Archive | April, 2012

EGU2012 photo competition results

30 Apr

The three 2012 General Assembly photo competition winners are:

1st Prize (214 votes): Melt Stream, Greenland by Ian Joughin, distributed by EGU under a Creative Commons licence.

2nd Prize (142 votes): Burst by Melissa Bukovsky, distributed by EGU under a Creative Commons licence.

3rd Prize (135 votes): Icy Landscape by Lucien von Gunten, distributed by EGU under a Creative Commons licence.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Hurricane season, from above

30 Apr

Hurricane Season 2010, distributed by EGU under a Creative Commons licence.

From space, planet Earth resembles a glassy blue marble, a term that was first used to describe a photograph of the Earth taken by the Apollo 17 crew on their way to the moon in 1972. Aside from providing stunning views of our planet, images of the Earth taken from above can also be used for meteorological observations. This beautiful photograph, taken by the Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) satellite, is a case in point.

Maximilian Reuter, who submitted the picture to the Imaggeo database describes it in detail. “This image shows a snapshot of the hurricane season 2010.  It was taken on August 28 that year from the MSG satellite in a geostationary orbit 36,000 km above the equator at 0°E. La Niña conditions favoured lower wind shear over the Atlantic Basin. This allowed storm clouds to grow and organise. Atlantic hurricanes often follow a typical path from Africa across the Atlantic to the east cost of the US. Along this way one can see the Category 4 hurricanes Earl and Danielle as well as the developing tropical storm Fiona. Often the remnants of hurricanes become North Atlantic low-pressure systems which are moving towards Europe.”

Reuter, a researcher at the Institute of Environmental Physics, University of Bremen, also provided a labelled image where the hurricane tracks are highlighted. The image, seen below, is part of the Moments from Space collection. Details on the generation of Moments from Space true-colour images have been published in the International Journal of Remote Sensing.

Highlighted hurricane tracks (source:

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.

Interview: Joel Gill, founding director of Geology for Global Development (GfGD)

27 Apr

Geology for Global Development (GfGD) is a new UK organisation. Its vision is to inspire students and recent graduates in the geosciences to use their knowledge of the Earth to fight poverty and improve lives. Many geoscientists work on issues such as water resources, energy supply, mining, infrastructure, natural hazards and climate change. Their knowledge of this broad range of subjects mean they can make a significant contribution to global, sustainable development. Joel Gill, the founding director of GfGD, was speaking in the geo-ethics session on Thursday afternoon at the EGU.

What prompted you to set up GfGD to begin with?

“I’ve done a little bit of work in developing countries and through that I’ve recognised the real, positive contribution that geologists can make to international development. Looking back through my training I saw a lack of technical training and the soft skills that were essential to do that work effectively. I learnt the hard way that I needed more than a geological hammer and a geological map to do the work. I needed to learn how to communicate cross-culturally, how to engage local communities in what we were doing. The organisation was established in order to give young geoscientists that opportunity to develop those skills and get the experience so that they could make a significant contribution to international development.”

Joel Gill stops by the Press Office at General Assembly 2012

What has GfGD been doing so far?

“So far we’ve established four university groups in Cambridge, Leeds, Leicester and University College London. They’ve organised a number of seminars for students to come and think about topics they wouldn’t get through their traditional university disciplines. We’ve also been involved in some advocacy, lobbying the government to promote the role of geoscience in international development. We’ve started to develop some resources that can be used by small NGOs that maybe don’t have access to a geologist. There’s also a blog for students to get involved in science communication and put across their work.”

How have you found your experience at EGU? Are people receptive to discussions on these topics?

“It’s been a real privilege to be at EGU and have the opportunity to put across the work of Geology for Global Development through one of the sessions. I’ve had a number of chats through the week with people from different backgrounds, different ages and different points in their career who have a real interest in seeing better quality geoscience within development and thinking about how we get that across. It’s also been challenging listening to some of the conversations from people working in the field and where they think the problems lie compared to where I think the problems lie. It’s been a mixed bag.”

