GeoLog

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This guest post was contributed by a scientist, student or a professional in the Earth, planetary or space sciences. The EGU blogs welcome guest contributions, so if you've got a great idea for a post or fancy trying your hand at science communication, please contact the blog editor or the EGU Communications Officer Laura Roberts Artal to pitch your idea.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Concord at midnight

Imaggeo on Mondays: Concord at midnight

The high peaks of the Alps are always awe inspiring, but this midnight shot, captured by Alessandro Lechmann, a PhD student at the Institute of Geological Sciences at the University of Bern, further enhance their fragile beauty. With a warming climate threatening snow availability to even the highest peaks, it has never been more important to appreciate the importance of the glaciers which drape the mountain slopes.

This photograph shows a view from the Jungfraujoch (a saddle in the Bernese Alps, connecting the two four-thousander peaks Jungfrau and Mönch, at an elevation of 3,466 metres above sea level) towards the south-east down the Jungfraufirn (an arm of the Great Altesch Glacier).

Originating amidst three of the most famous mountains of the Swiss Alps (Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau), this glacier flows southwards towards the Concordiaplatz, where it merges with the Ewigschneefäld and the Great Aletschfirn into the Great Aletsch Glacier. Even today, despite reports of receding glaciers in the Alps, it forms the largest and longest Alpine glacier.

In the countries surrounding the Alps, glacial landforms dominate the landscape. From drumlins, moraines (accumulations of glacial debris) and overdeepenings in the foreland to U-shaped valleys (Lauterbrunnen is a marvellous example) and cirques in mountainous regions. Although retreating at rates not seen previously, these glaciers carved the face of central Europe during the last glacial-interglacial cycles.

The building of the railway to the Jungfraujoch research station started in 1896 and was completed in 1912; an impressive feat considering the limited technology before the First World War. Perched precariously 3500 m above sea level, the research station (known for its prominent sphinx observatory), has contributed significantly   to the understanding of the atmospheric sciences, glaciology and cosmic ray physics.

The ridge which the Jungfraujoch is built on, marks the northern margin of the exposed crystalline core of the Alpine orogeny. Interestingly, this mountain ridge, in addition to being a geological boundary, is also a major watershed. Rain that falls north, flows via the Aare into the Rhine, which eventually discharges into the North Sea. Precipitation on the southern flank and melt water from the Jungfraufirn, on the other hand, joins the Rhone in the Valais valley, that ends up in the Mediterranean Sea. This highlights the importance of Alpine glaciers as a water stores which continue to provide water throughout the year.

By Alessandro Lechmann PhD student at the Institute of Geological Sciences at the University of Bern

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/.

GeoEd: Do as I say… AND as I do

GeoEd: Do as I say… AND as I do

Bridging the gap between student and teacher is not always easy. For students, the educator might seem ‘untouchable’ and inaccessible. A sense exacerbated when assignments are set and they turn out to be new, complex and unfamiliar. In this new installment of our GeoEd column, regular guest blogger Rhian Meara of Swansea University, discusses a simple approach to overcome some of these barriers, which can yield surprisingly positive results.

As teachers, lecturers and professors, it’s easy to forget quite how scary it is to be an undergraduate student. Everything is new – lectures, seminars, practical classes, buildings, cities, and friends. Workloads are increasing and expectations are much higher than at school. We can also be guilty of setting and marking coursework based on our present professional standards including expectations that students will automatically understand what is expected of them. The fallout of this is that students can get overwhelmed, scared to ask questions and plough on despite not understanding what is required of them.

During the last few years, I have taught on a second year module which includes a literature review as part of the continuous assessment. Students attend lectures, workshops and tutorials to learn what a literature review is and how to write their own reviews. However, despite the extensive preparation, there is a communication barrier and a task as simple as a literature review (to the staff) is a monumental and incomprehensible task (for the undergraduates). The students have a tendency to get incredibly hung up on the fact that a literature review is “not an essay” rather than understanding what it actually is and how to complete one.

To counteract this, I have started running an extra tutorial session for my students. In this session, I provide the students with copies my own undergraduate literature review that I completed as part of my undergraduate geology degree at the University of Leicester. The review focusses onto emplacement mechanisms for flood lavas both on Earth and across the Solar System, and was completed during the third year of my degree. In the review, I introduce four models that explain how flood lavas are erupted and transported, critique each model and reach a conclusion as to which model, if any, is most accurate. The majority of the students in the group are physical or human geographers and not avid hard-rock igneous petrologists like I was back in the day, so initially the students are quite intimidated by the subject!

