Archive | May, 2012

Imaggeo on Mondays: Melt Stream

28 May

Melt Stream, Greenland by Ian Joughin, distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons license.

Supraglacial lakes are created when water forms in depressions on top of a glacier, remaining there until it dissipates by seeping through crevasses, or cracks in the ice sheet. Despite their sometimes impressive size, supraglacial lakes may drain in a matter of hours under the right conditions, when the pressure they exert on the ice causes it to crack creating a sometimes spectacular lake draining event.

Draining of supraglacial lakes may have important environmental consequences and may even, as warming temperatures further increase meltwater volumes, affect rates of sea-level rise by accelerating the rate by which ice sheets slide into the ocean.

Dr Ian Joughin, from the University of Washington Polar Science Center, took this breathtaking photo under freezing conditions, earning him the 1st Prize at the 2012 General Assembly photo competition. He explains, “This image was taken as part of a project investigating the rapid drainage of supraglacial lakes in Greenland. Each year, these lakes, which often are a few kilometers across and 10 or meters deep, fill with melt water. If the water can find an open crack, it fills the crack and the greater density of water relative to ice allows it to hydro-fracture through the full thickness (~1 km) of the ice sheet, causing the entire lake to drain rapidly (< 2hours). This picture shows a large melt stream that we encountered as we were out exploring the lake basin, and it is only one of many streams feeding the lake.”

Additional images from this trip can be viewed here.

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.

What did you like about the EGU 2012 General Assembly?

22 May

In the most recent video uploaded to EGU’s YouTube page, Sue Voice, who worked at the press office in Vienna, asks General Assembly participants what they like the most about the conference. Check out their answers in the clip below!

And you, what did you like about EGU 2012?

Imaggeo on Mondays: Icy Landscape

21 May

Icy Landscape by Lucien von Gunten, distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons license.

Ice is a hazardous beauty, ephemeral in nature and, under the right conditions, capable of dominating landscapes. Earlier this year, while North America enjoyed an unusually mild winter, central and eastern Europe experienced brutal cold spells. The continent witnessed widespread freezing as cold air swept south from Siberia, claiming hundreds of lives, knocking out power supplies, and disrupting transport services. In Poland and the Ukraine, temperatures dropped as low as -33C and in Italy over 80,000 citizens were left without electricity after power lines were felled by trees.

This year’s icy spell brought Switzerland its coldest weather since 1987, the year it experienced its lowest ever recorded temperature. Lucien von Gunten, Science Officer at PAGES (Past Global Changes), explains the exceptional circumstances behind this captivating shot, taken earlier this year. “In Versoix, near the Lake of Geneva, the combination of low temperatures and strong easterly winds led to an unusual natural spectacle as the lake shores were partly covered with ice. Images of cars and boats under a thick ice shell were shown in the international press. Next to these popular eye-catchers one could also admire smaller scale ice structure, such as those depicted on this photograph, which covers an area of 30×30 cm.” This photo won 3rd Prize at the 2012 General Assembly photo competition.

Exceptional weather events, such as extreme temperatures, drought, or tropical storms and hurricanes, have increased in frequency over the past 50 years, partly as a result of human-induced climate change.

More pictures of Switzerland during this year’s freeze can be seen here.

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.

How interviews of famous geologists can help you learn more about geosciences

16 May

Today’s guest post comes from Daniel Minisini, a geologist with a passion for filming and philosophy who created a resource for the geosciences community called minigeology.com. In this post, he tells us a bit more about the website, and the inspiration behind the interviews he conducts and posts online.

Hi! I am Daniel, a sedimentologist and stratigrapher trained as a marine geologist by my maestro Fabio Trincardi in Bologna (Italy). I have studied and worked on modern submarine sediments, ancient turbidites, and black shales, by means of outcrops, cores, seismic data and well logs, around the Mediterranean and North America. Now I work at the Shell Research Laboratories and I live in Houston, capital of geologists. My free time is dedicated to a personal project called minigeology.com, a website where I video-interview protagonists and other characters within the Earth sciences.

It came naturally to me to start video recording the several smart geoscientific minds surrounding me and sharing their thoughts with all of you. Therefore, a couple of years ago, I decided to create a platform to do precisely that. The interviews spark from a variety of thoughts and questions I ask myself, about geology, its origins, its progress, and its relationship with other disciplines.

