GeoLog

Laura Roberts-Artal

Laura Roberts Artal is the Communications Officer at the European Geosciences Union. She is responsible for the management of the Union's social media presence and the EGU blogs, where she writes regularly for the EGU's official blog, GeoLog. She is also the point of contact for early career scientists (ECS) at the EGU Office. Laura has a PhD in palaeomagnetism from the University of Liverpool. Laura tweets at @LauRob85.

Imaggeo on Mondays: High altitude glacier monitoring

What a place to work: Spectacular views from the top of the rugged and icy peaks of Tien Shan mountain range. The desire to better understanding global climate change took Leo Sold to this remote area of Central Asia. The frozen slopes of ice and snow in today’s Imaggeo on Mondays photograph hold some of the keys to understanding how the glaciers in this remote region are being affected by a warming climate.

High altitude glacier monitoring Credit: Leo Sold (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

High altitude glacier monitoring Credit: Leo Sold (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Glacier changes are known to be excellent indicators of climatic change and are therefore monitored around the world. However, some regions have a much higher coverage of measurements than other, often remote areas. Additionally, long time-series of glacier measurements are rare even on the global scale but are indispensable for a sound data basis to study future glacier changes. Thus, having a long-term measurement series in a region like the Tien Shan is a real asset for the work of glaciologists. Central Asia has a long tradition of glacier monitoring but unfortunately many ongoing monitoring programs were interrupted in the mid-1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Although the suspended time-series already provide a great source of information, their continuation is fundamental for conducting future studies on Central Asian glaciers.

This image was taken in summer 2013 on the Suek Zapadniy glacier located in the Inner Tien Shan, Kyrgyzstan.Because snow-covered crevasses cannot always be identified at the snow surface the two researchers are roped up while taking snow depth measurements at 4500m above sea level. The monitoring of Suek Zapadniy glacier is part of the wider CATCOS project (Capacity Building and Twinning for Climate Observing Systems), which aims at improving the coverage with climate-related observations in areas were measurements are rare. It is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and is coordinated by the Swiss Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology (MeteoSwiss). Within this project, the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) and the WGMS (World Glacier Monitoring Service) re-established a glacier monitoring programme on multiple glaciers in the Tien Shan and Pamir range in Kyrgyzstan, in close collaboration with the GFZ Potsdam (German Research Center for Geoscience, Potsdam), leading the CAWa Project (Central Asian Waters), and the Central-Asian Institute for Applied Geoscience (CAIAG) located in Kyrgyzstan. Notably, the project also focuses on capacity building – meaning, field campaigns involve on-site training of researchers in Kyrgyzstan and Switzerland.

The subset of glaciers chosen for the monitoring program is based on the availability of previous or historical data, the accessibility, and their distribution across the region. Annual mass balance measurements have been carried out since the summer of 2010. Their aim is to establish the difference between the amount of snow that is accumulated on the glacier during winter and the amount of ice melted during the summer months. Integrated over the entire glacier area, this provides a measure for the mass change of a glacier and, thus, for its response to climate changes. In the low-altitude areas of a glacier where summer melting exceeds the quantity of snow accumulated in winter, mass balance measurements involve drilling and maintenance of ablation stakes. These stakes are commonly made of plastic and are inserted into the glacier at a known depth, providing a bench mark against which the glacier thickness changes can be measured. In high altitudes snow can outlast the entire year, allowing the glacier to gain mass. The accumulation is measured as snow depth and its density by means of digging snow pits. Together, ablation and accumulation measurements provide the glacier mass balance. Since 2010 Suek Zapadniy glacier loses 0.4m water equivalent each year, referring to the water level if snow and ice was melted and distributed over the glacier.

“Ideally, summer measurements at the end of the hydrological year would be complemented by winter accumulation measurements in spring. However, reaching such remote areas involves an immense logistical effort under difficult conditions,” explains Leo.

Black Abramov glacier. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, Abramov glacier provided one the the longest continuous glacier mass balance records, dating back to 1968. In 2011, a global research network re-established a monitoring program in cooperation with local partners. The picture highlights the important role of surface albedo in terms of glacier ablation. Credit: Leo Sold (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu

Black Abramov glacier. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, Abramov glacier provided one the the longest continuous glacier mass balance records, dating back to 1968. In 2011, a global research network re-established a monitoring program in cooperation with local partners. The picture highlights the important role of surface albedo in terms of glacier ablation. Credit: Leo Sold (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu

By Laura Roberts, EGU Communications Officer and Leo Sold, PhD Student at the University of Fribourg

If you pre-register for the 2015 General Assembly (Vienna, 12 – 17 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/.

A brief history of science communication

Science communication has become a common focus of many aspects of academic research and teaching. Despite becoming more prevalent in recent years it has a long and deep rooted history, which goes hand in hand with scientific discovery. In this blog post, Sam Illingworth, gives a brief outline of the history of science communication.

Science Communication is a phrase that seems to permeate into many facets of our lives as scientists and educators, and indeed it has featured prominently in many of these posts. However, what is it and where did it come from?

