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GeoTalk: Meet the EGU’s President, Jonathan Bamber

GeoTalk: Meet the EGU’s President, Jonathan Bamber

GeoTalk interviews usually feature the work of early career researchers, but this month we deviate from the standard format to speak to Jonathan Bamber, the EGU’s President. Jonathan has a long-standing involvement with the Union, stretching back almost 20 years. Following a year as vice-president, Jonathan was appointed President at this year’s General Assembly in Vienna. Here we talk to him about his plans for the Union, how scientists can stand up for science at a time when it is coming under attack and how the Union plans to foster the involvement of early career scientists (ECS) in its activities.

In the unlikely event that some of our readers don’t know who you are, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your career path so far and also about your involvement with the EGU over the years?

I started out with a degree in Physics. I’ve spent the last 20 years in the geography department at the University of Bristol focusing on Earth Observation. In that time, I’ve covered a lot of topics: from oceanography to land surface processes, but glaciology is my core discipline and research area. Most of my work has broadly been in the area of climate change and climate research but also solid Earth geophysics.

I’ve been involved with EGU (actually, it was EGS then) since the late 90s. I used to attend the meetings and I realised there was a gap in the market for cryospheric sciences. I approached Arne Richter [the former General Secretary of EGS] to form the Division of Cryospheric Sciences. I put together a proposal and became secretary of the division at the time and later became president of the division when EUG & EGS merged to form EGU. I spent five years in that role, towards the end of which I proposed (and launched) the open access journal The Cryosphere, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary and publishes about 220 papers per year.  I’m very proud of those contributions to the community and feel that they have helped develop the discipline and strengthen it.

It was 2007 when I stepped down from the EGU Council all together although I still attended the General Assembly, of course, and convened various sessions. It was 2015 when the then EGU vice-president, Hans Thybo, suggested I stand in the next presidential elections. I wasn’t at all certain I wanted to take on the role, but decided to go for it because I think it is important to serve the scientific community and colleagues and EGU is an organisation that is close to my heart.

At this year’s General Assembly, you were appointed Union President (after serving as Vice-President for a year). What are the main things you hope to achieve during your two-year term?

There are two main areas that I am very keen to promote and foster:

First, I want to make the organisation [the EGU] more attractive to early career scientists (ECS) and offer them more opportunities, be that more and better short courses, career support and other benefits of attending. For some years now there has been a strong ECS network within the Union and there have been great advances in that direction already.

Second, I’d like to increase the EGU’s opportunities, and those of members, to be involved in policy activities.

Why those two in particular?

There are many things one could do; but having attended the General Assembly for 15 years, there is no doubt that ECS are the future of the discipline, so if we don’t make the meeting attractive and useful for them, what are we here for?

In terms of policy, there are a number of events which have happened in the past few years which make it come into focus.

Certainly, in the UK, it is important that the science we do has impact, and just as important is that we [researchers] understand what the impact of the research we do has. Ultimately, tax payers pay for the research we do, so it is important not to get detached from the role we have in benefiting society in broad terms but also through specific opportunities and activities.

From many years attending the AGU Fall Meeting, I am aware the American Geophysical Union (AGU) has a very well developed and successful policy related programme. It is, of course, simpler for them, as the policy landscape is restricted to one nation and AGU’s headquarters are in Washington. Nonetheless, despite those differences, EGU is not, currently, providing opportunities for engagement in the policy realm in the way we could, for example, with the European Commission and its funding instruments.

Science for policy is not suited to all scientists, and all disciplines that we represent. However, it is important for a large cohort of our membership.

EGU President, Jonathan Bamber (centre left) and EGU Vice-President, Hans Thybo (centre right), stand along side the 2016 EGU Outstanding Student Poster and PICO (OSPP) awardees. Credit: EGU/Pflugel

ECS make up a significant proportion of the Union’s membership. EGU is a bottom up organisation and there is no doubt that ECS have a say in many matters of the Union already, but how do you plan on including ECS further in decision-making processes in the future?

