the two discussed in the Geology article show evidence that water lasted there for more than a very brief time. “It’s the observation of the clays over the sulfates that is interesting and unique to this region,” Weitz said. “It means that water was persistent and in a liquid state for months to years.”

Aside from the clay layering, the researchers also found other lines of evidence that water may once have existed in the Noctis Labrynthus. For example, the presence of hydrated minerals, including silicates like sand and opal, as well as other types of clay, suggests water may once have existed there and at other locations on Mars.

Furthermore, the two troughs in question lie close to the Tharsis, a volcanic plateau home to one of the largest volcanoes in the Solar System. This is important because volcanic activity and tectonic plate movements are often associated with mineral hydration, as ground water is pushed up around and through ore and mineral beds by these powerful events. Even when such water ultimately disappears, traces remain embedded in the area’s mineral structure.

Apart from revealing a unique time frame for the presence of water in the two Noctis Labrynthus troughs, the recent study also suggests its neutral pH differed from the likely acidic water suspected of being present on Mars at the same time. This could be determined by examining the unique mineral layering within the troughs. This finding is significant because water at a neutral pH-level would be theoretically more likely to sustain life.

Putting together the ancient geological history of Mars remotely from Earth is not an easy task, yet MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) provide such high-quality images of the Martian surface that researchers can examine, centimetre by centimetre, the minerals in troughs, measuring their spectra for information on their history. “The troughs are in a pretty rugged area high up,” Weitz said. “We wouldn’t be able to get a lander there.”

The study also used data collected by the Viking Mars mission in the 1970s and 80s to measure the age of the area around the troughs by mapping its geology and counting the number of craters. Relatively few craters present there indicate that the local geology stabilized only very recently.

The next step for Weitz and her colleagues will be to try and find other Martian locations with similar characteristics to the ones observed at Noctis Labrynthus. “We have revised some of what we know about water on Mars,” Weitz said. “Now we want to find out more.”

By Eric Hal Schwartz, science writer at the US Environmental Protection Agency

Become a book reviewer for the EGU newsletter!

11 Jan

Interested in free books and getting published? The EGU has an opportunity for you.

The Union’s newsletter, currently known as The Eggs, is a magazine and information service distributed for free to all Union members — around 12,000 scientists. It will be rebranded and relaunched in late February or early March with a new layout, content structure, and name: GeoQ. While the new version will see some changes (stay tuned!), it will keep much of the informative material of its predecessor, including book reviews.

We are currently looking for young scientists or established researchers in the geosciences and the planetary and space sciences to review books for GeoQ. Reviewers will receive the books free of charge and their work will be published in the newsletter accompanied by their name and short biography. It’s an ideal opportunity for scientists with a flair for science writing interested in seeing their texts published in a newsletter with a wide readership.

Contact GeoQ’s Chief Editor, Bárbara T. Ferreira, at geoq@egu.eu if you are interested in reviewing book for the newsletter, or if you have any questions. Please also inform Bárbara about your areas of expertise (check the list of EGU Divisions for reference).

GeoQ, the new EGU newsletter. Coming soon!

New Science Communications Fellow at the EGU Office

10 Jan

Hello everyone!

I am a new Science Communications Fellow at the Union, where I will be working on the EGU Newsletter and assisting Bárbara Ferreira in developing media-related and science information communications.

I am currently in the final stages of my doctorate (DPhil) at the University of Oxford, where my molecular biology project explores the diversity and ecology of Apusozoa, a phylum of free-living protozoan flagellates. I also take an active interest in science policy and communications and spent three months on a NERC-funded Secondment to the UK Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST), where I researched and wrote a parliamentary briefing on biodiversity offsetting market-based conservation strategies. Having also recently served as a Trans-Atlantic Junior Fellow at the Colorado-based El Pomar Foundation, I maintain a keen interest in large-scale transatlantic policy issues and have recently been chosen to participate in the Emerging Leaders in Environment and Energy Policy (ELEEP) network, a project hosted by the Atlantic Council of the United States.

My studies include an MSc degree from the University of Oxford as well as undergraduate degrees in Environmental Biology from the University of St Andrews and Sociology/Psychology from McGill University.

If you have any questions about the EGU or any of its publications, I can be reached at +49(0)892180-6717 or at glucksman@egu.eu.

All the best,
Edvard Glücksman

Job opportunity at the EGU General Assembly

9 Jan

We are currently looking for science communication or science journalism students interested in working at the press office of the 2012 General Assembly, which is taking place in Vienna, Austria, from 22-27 April. The students will be assisting the EGU press officer and the journalists at the press centre, and are expected to help organise and run press conferences. Other tasks include writing and/or editing for EGU Today, the daily newsletter at the General Assembly, and for GeoLog, the EGU blog.

This is a paid opportunity for science communication students to gain experience in the workings of a press office at a major scientific conference, and to interact with journalists, freelance science writers and public information officers. Similarly to other student assistants at the conference, the successful candidates will receive €8 per hour and will be given an extra €150 for travel and accommodation expenses.

The positions are open to University students or recent graduates in science communication, science writing or science journalism (preference will be given to postgraduate students). Applicants must have an expert command of English and good computer and Internet skills.

Applications should include
* Cover letter and CV (one page each) summarising relevant experience
* Two recent writing samples (published or unpublished, aimed at a general audience)

Application documents (in English) should be submitted by e-mail in a single file to Bárbara T. Ferreira, the EGU Media and Communications Officer (media@egu.eu). Bárbara can also be contacted for informal enquiries.

The deadline for applications is 10 February 2012.

The EGU (www.egu.eu) is Europe’s premier geosciences union, dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in the geosciences and the planetary and space sciences for the benefit of humanity, worldwide. The EGU organises a General Assembly that attracts over 10,000 scientists each year, as well as reporters interested in hearing about the latest research in topics that range from volcanology and earthquakes to climate science, and from solar physics to planetary science.