Debating, Ancient Greece style (Photo Credit: Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Debating, Ancient Greece style (Photo Credit: Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

 The word ‘science’ itself derives from the Latin word ‘scientia’, meaning knowledge. So to communicate science is effectively to communicate knowledge, and at its most basic level science communication can be thought of as those in the know informing those that are not. In Ancient Greece this imparting of knowledge took place in public debates, where understanding and thought were deliberated by the masses. This democratisation of knowledge and inquiry ultimately led to the dawn of experimentation and to the advancement of philosophy and science.

This early wooden printing press could spit out 240 impressions per hour (Photo Credit: Jost Amman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

This early wooden printing press could spit out 240 impressions per hour (Photo Credit: Jost Amman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Sadly, in Western Europe the dark ages quickly put an end to this period of scientific enlightenment, with knowledge now transferred via the written word, and often hoarded by the privileged few. The masses were now either unable to process any knowledge because of their illiteracy, or else the vast expense associated with hand-copied books and manuscripts prevented them from learning anything of scientific merit. Thankfully, the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1456 eventually made the printed word more accessible, meaning that knowledge could now be much more easily spread. Yet, despite the ensuing scientific revolution that the printing press sparked, it wasn’t until much later on that scientists began to consider their responsibility to communicate knowledge to the general public.

The British Science Association (BSA) was set up in at the beginning of the nineteenth century, mainly to address the fact that science in the UK was in a somewhat laconic state. The first meeting was held in York on the 26 September 1831, where one of the aims of the society was declared to be: “to obtain a greater degree of national attention to the objects of science.” The association also inspired the formation of similar associations for the advancement of science in other countries, and have continued to have annual meetings ever since. Perhaps the best remembered of all these meetings was at Oxford in 1860, where the English biologist Thomas Huxley debated Darwinism with the then Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce. Huxley’s speech ended with him stating that he was not ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor, but that he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used great gifts to obscure the truth; a reference to the oratory skill, yet perhaps clouded judgement, of his religious opponent.

Thomas Henry Huxley: Communicating for Science  (Photo Credit: Lock & Whitfield [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Thomas Henry Huxley: Communicating for Science (Photo Credit: Lock & Whitfield [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

In more recent times, European science communication can essentially be thought of as having gone through three stages of development. The first generation of science communication centred on a deficit approach, which aimed to fill in the gaps in the knowledge of the general public. The second-generation approach favoured a more two-way dialogue, in which the scientists engaged with the general public, and in which the general public began to have an influence on informing scientific practice and policy. Currently the third-generation approach aims to continue this two-way dialogue, but also transfers greater ownership to the general public, by encouraging them to define exactly what knowledge it is that they want to have communicated.

With the advent of citizen science, and crowdsourcing (more of which can be read about here), the general public are now in a position where they are not only choosing what they want to be informed about, but are taking an active role in the pursuit of this knowledge. As scientists, we have to ensure that it is not now us that are left behind.

By Sam Illingworth, Lecturer in Science Communication, Manchester Metropolitan University

 

Imaggeo on Mondays: Fly away, weather balloon

Some aspects of Earth Science are truly interdisciplinary and this week’s Imaggeo on Mondays photograph is testament to that. The maiden voyage of the research cruise SA Agulhas II offered the perfect opportunity to combine oceanographic research, as well as climate science studies. Raissa Philibert, a biogeochemistry PhD student, took this picture of the daily release of a weather balloon by meteorologists from the South African Weather Services.

Fly away, weather balloon! Credit: Raissa Philibert (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Fly away, weather balloon! Credit: Raissa Philibert (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The highlights of Raissa trip aboard the ship include

“the multidisciplinary aspects of the cruise. It was fascinating talking to people doing such different things. Being on the first scientific cruise aboard the vessel was also extremely exciting as well as going to the southern ocean in winter as this provides such rare datasets.”

This cruise was an excellent opportunity for scientists ranging from physical oceanographers, biogeochemists, meteorologists, ornithologists and zoologists to collect data. The two main scientific programmes aboard the cruise aimed to understand 1) the seasonal changes in the carbon cycle of the Southern Ocean, and 2) gain a better understanding of the modifications in water composition caused by the meeting and mixing of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans in the Agulhas Cape region in South Africa.

Understanding both of these processes is important because they impact on the global thermohaline circulation (THC), which is strongly related to global climate change. Think of the THC as a giant conveyor belt of water within the Earth’s oceans: warm surface currents, rush from equatorial regions towards the poles, encouraged by the wind. They cool and become denser during the time it takes them to make the journey northwards and eventually sink into the deep oceans at high latitudes. They then find their way towards ocean basins and eventually rise up (upwell if you prefer the more technical terms), predominantly, in the Southern Ocean. En route, these huge water masses transport energy (in the form of heat), as well as solids, dissolved substances and gases and distribute these across the planets Oceans. So you can see why understanding the THC is crucial to researchers wanting to better understand climate change.