As a group, we then read and discuss the literature review to identify the essential components. These include, but are not limited to, a brief but thorough introduction to the subject, headings and sub-headings, relevant images and maps, appropriate use of references and citations, thorough explanations of the subject material, critical evaluations and conclusions.

Immediate comments from the students included bewilderment at how “professionally written” the work was which led to a useful discussion about academic writing, editing and the appropriate use of jargon. The students also felt that despite their initial intimidation of the subject area, that the review gave them a thorough introduction and explanation of the subject and its associated literature – one of the key aims of a literature review.

At the end of the discussion I asked the students to grade the literature review. As a group the students agreed that the work was a very high quality and merited a 1st class mark (˃70%*). In reality the work had been awarded a 2:1 mark (c. 64%*); however as the work was submitted for a 3rd year module the mark can be translated to a 1st class mark at the 2nd year level. The students were able to see therefore what sort of level they should be aiming at with their own work.

When the students submitted their own literature reviews, I was pleased to see that most of the elements that we discussed had been included into their work. Subjects were clearly introduced and explained, relevant images were used to highlight arguments, ideas were critically discussed and logical conclusions were reached.

Feedback from the students noted that the experience of seeing my own work was incredibly useful as it allowed them to see clear examples of similar work. The students now understand what expectations I have for them in the 2nd year of their undergraduate degree based on my own experiences (do as I say, and as I do!). The tutorial also allowed the students to better understand the process of researching and academic writing.

Getting to see and read through a staff member’s work was very informative. It helped me to understand the level at which to pitch my own work and how the use of appropriate figures, even within essays, could improve the overall quality of the piece. I also found that it broke a perceived wall between the complicated published articles and undergraduate work as it showed how the skills I’m learning now can help with more advance writing in the future.”  (Ben, 3rd year student)

Getting an example of a literature review from my tutor was not only useful as a tool, but felt more personal. Allowing me to ask questions I wouldn’t have, if we didn’t have her work as an example.’  (Tom, 2nd year student)

It was a great help to see a good example of a literature review because I had no idea how to even start! I liked the fact that I could refer back to the example for guidance during the process of writing my own literature review, and I believe that I would have had much worse marks without the possibility of seeing an example beforehand.” (Ffion, 2nd year student)

I ran this tutorial last year for the first time and was pleased with the results. This academic year, the original students who are now in their 3rd year have asked to continue the practice as they write their independent research dissertations. During individual and group tutorials I have shown the students my undergraduate research project on the geochemistry of the Siberian Traps lavas and my PhD thesis on tephrochronology in Iceland. Again, feedback from the students has been positive as they appreciate seeing and comparing with their supervisor’s undergraduate work.

The only negative element of this experience was needing to ensure that students did not re-use the same topics for their own projects as this would be considered as plagiarism. However as previously noted, the academic background of the students somewhat precluded this.

Finally, a piece of advice: if you want to share your work with your students, make sure you develop a thick skin! Once the students get going they are surprisingly harsh during the marking and critiquing element of the tutorial!

By Rhian Meara, Physical Geography and Geology Lecturer at Swansea University

* In UK marking schemes, anything given 70% is considered to be of excellent quality.

GeoEd, is a series dedicated to education in the geosciences. If you’d like to share your teaching and educational experiences, anything from formal classroom teaching, through to outreach project ideas, please do get in touch. We always welcome guest contributions to the blog. To pitch an idea for a post, please contact Laura Roberts Artal (the EGU Communication Officer and GeoLog editor) at networking@egu.eu or take a look at our submission page.

Imaggeo on Mondays: America’s dead sea

Imaggeo on Mondays: America’s dead sea

On the blog today, Jennifer Ziesch, a researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Applied Geophysics, takes us on a tour of the Great Salt Lake, located in the north of Salt Lake City (Utah). Did you know it is one of the largest salt water lakes in the world?

The large salt lake and Salt Lake City, named after the lake, lie on a flat plain about 1300 m above sea level. The salt lake is bordered to the east by the beautiful high Uinta Mountains (3700 – 4100 m) – part of the Rocky Mountains – and to the west by a huge salt desert, which developed towards the end of the last Ice Age due to dehydration. A semi-arid climate characterizes the landscape of the lake and surrounding area.