I still have much to understand about my own research. There are many topics in my research area that I take for granted because I read about them in books and scientific articles, but how did they originate and develop? How does my specific research topic fit in the wider context? And what should I answer when asked: “What is that useful for?”

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Through minigeology.com, I try to find answers to these and other questions by indirectly investigating how geoscientists approach a problem, their work, and their life. The interviews are informal and the format yields a short spontaneous discussion. By asking the ‘right’ questions, the interviews aim to stimulate the viewer to ask his or her own questions in their own research.

All geoscientists are part of minigeology.com, which works as a square to meet personalities in the Earth sciences on one hand, and as a round table for everyone to take part in the discussion on the other. Have an idea for an interview? Then email me by clicking the name below or upload your own video to the website.

By Daniel Minisini

Make sure to check a recent interview Daniel conducted with the 2012 Jean Baptiste Lamarck EGU medalist, Emiliano Mutti!

Drill cores and climate: An EGU 2012 poster presentation

15 May

In the past few weeks, we have been publishing various reports from the 2012 General Assembly, courtesy of our guest bloggers. Today, we bring you yet another report, in video format this time, produced by the lovely Sue Voice who worked at the press office in Vienna. The video features Otago University’s Christian Ohneiser talking about his PhD project. Christian tells Sue how drill cores, retrieved from remote dry valleys of Antarctica, can help us understand the past climate of the Southern Ocean.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Burst

14 May

Burst by Melissa S. Bukovsky, distributed by EGU under a Creative Commons license.

This photo won 2nd Prize at the 2012 General Assembly photo competition and, according to the photographer, Melissa S. Bukovsky, epitomises the idea that an expensive camera is not a necessity for taking great photos. “You just need to know how to use what you have. I travel with a point and shoot that fits in my back pocket,” she explains.

Currently a Project Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Bukovsky snapped this shot on one of her many work related trips. “This picture of a bursting mud bubble in a boiling pool of mud was taken just outside of the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal area near Rotorua, New Zealand.  The area is part of New Zealand’s Taupo volcanic zone. I stayed in this area for a few days of holiday before traveling back to the US after working in Melbourne for the summer.  Aside from all of the fantastic geothermal phenomena to see in that area, there are numerous hot springs that are great for relaxing in.”

Mud pools, hot springs of bubbling mud, form in high-temperature geothermal areas where water is in short supply. The little water that is available rises to the surface at a spot where the soil is rich in volcanic ash, clay, and other fine particulates. The viscosity of the mud varies, from fluid during the rainy season to viscous in drier months.

The Wai-O-Tapu geothermal complex has been protected as a scenic reserve since 1931 and it remains a major tourist attraction.

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.

Publications by the EGU

10 May

The EGU is responsible for 14 Open Access journals, all freely available online

Since 2001, the EGU and Open Access publishing house Copernicus Publications has published a growing number of successful geoscientific journals. These include 14 peer-reviewed Open Access journals, of which 11 have a Thomson Reuters Impact Factor, placing them in the top echelon of their respective discipline. EGU also publishes a host of other materials available in paper and online. As a signatory of the Berlin Open Access Declaration (2003), the EGU is committed to making all their publications freely available.

The EGU’s Open Access scientific journals are:


Cold-Labs to computer modelling: An interview with Dr Gaël Durand

9 May

Dr Adam Booth, now becoming a regular contributor to GeoLog, is about to begin a post-doctoral position at Imperial College, London. This is his final report from the 2012 General Assembly, following articles on subglacial lakes and mountain glacier research more generally.

Another year, another conference!  This is my final post from the EGU’s General Assembly and, again, I’ve found it a really useful meeting – both in terms of the presentations I’ve seen and the people I’ve spoken to.  I’m wrapping up my blogs with a conversation with Dr Gaël Durand, of the Laboratoire de Glaciologie et Géophysique de l’Enivronment (LGGE) at the Université de Grenoble, France.  Gaël is this year’s recipient of the ‘Outstanding Young Scientist Award’ for EGU’s Crysophere Division, so I collared him during Thursday night’s poster presentations for the lowdown on his research – and what it is that makes it so medal-worthy!  “It’s not me you should ask!” he laughs, but it soon becomes clear why Gaël’s experiences make him an ideal candidate for recognition.

Dr Gaël Durand, during Thursday evening’s “Modelling ice sheets and glaciers” poster session.

