Rosetta and Philae preparing for comet landing (Credit: ESA)
The General Assembly is not only for researchers but for teachers and educators with an interest in the geosciences also. Every year the Geosciences Information For Teachers (GIFT) is organised by the EGU Committee on Education to bring first class science closer to primary and high school teachers. The topic of the 2016 edition of GIFT is ‘The Solar System and beyond’. This year’s workshop is co-organised with the European Space Agency (ESA) and will be taking place on 18–20 April 2016 at the EGU General Assembly in Vienna, Austria.
The workshop will explore the major characteristics of the Solar System with the latest information gathered from recent space exploration using man-made satellites, and will also look into the latest theories on the formation of the Solar System. Special attention will be paid to the Moon and to Mars. Results from the ESA Rosetta Mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko will also feature in the 2016 GIFT workshop.
Teachers from Europe and around the world can apply to participate in the 2016 edition of GIFT, and to receive a travel and accommodation stipend to attend the workshop, by November 30. Application information is available for download in PDF format, a document which also includes the preliminary programme of the workshop.
In this week’s Imaggeo on Monday’s image an almost Martian looking landscape, with ombre coloured soils, gives way to gently rolling hills, covered in luscious woods and vegetation. Were it not for the trees in the distance, you would be forgiven for thinking this image had been captured by a Mars rover. In truth, it is an entirely more earthly landscape: welcome to the slopes of Mt. Etna! Keep on reading as Alicia Mourgán, a researcher at the University of València, gives an overview of the origin of the richly fertile soils and climate of Europe’s tallest active volcano.
Mount Etna is associated with the subduction of the African Plate under the Eurasian Plate. A number of theories have been proposed to explain Etna’s location and eruptive history: rifting processes, a hot spot, and the intersection of structural breaks in the crust. Scientists are still debating which best fits their data, and are using a variety of methods to build a better image of the Earth’s crust underneath the volcano.
The soil around the volcano is very rich in minerals, owing to its volcanic origin. It is composed of a number of eruptive materials of different ages, including ash, sand and desintegrated lava (from one or more flows). Volcanic rocks make some of the best soils on Earth: not only are they formed of a wide variety of common elements, these readily separate into their elemental forms.
In the Etna region there are substantial differences in climate, not only compared to the rest of Sicily, but also from one area of the volcano to another. This is due to the fact that the Etna region has semi-circular shape, spread from north to south-west. This characteristic allows for different environments to be formed each with its own microclimate, benefiting from different exposure and changing proximity to the sea. Altitude in the Etna region varies between 450 m and 1100m above sea level. This factor is the main reason for the temperature changes between the day and night and also across seasons.
Compared to the rest of Sicily, Etna is pretty wet too. The highest levels of precipitation are recorded on the east slopes of the volcano. Rain can be practically absent over the summer, but precipitation can also be very high during the autumn/winter period.
By Alicia Morugán, University de València, València, Spain
Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.
After spending 13 years (give or take) at school you are faced with a tough decision: what to study at University (if anything at all, the academic path may well not be for you)? You sift through a bunch of university prospectuses and try to plan your future. Of course, lots of things can change, prior to, during and after you finish your studies. Nevertheless, there is no harm in starting to plan early, while at the same time being open to new opportunities and avenues as and when they come your way. In this post, Sam Illingworth, Lecturer of Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University, explores some career choices open to those who chose to study the geosciences at undergraduate level.
It’s that time of year again when undergraduate students are either returning to University, or starting their courses for the very first time. All across Europe there will be tens of thousands of young geoscientists asking themselves the same nagging question: have I made the right choice here?
For many of us, our experiences at University help to shape us into being our future selves. We make strong friendships, experience the highs and lows of living away from home or in a big city for the first time, and we ultimately get our first taste of independent learning. For some this is enough to convince them that they have found their calling, that following on from their undergraduate degree they want to specialise further by taking an additional postgraduate qualification. But for others, this is simply a step too far; they enjoyed their learning experience but now they want to go and put this into practice. So what exactly can you do with a geosciences degree?