Like the Dead Sea, the Great Salt Lake is shrinking rapidly. In the middle of the 19th Century, the lake was almost twice as large as it is today. Mankind diverts the inflow of freshwater from the rivers for agriculture and industry. Local people have reported problems with saline groundwater.

The Great Salt Lake is becoming more salty (up to 27%). How high the salinity is shown in the close-up of a footprint. Salt crystals are formed in their full beauty.

Salt precipitation after a walk near the Great Salt Lake. Credit: Jennifer Ziesch (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The economy uses the salt and other minerals for fertilisers and wintering products. Unfortunately, the ecosystem is becoming more and more fragile: bird species, crabs and other creatures are losing their habitat.

By Jennifer Ziesch, geoscientist at the Leibniz Institute for Applied Geophysics.

Editor’s note: This text was modified on 14/02/2017 with the addition of an extra photograph to show salt precipitation in the lake. 

If you pre-register for the 2017 General Assembly (Vienna, 22 – 28 April), you can take part in our annual photo competition! From 1 February up until 1 March, every participant pre-registered for the General Assembly can submit up three original photos and one moving image related to the Earth, planetary, and space sciences in competition for free registration to next year’s General Assembly!  These can include fantastic field photos, a stunning shot of your favourite thin section, what you’ve captured out on holiday or under the electron microscope – if it’s geoscientific, it fits the bill. Find out more about how to take part at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/photo-contest/information/.

GeoPolicy: Making a case for science at the United Nations

GeoPolicy: Making a case for science at the United Nations

This month’s GeoPolicy is a guest post by the International Council for Science (ICSU). Based in Paris, the organisation works at the science-policy interface on the international scale. Here, Heide Hackmann, Executive Director at ICSU, highlights key initiatives ensuring science is present within the United Nations (UN) and explains how ICSU and the scientific community can support these processes.

The past years were an extraordinary time for the UN, with key international agreements on disaster risk reduction, climate change, sustainable development and urbanization being concluded. The decisions taken in the last two years will shape global policy for decades. It was an exciting time for science, too – getting the Paris Agreement in place, for example, was after all a result of decades (centuries, actually) of research, and of science sounding the alarm on the effects of carbon emissions on the climate. Without the relentless work of the climate science community, the issue of climate change would never have received the political attention it needed, plunging humankind headlong into its dangerous consequences.

The UN policy cycle of the last two years started in 2015 with the Sustainable Development Goals and ended, in October 2016, with the New Urban Agenda, being agreed in Quito, Ecuador. Now is a good time to look back at some aspects of how and why science has been a part of the creation of these UN policy frameworks, and start a conversation about what its role could be in their implementation.

The idea that scientific progress should benefit society has been central to the mission of the International Council for Science (ICSU) since its foundation in 1931. Its membership consists of national scientific bodies (122 members, representing 142 countries), international scientific unions (31 members), as well as 22 associate members. Through its members the Council identifies major issues of importance to science and society and mobilizes scientists to address them. It facilitates interaction amongst scientists across all disciplines and from all countries and promotes the participation of all scientists—regardless of race, citizenship, language, political stance, or gender—in the international scientific endeavour.

A core part of the Council’s work relates to the provision of scientific input and advice to inform policy development. It has a long history in this arena, having for example in the 1950s catalyzed international climate research through its organization of the International Geophysical Year (IGY).  Following the IGY, ICSU encouraged the United Nations to include the climate change issue in policy development processes and in the 1970s convened key meetings that led to the creation of the World Climate Research Programme in 1980 and, eventually, to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. In 1992, ICSU was invited to coordinate the inputs of the international scientific community to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro and, again in 2002, to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.

 

There is no one model of how to make science heard at the UN

All processes at the science-policy interface are different: Sometimes the Council has a formal role representing the scientific community at the UN. In other processes it is just one of many organizations creating pathways for communities of scientists to be heard. In yet other cases, ICSU plays a coordinating role, contributing to the architecture of international science advisory mechanisms and developing the scientific infrastructure underpinning UN policy processes. So each time we decide to engage in a new process, we have a close look at who is doing what in the space, and what the unique contribution of an international science council could be. Here are a couple of examples of what we thought were useful contributions:

In the process leading to the agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Council formally represented the international scientific community as part of the Major Group for Science and Technology (together with WFEO and ISSC), a stakeholder structure designed to provide civil society input into the intergovernmental negotiations. This typically involved coordinating written and oral inputs to the meetings of the UN working group involved in their creation to advocate for science-based decision- and policy-making.