Geology for Global Development, using knowledge of Earth to fight poverty.

Finally, what are your hopes for GfGD in the longer term?

“We want to establish ourselves as a registered charity and raise our profile through establishing more university groups. We hope to change the face of geoscience education in the UK by bringing in more examples from developing situations for lecturers to use and by starting more interdisciplinary conversations where geologists talk to social scientists and engineers. We also hope to establish placements and a bursary scheme so that young geoscientists have the opportunity to go overseas and get involved with local institutions, NGOs and government surveys who are there longer term so that they are then equipped to continue making valuable contributions throughout their careers.”

More information about GfGD is available on their website and their blog. Joel would also love to hear from anyone at a UK university who is interested in establishing a university group.

By Tim Middleton, University of Cambridge

Friday at the 2012 General Assembly

27 Apr

We’ve made it – welcome to the final day of the 2012 General Assembly! Although so close to the end, today offers plenty of Union-wide events. Be sure to complement the information below with EGU Today, the daily newsletter of the General Assembly, available both in paper and for download here.

Don't miss next year's General Assembly!

One of the highlights of the day is the co-organised session entitled Advances in understanding of the multi-disciplinary dynamics of the Southern European Seas (Mediterranean and Black Sea) (oral programme Room 5, 13:30-17:00; poster presentations Hall X/Y, 10:30-12:00). In addition, today features two Medal Lectures by Robin T. Clarke (Room D, 12:15-13:15) [Webstreaming] and Aikaterini Radioti (Room 18, 10:45-11:15) as well as the Educational and outreach symposium on Teaching Soil Science or how to teach that dirt is fascinating (Room 35, 10:30-11:15).

Meet EGU continues today, so please step up to meet your Division leaders. If you haven’t already seen all the films, GeoCinema (10:30-18:45 daily in the GeoCinema Room) remains open. Also, the winner of the photography competition will be announced at 12:15 in the Crystal Lounge.

Have a great day, and see you in 2013! For more information on next year’s meeting, please check the 2013 General Assembly page soon online at

Megacities at EGU2012

26 Apr

Today’s guest post comes from Michelle Cain, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Almost a whole day’s worth of sessions on megacities – where to begin? I certainly couldn’t pick just one talk to write about, so here’s a mish-mash of the session in general and a few talks in particular.

First things first: what is a megacity? Officially defined (by who, I don’t know) as a city of 5 million people or more, there are only two of them in Europe (London and Paris), and both are among the most polluted cities in Europe. There are other European places that embody megacity characteristics without adhering to the strict definition, so the MEGAPOLI project has focused on two of these alongside the two bona-fide megacities. The Po Valley in Italy, surrounded by mountains on three sides, is populated by 16 million people and contains 37% of the country’s industry. The mountains disrupt the large-scale meteorology so that local winds are often slack, which combines with the high levels of industrial, agricultural and residential emissions to cause worse air quality than in either Paris or London.

Loss in life expectancy (months) attributable to exposure to anthropogenic PM2.5 for year 2000 emissions (Source: EC, IIASA)

The air quality is similarly poor in the Rhine-Ruhr valley in Germany, an industrial region with about 10 million inhabitants. This region suffers not only from local emissions, but often from pollution transported from London, Paris and the Netherlands in the prevailing winds. (Thanks to the MEGAPOLI website for the info about these locations).

The reasons why these non-megacities have been brought into the fold highlight the complexities of trying to understand what might happen in the coming years as the world becomes increasingly urbanised. It’s not only the amount of stuff being pumped into the atmosphere that causes air quality issues. It’s equally how much stuff gets vented out of the boundary layer (the lowest layer of the atmosphere, where people live), and how much gets washed out in rain. And what happens to the stuff before it gets removed? And this is not even considering the climate impacts of all this stuff is getting higher up into the atmosphere, where it has a longer lifetime and can be transported long distances, potentially also affecting air quality downwind. All these interactions could be broadly categorised into: emissions, boundary layer meteorology, deposition, chemistry, global transport, and climate.