I wouldn’t necessarily classify ECS separately. They are simply geoscientists, just like the majority of our members. It is important, however, for us to show them and highlight the opportunities available for them to be involved in the General Assembly and the Union as a whole.

We have a Union-wide ECS Representative on Council – this gives ECS a good understanding of how the organisation works and gives the individual experience of the machinery involved in running all the activities of EGU. Roles like this give the next generation skills to take on leadership roles in the future too. How do they know how organisations operate if they don’t have opportunities like this?

There are also no barriers to them being involved in convening sessions, organising short courses and proposing activities for the Union to prepare.

It can be intimidating as a junior scientist to be involved in these activities, so it’s important that we make it accessible to them. I think we are making great progress in this direction.

As an established scientist, what advice would you give ECS starting out in their career?

Accountancy pays very well!

More seriously: get involved!

Also, look at your most successful and respected senior colleagues and identify what about them makes them successful and what do you admire in them. Positive role models are very important.

Recently, the scientific process has come under attack. Initiatives such as the March For Science have given scientists opportunities to make their voices heard. What role can the Union play in supporting members wanting to stand up for science?

We can put together advice for how scientists can get their voice heard. The Union’s Outreach Committee is quite active in this regard already.

Trying to make sure that the voice of the geoscience community is heard within Europe is another area where we can contribute. We’ve been involved in an EU Parliamentary meeting, representing EGU, where discussions focused on improving the integration of science and collaboration across Europe.

We also offer policy makers and institutions the opportunities to contact scientists, through our database of experts.  We need to make European policy-makers more aware that we can provide that service.

In terms of funding for scientific research, we’ve established links with the President of European Research Council. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon gave a talk at this year’s General Assembly and participated in one of our Great Debates. We also hosted a meeting where senior members of the EGU’s council met with Bourguignon to discuss how the EGU could support the ERC in the future.

As an organisation, it should be our goal to provide our members with a mechanism by which they can communicate with the European Commission and policy-makers.

Last month, the EGU issued a statement condemning President Trump’s decision to pull the USA out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Why is this decision so troubling and, in your opinion, what can Union members do to raise awareness of the challenges facing the globe?

We should communicate the importance of our science: what we know, what we understand, the evidence based facts.

In the absence of evidence based science, how do policy makers reach decisions? They rely on gut instinct, on beliefs, on prejudices… But they should be making them on evidence based science. So, it is crucial that we communicate what we know to the public and policy-makers.

In Europe, a large majority don’t question human influence on climate. They understand it is real and that it’s an issue of upmost importance.

Trump’s decision was about politics not science; it is important to remember that. He didn’t deny that climate change was real, but he was making the decision on an economic basis and that is something else again. Whether it was a wise economic decision or an entirely myopic one is another question altogether.  I speak about this in more detail in an open editorial I wrote shortly after the decision was announced.

Geoscientists are, perhaps, more important in terms of policy and the health of the planet than they ever have been before. All the work we are doing in the geosciences has huge implications for policy and for safeguarding our future on the planet.

Jonathan, thank you for talking to me today about a whole range of topics. I’d like to finish this interview by bringing the conversation back around to EGU. We’ve discussed, at some length, what the Union hopes to do for its members and highlighted that there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. So, how exactly do they go about taking a more active role in the Union’s activities?

One of the easiest ways to have your voice heard is by getting involved through your scientific division. Attend your division(s)’s business meeting. Each division has quite a few officers: a secretary, vice-president, secretaries for sub disciplines and so on. There are lots of opportunities there. In general, anyone who wants to put the time in will be welcomed by division presidents because it’s always good to have enthusiastic, dedicated volunteers.

When it comes to the General Assembly in Vienna, anybody can propose a session. If you want to organise a session or a short course, just fire it out there! The call-for-sessions is currently open [until 8th September]. You’ll find all the details online.