If you attend a series of glaciological presentations, you’ll find scientists who are interested in all size scales of the cryosphere: from the micro-structure of snow and ice crystals to the growth and decline of continental-sized ice masses – it really isn’t size that counts.  Gaël’s current research is of the ‘large-scale’ variety.  Using powerful computer algorithms, Gaël and his colleagues are able to model and predict the flow dynamics of ice-sheets (such as those that cover Greenland and Antarctica).  In my limited experience of computer modelling, I’ve always understood that flow models do a good job of characterising bulk ice properties – but their quality becomes poor when you ‘zoom in’ to individual glaciers, since their small-scale dynamics are just too complex.  However, in talking to Gaël, I discover that this opinion is becoming a thing of the past, and that the rate of advance in ice-sheet modelling is anything but glacial.  “Our models are now much more complex than before,” he says, “and we can deal with each glacier individually.”  The figure below shows an example of this complexity in a model of Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica.  The fine-detail of glacier dynamics is represented using an adaptive mesh (the network of triangles in the image), which offers model resolution as small as 500 m; only a few years ago, the best resolution that could be used was no smaller than a few tens of kilometres.

A cutting-edge model of glacier flow velocity for Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica (red and blue colours show faster and slower velocities, respectively). The model complexity allows grid resolution to shrink as low as 500 m. Note how the mesh is much finer across velocity transitions.

Perhaps Gaël’s desire to improve model complexity stems from his early experiences in glaciology?  As a PhD student at the Université de Grenoble he worked on a finer-scale altogether.  Using an ice core from the EPICA Dome C project, Gaël spent hours in a cold lab, slicing the core into thin-sections for microscopic analysis.  He tells me that “the 3 kilometre ice core was sliced every 10 m,” resulting in hundreds of thin-sections – and hundreds of days spent in a freezing cold room!  But the hard (and cold!) work paid off, as the microscopic structure of the ice crystals (measured with an ‘Automatic Ice Texture Analyser’ at the University of Copenhagen) revealed detailed information about the deformation history of individual ice layers.  Gaël then collaborated with ice-flow modelers to explain the observed deformation fabrics, and thereby established his own niche: a computer modeler with direct experience of the importance of the smallest-scale ice properties.

Eager to discover what else I didn’t know about ice-sheet modelling, I asked Gaël where the most significant developments were happening right now.  His immediate answer is “ice-sheet grounding lines.”  Although an ice-sheet is predominantly land-based, Antarctica in particular is fringed by floating ice, where the ice sheet overrides the open ocean.  The grounding line is therefore the position where the ice-sheet starts to float.

Sketch of an ice-sheet’s grounding line. The grounding line represents the transition from ice resting on land to ice floating on the ocean.

“The problem is that basal conditions are drastically changing,” Gaël says.  “The ice-sheet quickly goes from resting on a hard bed to floating on the ocean.  We had big problem defining where the ice is floating, and where it is not.”  In the last year, however, ‘Full Stokes’ modelling methods have revolutionised the representation of grounding line processes; furthermore, as shown earlier, typical model resolution has been sharpened ten-fold.  Such advances have benefited from developments in supercomputer technology, although the vital statistics of their performance are still eye-watering: with 100 computer processors at his disposal, Gaël’s simulations of a century’s worth of ice-flow still take around a week to output results!

I dared to ask when we’d be able to model the whole of the Antarctic ice-sheet, including the unique properties of all its individual glaciers.  Genuinely expecting to be told to forget about it, I was amazed when Gaël answered “It will come soon.”  In the next ten years?  Within the next one year!  Gaël is confident that some sophisticated models on the cusp of development will have the required complexity to do the job.

A conversation with Gaël really encapsulates much of what we’re trying to do as glaciologists.  Our end goal is to predict what will happen to the cryosphere under future climate scenarios – but, for this to happen, we require reliable and comprehensive observations of glacier systems such that they can be incorporated in a model (which strikes a strong chord with me as a field geophysicist).  What made Gaël’s research medal-worthy?  For me, his outlook really brings together all aspects of crysopheric science, and applies it at the cutting edge… but I might hold him to his one-year prediction at the next EGU!

By Adam Booth, post-doc at Imperial College, London

Are we giants or ants? The future of hydrology discussed at the 2012 General Assembly

8 May

Today’s guest post, written during the 2012 General Assembly, comes from Eline Vanuytrecht from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at KU Leuven, Belgium. This is her second post for GeoLog after her insightful piece on climate change and Portuguese wines. 