A quick job search for the word ‘geosciences’ on a careers website revealed a rather long list of opportunities, which included the following:
Earthquake catastrophe model developer
Whilst some of these jobs are fairly specialised (e.g. reservoir geologist), other such as ‘geoscientist’ are more general positions, which are looking to utilise the specialist skillsets that you have developed during your undergraduate training. And let’s face it, if you enjoyed learning about geosciences at university, some of these jobs sound extremely interesting; who wouldn’t want to tell people that they were an earthquake catastrophe model developer?
According to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and the Office for National Statistics, the skills shortages in the science and engineering sector are about twice what they are in other areas. In addition to this, people working in this sector tend to earn significantly more than the national salary, and whilst these statistics are for the UK, it is a similar story across most of Europe. What this means is that whilst your degree will not guarantee you a job, you are more likely to be employed than people from other non-scientific backgrounds, and that when you do find a job, the chances are that you will be earning a reasonably healthy salary.
But what if you want to move on, and despite enjoying the course at the time, upon graduating you never want to see another rock, look at another planet, or hear the word fluvial ever again; what hope for you then? Well, the good news is that the key skills that you acquired during your geoscience training are still extremely valuable across a variety of different sectors; you just need to think about how to market yourself effectively. Most workforces will value your analytical and problem solving skills, whilst your practical and fieldwork experience demonstrate that you have effective research and planning skills. Similarly group work exercises demonstrate that you have excellent interaction and liaison skills, whilst your dissertation is a perfect exemplar of good time management, organisation and communication.
Asking yourself if you made the right decision in choosing to study geosciences at university is a perfectly natural question, but if you enjoy the course material and the learning experience then stick at it, as no matter what you decide to do in the future your degree will open a lot of doors, as well as quite a few windows, and a couple of mine shafts to boot.
By Sam Illingworth, Lecturer in Science Communication, Manchester Metropolitan University.
The Andes line up on the horizon. The foreground is built of the less-sure, young volcanic debris, still hot and steaming, from the recent eruptions at Cordon Caulle. Image credit: Dr. Hugh Tuffen
There is no escaping the fact that one of the perks of being an Earth scientist is the opportunity to visit incredible places while on field work. There is also no doubt that, geologist or not, walking on an active volcano is awe inspiring. Maybe you’ve had the experience of doing so yourself (if so, share your story with us in the comments section, we’d love to hear from you!), but if you haven’t then perhaps this post by Fabian Wadsworth, a volcanology PhD student at the Ludwig-Maximillian Universitat of Munich, Germany and part of the VUELCO project, might give you a feel for what it is like. In the post, Fabian describes his experience of journeying into the Cordon Caulle volcano, in Chile. A regular hiker of the German Alps, Fabian described the difference between climbing the impressive, but well-established trails of the Bavarian mountains to his trip to Chile: “a volcano, is dynamic on a large scale and provides little comfort at all. Hiking in active volcanic landscapes is, for me, more vivid and awakening for this reason.”
Ian Schipper with Jon Castro watching the mouth of the volcano churning out volcanic ash. Image Credit: Dr. Hugh Tuffen
Dr. Hugh Tuffen, Dr. Ian Schipper and Prof. Jon Castro are volcanologists who study how magmas move, flow and explode on their way up to and over the Earth’s surface. They invited me to join them to Cordon Caulle in January 2014, just two years after it stopped erupting explosively in 2012. This team of researchers had been there in 2011 and in 2012 when it was most vigorously exploding and this post combines photographic reflections on their experience and some from my trip to give you a view of this place and the hike that led us into the volcano’s mouth.