The Council also published the only scientific review of the Sustainable Development Goals. Based on the work of more than 40 researchers from a range of fields across the natural and social sciences, it found that of the 169 targets beneath the 17 draft goals, just 29% are well defined and based on the latest scientific evidence, while 54% need more work and 17% are weak or non-essential. On its release, the report received widespread coverage in international media. Right now, the Council is working on finalizing a follow-up report that examines synergies and trade-offs between different goals, drawing attention to the need for mapping and characterising interactions between SDGs to avoid negative outcomes. Expect that report to be published in early 2017.

For the climate change process, the IPCC served as the obvious voice of science. However, as an intergovernmental body, its focus was not so much directed towards public outreach. This left a niche for another contribution by the Council to the UN negotiations. In the 18 months prior to the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, December 2015, the Council operated the Road to Paris website, a stand-alone media product emerging from the scientific community. The site followed three major international policy processes that concluded in 2015: disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change. Its content was designed to augment the existing media coverage of these processes from a scientific point of view. Just before COP21, a collection of the most read and most shared articles on the website was published in a magazine format. This involvement in the COP21 discussions culminated in the Council’s role at the conference itself, where it provided a focal point for scientists present to gather, network, discuss key scientific challenges and communicate to the media in the last days of the conference on the Paris Agreement.

At Habitat III, the UN’s conference on sustainable urbanization, we tried yet another approach. The stakeholder input for this process was organized in a much more bottom-up way, with no one organization being assigned formal representation of the science community. The input of the research community through what was called the “General Assembly of Partners” had a distinct impact on the outcome document. For example, in March of 2016, there was not a single mention of the word “health” in the draft of that document, yet by the time it was agreed in Quito, 25 mentions of “health” had appeared. Additionally, for Quito we teamed up with Future Earth and the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam to create a space called Habitat X Change. At the previous conferences, we had noticed that scientists were keen for an on-the-ground rallying point – for a physical space where scientists can meet, connect with one another and with stakeholders to exchange ideas, make the voice of science heard, and form new networks to work together in the future. Habitat X Change quickly became a natural focal point for scientists at the conference, providing a space for them to hold events, meet one another, showcase their research, or just have a coffee and talk. See our photos on Flickr to get an impression of how people at the conference filled it with life and meaning.

Overall, we found that there is a big interest in scientific input and opinion at these conferences. For example, at a spontaneously organized climate science press conference during the 2015 climate talks in Paris, more than 200 journalists crammed into the room, beleaguering the scientists with questions long after the conclusion of the press briefing. The voice of science is seen as more neutral and disinterested than those of the many activist groups jostling for attention around these processes.

 

The big frameworks are all in place – is science still needed now?

With the Paris Agreement in force, the world now has a legally binding agreement to limit dangerous climate change. The Sustainable Development Goals provide a roadmap to a more equitable, sustainable future. The New Urban Agenda tells us what the role of cities in all this will be. What then is the role for science in turning these political documents into realities on the ground?

One thing is to help deal with their complexity. Even before the SDGs were agreed, some started questioning them, saying that success in one goal might offset gains in others, if done the wrong way. Science can help make sense of these interactions and help policymakers avoid pitfalls. Making the New Urban Agenda a success requires efficient ways of linking knowledge production and policy-making, and closely linking the implementation of this Agenda with the SDGs. And the Paris Agreement prominently calls on the scientific community (represented by the IPCC) to identify pathways to limit global warming to 1.5° C.  There is a wealth of problems that need solutions from science in order to make these political agreements a success.

The scientific community also needs to help identify and fill critical knowledge gaps. Here, the Council’s research programmes are actively contributing to the implementation of the agreements. For example, the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR) programme is helping to define minimum data standards for the indicators for the Sendai Agreement on disaster risk reduction. WCRP is bringing to the fore the remaining gaps in basic research on climate change. Future Earth is building scientific and stakeholder coalitions called Knowledge Action Networks around priority areas for these global agreements.

At the same time, the implementation phase of these frameworks poses challenges because it requires a cultural shift for science as it moves towards being a partner in co-creating the solutions needed by policymakers. It requires building long term frameworks to work at different scales, and importantly at the national level. This has implications for the kinds of organizations that are a central part of the Council’s core constituency: its broad base of national scientific academies. It also means engaging meaningfully with stakeholders to deliver the knowledge that is needed, and staying engaged during the implementation, not just the creation, of these frameworks.

Written by Heide Hackmann, Executive Director at the International Council for Science.

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