Several talks in the session were related to emissions evaluations, as how can we hope to understand anything if we’re putting the wrong amount of stuff into the atmosphere? Any by “stuff”, I mean NOx (the sum of NO and NO2, which are pollutants emitted from both anthropogenic and natural sources, and can react to produce ozone, which has adverse health effects) and particulates (the shorthand for particulate matter is PM2.5/PM10 for those with a radius less than 2.5/10 microns, also bad for health), as these were the main topics in the session.

Generating emissions inventories is no trivial task, as is evidenced by the continual work going in to this area. In his talk, S Sahu described the development of an emissions inventory for Delhi and the surrounding areas, which is home to a staggering 30 million people in an area of 70 km x 65 km. For 6 months, an army of 250 students surveyed the residents and businesses to determine a sample of the emission-generating activity in the region. They combined this new data with the existing literature and government statistics to develop a GIS-based emissions inventory. Their results showed that there are 5.7 million vehicles on the roads, and 1.5 million living in slums and cooking with wood, kerosene or LPG (in order of decreasing precedence). The PM2.5 emissions total was 68.1 Gg/year, the largest portion of which was from transport at 30.25 Gg/year. Wind-blown dust and residential emissions were also large contributors. The inventory was used to forecast for the Commonwealth games in 2010 and is currently available for both science and policy uses.

Policy issues were the driver behind R Friedrich’s talk, which directly addressed questions of whether air quality policies could result in the desired policy outcome – surely an important factor in decision-making. As part of the EU MEGAPOLI project, his work took a “full chain approach”, whereby the scenario with and without the policy measure was modeled to determine the effectiveness of a policy. The reference scenario assumes the current EU energy and climate package was taken forward. Then each policy was added to the model, and the difference can be described in monetary terms or by DALYs (disability adjusted life years).

The study generated some surprising results. Twenty four policy measures were ranked in terms of avoided DALYs for Paris, and the best measure by this metric was to change to efficient combustion of gaseous fuels (which generate less PM than wood), followed by biomass fuels. However, different metrics paint a different picture. Calculating the efficiency of each measure in monetary terms put coke dry quenching (as opposed to wet quenching which generates PM) in the top spot, followed by use of biofuels, use of district-wide heating networks, an aviation kerosene tax and a switch to electric vehicles. The least efficient measure was a passenger car toll (which, for example, London has had since 2003). Interestingly, the implementation of a low emissions zone was shown to have a negative or neutral effect. On the other hand, the speaker recommended the improvement of traffic management as an efficient measure.

Another EU project, CityZEN, also linked the science with policy needs by producing some 2 page policy briefs on ozone, PM, observations and the East Mediterranean air pollution hotspot, and was discussed by several speakers. Other talks and poster covered the links between meteorology and chemistry, observations and models, but I’m afraid this is all I have time for… See you next time, on the GeoLog.

By Michelle Cain, University of Cambridge

Exhibition at the General Assembly

26 Apr

Last day today to visit the Exhibition at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2012!

Exhibition booths for companies, publishers, research facilities, scientific societies, among others, are scattered throughout the blue (basement), yellow (ground floor), and green (first floor) levels of the Austria Center Vienna. Make sure you don’t miss the EGU Booth in the blue level.

EGU Booth at the 2011 General Assembly (detail).

Thursday at EGU2012: Women in Geosciences

26 Apr

Are you interested in EGU’s activities for Women in Geosciences? At the Townhall meeting on Thursday from 1030-1230 in Room 2 (Blue level, Basement) you can find out about current activities and give your views for future initiatives.

This meeting will present information about the EGU Women in Geosciences Mentoring scheme first cohort, including participants’ experiences and feedback. The EGU profiles of women in geosciences will be launched and we’ll move onto discussing what possible future initiatives are.