Keynote speakers, ‘giants’ in the field of hydrology, were invited to give their opinion on the path that hydrologists should follow in the coming decade to tackle future challenges.

Professor Keith Beven (University of Lancaster) opened the debate by criticizing the occasional abuse of hydrological models for prediction purposes.  Although the present demand from policy makers for accurate predictions and quick answers is oppressing, Beven requests his fellow hydrologists to be courageous in the coming decade and to dare to reject models. “Adopt the alternative view that models  are wrong until they are proven to be right. The process of rejection and the reflection on the question why a model should be rejected, brings us to a better understanding of the whole system that is modeled.” At the same time, Beven warns that the rejectionist framework he proposes entails the risk to abandon reliable models falsely. Next to this rejectionist framework, Beven emphasizes the need for improvement of observational techniques. “Observations are the ground on which widely used models are based. Disinformation, invoked by observations of inferior quality, should be avoided.”

Water featured prominently at the 2012 General Assembly (source: Wikimedia)

Professor Gordon Young (President International Association of Hydrological Sciences) started with a remarkable request. “In the coming decades, hydrologists should drop their unique subject of hydrology. Emphasis should also lie on water resources.” Young’s perspective is one of human needs and the permanent issue of water security. Water is essential for diverse human services, including food production, health care, energy production to sustain economies, preservation of ecosystems and a whole web of social interactions. At the same time, water resources can be threats for humankind in the form of floods, droughts, and pollution. It should be, according to Young, the mission of hydrologists to focus on these topics in the coming decades. Hydrological research should be embedded in a social, economical and political context.

Professor Thorsten Wagener (University of Bristol) increasingly descries water-related problems as a result of changes in climate, land use, and population dynamics. He assigns an important role to the hydrology community to solve these problems if they can acquire reliable predictive power in a changing world. According to Wagener, this is only possible if there is a continuous knowledge accumulation in the science of hydrology. “There are three complementary pathways to achieve this continuous scientific progress: good data accessibility, a focus on comparative or synthetic science, and an initiative structure of hydrological sciences.” According to Wagener, it is essential that data is reported uniformly and that it is accessible. Comparative scientific attitudes help to identify cases with a similar behavior in time and or space, crucial for knowledge transfer. Protocols should be designed to ensure uniformity and an easy knowledge transfer. The initiative structure refers to the attractiveness of hydrology. “It should be both inspirational and relevant.”

Professor Hubert Savenije (TU Delft) started his talk with focusing on the behavior of hydrologists. “Are we ants or are we giants?” The ants are without a doubt hardworking creatures, digging holes in the ground and coming up with surprising conclusions. But they see only a small part of the whole system. Instead, the overlooking perspective of giants is needed in the field of hydrology in the coming decades, according to Savenije. Landscapes and their hydrological processes should be mapped to the model space. “But it is often forgotten that the landscape is extensively determined by its medium. And this medium is an evolutionary product of a combination of morphological, ecological, hydrological and anthropological processes.” Hydrology should be approached from a Darwinian point of view in the coming decade. Hydrological processes should be understood in a co-evolutionary perspective, and once understood in this framework, equations can derived to describe important processes.

Concluding words came from Professor Xavier Sanchez-Vila (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya). He dug deeper than his colleagues, literally, and focused his talk on hydrogeology, the science of deep groundwater. His concern is multi- and interdisciplinary work, which should not be disconnected from society needs. Sanchez-Vila argues that communication problems are at the basis of misunderstanding between disciplines, but also among hydrologists. “Four topics that deserve attention in the coming decade are ecohydraulics, water quality, uncertainty issues related to climate change and extreme events, and risk management. The solutions are often simple, but the problems are not.”

With these visionary talks, the keynote speakers may not only have touched important issues for the coming Hydrological Decade. A critical reflection may prove useful for the whole science community. Change is challenging.

By Eline Vanuytrecht, KU Leuven

Uploading 2012 General Assembly presentations

7 May

This year it is once again possible to upload your General Assembly oral presentations and posters for online publication alongside your abstract, giving all participants a chance to revisit your contribution. Files can be in either PowerPoint or PDF format. Note that presentations will be distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Licence. The upload of your presentation is free of charge and is not followed by a review process. All legal and technical information as well as the upload form are available here. You will need to log in using your Copernicus Office User ID [using the ID of the Corresponding Author].

Share your presentation with the world by uploading it to the 2012 General Assembly website.