This volcano is unique. It is a type of volcano that produces vast quantities of volcanic glass: obsidian. As well as erupting a huge volcanic cloud, typical of many eruptions, it slowly pushed out a dark tongue of obsidian that was hot enough to squeeze at glacial rates down and away from the source. This kind of eruption is rare and Cordon Caulle is the only time in history that such a phenomenon has been witnessed and studied. Scientists are working to understand how the region can be blanketed by volcanic ash – the result of massive explosions – while this seemingly gentle tongue is pushed out at the same time. In this way, obsidian is one of the most interesting materials to volcanologists and it draws us from all over the world to hike in these wonder-places.
From Puerto Monnt we travelled the 125 km northeast deep into the Andes. The hike to the volcano begins with a long journey through forest up to the highland plateaus. In 2012 this forested land was densely covered in ash from the volcano, Hugh told me, but by 2014 had fully recovered its lush green. From the plateau, the Andes unfold before you and make the many hours hiking feel insignificant. We carried our equipment as well as water, food and sleeping gear ready for a week or more spent in the shadow of the lava. In 2012, the noise of the eruption was intense and could be heard for kilometres around. By 2014-2015, all was quiet except for the buzzing of horseflies and the occasional creek from the heavy glass lava that still crumbled its way over the sand.
The forest land on the hike up in 2012. Hugh remembers the ash filling his hair and covering everything. Image Credit: Dr. Hugh Tuffen
All around are the dunes of the highland plateaus, ribbed with rainwater gullies and patches of ice, which quench the thirst of hardworking volcanologists.
The dunes of the highland plateaus light up in the low sun. Image Credit: Dr. Hugh Tuffen
Walking from site to site is hard because the ash-laden sand is soft and sometimes you sink deep. Boots fill with pebble-sized volcanic shards that litter the ground from the last eruption. The distances are also deceptive. The lava, this slow-moving lava flow of glass, is almost forty meters high and many kilometres wide. We made basecamp at one end of the lava and each day hiked to places of interest, sometimes for hours, around the plateaus.
Hugh returned in 2015 yet again with Mike James and student Nathan Magnall and walked between slivers of cloud and tongues of glassy lava. Image Credit: Dr. Hugh Tuffen
Starting before dawn, we took one day to set off for a place no one has seen before. We wanted to climb into the mouth of the volcano; into the vent from where the lava was being pushed out back in 2011 and 2012. No one has been into such a place before – the source of obsidian – and we thought that some of the observations we could make would hold a key to the puzzle of these eruptions. We hiked for hours around the great lava flow and to the back side of the vent area. We put on our gas masks to filter some of the still-circulating toxic volcanic gases and particles and we pulled our hats down against the fierce sun. We climbed the cone to the top and peered down into the vent area itself. From that vantage point we circled down the cone’s rim and into the vent proper. From there, gazing back up at the inner walls of the volcano, Hugh, Jon and Ian remembered watched this area explode and writhe just a few years before at the height of eruption. With an uneasy feeling, we set about learning what we could from the rocks and glass at the source of obsidian on our Earth’s surface.
Snatching our hard-won science, we returned to camp only after dark, hungry and thirsty and shared the small celebratory whisky ration we had brought with us. This day, inside the volcano, will remain among the most vivid in my life. And now, back in Munich, I can readily recall the sulfur smell and shine of the glass in that place.
Hugh, Ian and Jon will no doubt continue to return to this enigmatic place to learn more each year and will listen out for the next time obsidian erupts. Nathan Magnall has recently embarked on a PhD project focused on unveiling more of the mysteries of this place and Tuppence Stone, Toby Strong and Christiaan Munoz Salas, who joined Hugh in January 2015, filmed for the forthcoming BBC2 Patagonia series. You can also watch Hugh talk about Cordon Caulle in the video below too – skip to minute 13:00.
The poetry of the place should surely draw people from all disciplines to walk on those new stones – something I emphatically encourage you to do.
By Fabian Wadsworth, PhD Student Ludwig-Maximillian Universitat.