This map shows the pattern of thermohaline circulation. This collection of currents is responsible for the large-scale exchange of water masses in the ocean, including providing oxygen to the deep ocean. The entire circulation pattern takes ~2000 years. Credit: Nasa Earth Observatory.

This map shows the pattern of thermohaline circulation. This collection of currents is responsible for the large-scale exchange of water masses in the ocean, including providing oxygen to the deep ocean. The entire circulation pattern takes ~2000 years. Credit: Nasa Earth Observatory.

The THCs also plays a large part in the carbon cycle in the oceans. Microscopic organisms called phytoplankton drive the main biological processes through which the ocean takes up carbon. They photosynthesise like plants which mean that they use carbon dioxide and water along with other nutrients to make their organic matter and grow. After some time, the phytoplankton die and their organic matter sinks. Part of this organic matter and carbon will remain stored in the deep ocean under various forms until it is brought back up thousands of years later by the THC. Through this cycle, phytoplankton play a major role in controlling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and hence, also the Earth’s climate.

 

By Laura Roberts, EGU Communications Officer, and Raissa Philibert, PhD Student.

If you pre-register for the 2015 General Assembly (Vienna, 12 – 17 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/.

The ethics of mining

This guest blog post is brought to you by Nick Arndt, Professor at ISTerre and convenor of the the Great Debate at last year’s General Assembly, Metals in our backyard: to mine or not to mine. During the Great Debate the issue of whether the environment impact of mining outweighs the benefits vs. domestic metal production was questioned. With Europe currently importing between 60-100% of the metals that are essential for modern society, this posts explores how realistic it is to advocate for no mining in our own backyards.

Two years ago, in response to massive demonstrations on the streets of Bucharest, the Romania government reversed its decision to allow mining of the Rosia Montana gold deposit. Fierce discussion currently surrounds the Pebble deposit in Alaska, the fifth largest unmined copper deposit. Last summer, protesters derailed mineral exploration in the Rouez region, the first exploration authorized in France for 20 years. In all cases, the activists argued that the environmental risks were so great that mining was unacceptable. The slogan of the French protesters was:

“no mines!!! neither in Rouez, nor anywhere”.

When the Rouez activists were asked where the metals needed for modern society should come from, many answered that improved recycling and substitution would provide the solution. If only this were true! Recycling will indeed provide an increasing proportion of our metals in the future, but for decades to come, new supplies of metals and other mineral products will be required. The vast infrastructure of wind turbines and solar panels needed for a low-carbon society will consume huge amounts of mineral products, not only the well-publicized rare earths and other critical elements, but also enormous quantities of steel, aluminium, concrete and sand. All these materials will be locked up for the 20-30 year lifetime of the structures and will not be available for recycling.

Anti-mining march Auckland New Zealand. Credit: Greg Presland (distributed via Wikimedia Commons)

Anti-mining march Auckland New Zealand. Credit: Greg Presland (distributed via Wikimedia Commons)

To organize their demonstrations, the Rouez and Bucharest activists used cell phones containing numerous rare metals, including cobalt-tantalum that probably came from war-torn central Africa. Some of the titanium might have come from a mine in Norway, and some copper from Poland, but the other metals were imported from outside Europe

The main reason why oil prices have plunged in the past three months is the recent availability of large sources of gas and oil from shale in the USA. While the low prices will have a negative medium-term impact on movements to wean society from fossil fuels, in the short term they may provide a sorely needed boost to struggling European economies. France is in a peculiar position – it has been at the forefront of the movement to ban fracking and has prohibited even the exploration for non-conventional hydrocarbons on its territories, but its feeble economy will benefit from the low energy costs brought about by the availability of American shale-derived oil and gas.

Other Rouez activists recognized that new sources of metals were necessary, but they were adamant that the mining should be done in a manner that caused minimal environmental damage … and preferably far, far away from where they lived. While some metals can be imported to Europe from countries with stable and competent governments like Canada and Australia, most come from Africa, Asia and South America where governments are commonly too weak, too corrupt, or too poor to ensure that mining is done properly. The concerned citizens of Europe and other rich countries prefer that people in other regions put up with the nuisance associated with mining, and if this means that mining is done in places where the operation cannot be done properly, so be it.

The locavore movement argues that we should consume only what is produced within a short distance from where we live. The principle is normally applied to food, and is based on sound principles. Local consumption provides employment to local people and reduces ‘food miles’ – the distance from producers to consumers. But aren’t these ideas equally valid for metals? Is it reasonable and logical to shun green beans from Kenya while consuming copper from the Congo? The Aitik mine illustrates that metals can be produced correctly and efficiently in Europe. This mine, which is located in the far north of Sweden and respects stringent Swedish social and environmental norms, efficiently exploits ore containing only 0.27% Cu, far below the global average.

Rather than adopting the dubious stance that others should bear the burden of supplying the metals needed for European society, is it not more principled to argue that mining should done correctly, and in our own backyard?

By Nick Arndt, Professor at ISTerre & current GMPV Division President