The EGU Women in Geosciences Mentoring Scheme

In response to EGU members’ individual requests and at Townhall Meetings at the General Assemblies 2010-11, the European Geosciences Union is trialing a mentoring scheme for females (with mentors of both genders), which began in December 2011. Following on successes and positive feedback, the scheme will run again from Autumn 2012. Sign-ups for those seeking mentors will be open from the start of the European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2012 until 31 July 2012. Mentor sign-up is open continuously throughout the year. The mentoring scheme is designed so that face-to-face contact is not vital and is meant to be an enriching experience for both the mentor and mentee. Guidelines will be issued to both parties before the start of the mentoring process. You can be both a mentor and mentee in the same cycle of partnerships. Mentees can be from undergraduate level and above, mentors can be masters students and above. We encourage applications from mentors from all sectors of the Geosciences e.g. industry, government, academia.

For more information, contact Jennifer Holden (

Thursday at the 2012 General Assembly

26 Apr

Welcome to the fourth day of the 2012 General Assembly! Today is yet another busy day, full of events open to all Union members. Be sure to complement the information below with EGU Today, the daily newsletter of the General Assembly, available both in paper and for download here.

1 year after L'Aquila earthquake, by Riccardo Civico via Imaggeo, the EGU Open Access image repository. The event spurred the debate on the role and responsibilities of geoscientists for warning and mitigation of natural disasters.

Today features the Assembly’s second Great Debate, where big contemporary issues relevant to the EGU are broken down by expert panelists in front of a live audience. Today’s topic of discussion is The role and responsibilities of geoscientists for warning and mitigation of natural disasters (Room 15, 12:15-13:15) [Webstreaming].

The Union Symposium entitled Ice Cores and Climate – legacy of a pioneer Willi Dansgaard (Room D, 17:30-19:00) promises to be a fitting tribute to one of the most decorated paleoclimatologists of the past century.

Once again, today’s comprises a busy schedule of Medal Lectures as well as Townhall Meetings entitled Coupling the Earth’s surface with the atmosphere – Research in Germany (Room 4, 18:30-20:00)Climate Services – Think Forward (Room 5, 19:00-20:00), Women in Geosciences (Room 2, 10:30-12:30), and Update on the U.S. EarthCube efforts (Room 2, 19:00-20:00).

A number of Educational and Outreach Symposia are scheduled for today, including what promises to be a most useful session entitled Communicate your science (Room 25, 15:30-17:00). For those of you interested in policy, don’t forget to come along to the Geoethics and natural hazards: communication, education and the science-policy-practice interface oral and poster sessions lasting throughout the afternoon.

Finally, as always, some Division representatives will be on parade to chat in the day’s Meet EGU sessions and, to take your mind off things, GeoCinema (10:30-18:45 daily in the GeoCinema Room) remains open for business.

Have a great day!

Nature’s Quirin Schiermeier column on EGU Today (full version)

26 Apr

Thursday’s edition of EGU Today features an edited version of Quirin Schiermeier daily column. The full version is published here on GeoLog!

In sheer numbers, the death toll from natural disasters – about 80,000 in an average year – is small compared to the millions who get killed each year in road accidents or die from avoidable diseases. But averages miss the point here. It is the very exceptionality and enormity of catastrophes like last year’s deadly Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan that can change regions and countries forever. In many parts of the world, poverty and galloping urbanization add to the risk. From Bangladesh to Haiti, large impoverished populations are exceptionally vulnerable to cyclones, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The science of assessing the risks of such disasters, and the technology for coping with them, has without doubt improved. But the science behind actually predicting disasters is uncertain at best, and for some of the most devastating events, earthquakes and tsunamis among them, prediction is virtually impossible.

To help local authorities and vulnerable populations to prepare to future disasters, geoscientists studying fault ruptures, tsunami propagation or cyclone dynamics need to find better ways to disseminate their findings. Emergency planners in Haiti and elsewhere don’t usually read the scientific literature – imaginative communication strategies are therefore needed to forge more effective links between the two groups when it comes to designing early warning systems and disaster mitigation efforts around the world. That Japanese emergency planners and nuclear plant operators fatally underestimated the tsunami risk to Honshu coastlines – supposedly the best-protected coast in the world – is a dire reminder of the human tragedy that can result from any false sense of safety.

Science and technology are vital for disaster reduction – and geoscientists and engineers have a responsibility to provide the best science and technology they possibly can. But effective disaster mitigation has social and political dimensions – including poverty reduction and education – that need be tackled with the same sense of urgency.

Unfortunately, this is not always quite understood. If anything, the bizarre trial of six Italian researchers for manslaughter over their alleged responsibility for the death of 309 people killed in the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila – prosecutors claim the scientists gave a falsely reassuring statement before the quake – highlights the unsettling level of misconception about geoscientists’ profession and responsibility. Today’s Great Debate on the Role and Responsibilities of Geoscientists for Warning and Mitigation of Natural Disasters should be a good forum for discussing these issues – courtrooms certainly aren’t.

By Quirin Schiermeier, Nature‘s Munich correspondent

Portuguese wines at risk due to climate change?

25 Apr

Today’s guest post comes from Eline Vanuytrecht from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at KU Leuven, Belgium.

New study explores the impact of climatic change on the suitability of agricultural land in Portugal for wine growing

Wine is big business in Portugal. Viticulture or wine growing and the production of wine represent an important economic activity of the national agricultural sector. World famous are the Port Wine from the Douro Valley, the Vinho Verde from the Minho area, and different qualitative wines from the Alentejo region. The yearly revenue of the wine business is around 700 million euros.

Viticulture, as others sectors of agriculture, is extremely sensitive to local climatic conditions. Both the physiology of the vines and the quality of the wine are affected by several aspects of the local climate. For the Portuguese winemaking sector, it is of great interest to determine viticultural zones that give valuable information about the zone suitability for growing wine. H. Fraga and his colleagues from the Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro in Portugal performed extensive viticultural zoning for the whole country. The researchers identified suitable zones not only for the current situation, but in anticipation of global warming and associated climatic changes also for the future.

Portuguese wine is unique.

The research group determined a combined set of indices that identifies suitable zones for wine growing. The set consists of a humidity index, a thermal index (Huglin index) and a hydrothermal index. The humidity index is an index for the dryness of the soil’s root zone. This is vital because vineyards are vulnerable to prolonged periods of drought. The warmth index combines temperature and solar radiation information to identify suitable zones for wine growing. The hydrothermal index assesses excessive precipitation or humidity. The latter is important to exclude regions were the vulnerability to pests is high. The study results confirmed that, based on the indices, the vast majority of the Portuguese land is suitable for the production of excellent wines.

The image for the future is less bright. In a large part of the country, the suitability for wine growing decreases as a result of projected warmer and dryer climate in Southern Europe. Particularly in the southern and innermost region of Portugal, the thermal index is projected to increase, indicating excessive heats that may harm the vineyards. The humidity index is projected to decrease, as a result of projected extreme periods of drought for which especially South-Eastern Portugal is vulnerable. Even worse is that high impacts are found in the most important wine production regions of the country, thereby hitting the best Portuguese wines. The one redeeming feature is the projected decrease of the hydrothermal index in the future, an indication of the decreased potential damage of vineyards due to pests. Indeed, the drier conditions in the future create more hostile conditions for most pests.

The study of H. Fraga and colleagues highlighted the urgent need to develop good adaptation and mitigation measures for the Portuguese viticulture sector, including new wine varieties, genetic modification or adoption of advanced agricultural practices like irrigation, to cope with the changing climate in the region. It is not unlikely that within the coming decades a reshaping of the viticultural regions in Portugal is necessary and will bring different Portuguese wines on the table.

By Eline Vanuytrecht, KU Leuven