If you are interested in policy-related activities do complete the register of experts questionnaire.  It doesn’t take long and you’ll find details on our webpages. Make sure you provide as much detail about your expertise as possible. That way we’ll be able to match you up with those who make inquires and opportunities in the most effective way.

Interview by Laura Roberts Artal (EGU Communications Officer)

 

 

 

 

New Dimensions for Natural Hazards in Asia: the first AOGS–EGU Joint Conference

New Dimensions for Natural Hazards in Asia: the first AOGS–EGU Joint Conference

Asia is one of the most natural disaster-prone regions on the globe. Overpopulation and limited resources mean that natural hazards hit local populations particularly hard.

“It doesn’t matter which index or evaluation method you use, Asia will always unfortunately come out on top when it comes to fatalities and damage from natural hazard events,” explains Dr. Adam Switzer, a member of the conference’s Executive Organizing Committee.

To provide a global platform, which brings together participants from across the world and addresses the challenges which need to be unraveled, as well as the potential solutions, the Asia Oceania Geosciences Society (AOGS) and EGU have partner to host their very first joint meeting.

With Taal Volcano as the spectacular backdrop, students, early career and established scientists will gather in the Philippines from the 4th to 8th February 2018, to discuss current advances in knowledge and new perspectives relevant to natural hazards in the Asian region.

“We hope that this conference will be a fundamental new step to addressing some of the most pressing hazard problems in the region by bringing together some of the world’s top hazard practitioners in the physical, social and political sciences,” goes on to say Switzer.

The meeting will boast an innovative format, with the organisers actively sidestepping the tradition conference triple Ss: sections, sessions and silos. Instead, the programme is arranged in a series of themes which, through panels, discussion groups, networking and poster introductions, will explore seven overarching topics: from natural hazards in the megacity, to multi-hazard interactions, right through to the transient and long-term effects of catastrophic perturbations.

Niels Hovius, also of the conference’s Executive Organizing Committee, adds: “we strive for a programme that explores the connectivity between processes, cause and effect, a programme that acknowledges the fact that many natural disasters have an important time dynamic, lasting much longer than the initial impact.”

The conference abstract submission is currently open, so if your research falls within one of the conference themes, consider contributing to the meeting. But hurry! Abstract submission closes on 31st August 2017.

As well as discussing and sharing advances in natural hazards science, conference participants will get the opportunity to experience the impacts of natural hazards first hand.

The Philippines is, unfortunately, rich with natural hazards and as such provides a wealth of opportunity to investigate the physical, social and economic aspects of numerous natural hazards through a series of conference field trips.  

“The recent earthquake in Bohol, the 1991 Pinatubo eruption and the devastation and recovery from 2013 Typhoon Haiyan are all part of the field program,” highlights Switzer.

Not only that, the conference takes place in a sought-after location, by tourists and locals alike. The Taal Vista Hotel is deeply rooted in the heritage of Tagaytay City. Overlooking Lake Taal, with views which stretch out over Taal volcano, it is also only a little over an hour away from the bustling city of Manila.

“There are a large range of very affordable to more luxurious accommodations available in Tagatay, although early booking is encouraged as the area is a popular one for tourism due to its environmental beauty,” points out Bruce Malamud, of the conference’s Executive Organizing Committee.

The AOGS-EGU conference is accessible and affordable for both early career and more senior researchers from around the globe. It hopes to bring together the international research community, with the scientific programme, as well as its spectacular setting, suited to natural hazard scholars and practitioners alike.

The Executive Organizing Committee also hopes that its appeal will transcend the geosciences and that the meeting’s themes will attract those dealing with other aspects of natural disasters: medics, planners, managers, educators and more.

“It is important that we have dialogues that reach beyond the confines of our disciplines,” says Hovius, “For me, this conference will be an opportunity to see some iconic sites, but also to make contacts with local researchers who may be interested in joining international projects targeting multi-hazards, transient response and anomalous events.”

Visit the conference website for all the meeting details. Among the website pages you’ll find information about the conference themes, abstract submission requirements and an overview of the meeting programme. Early bird registrations (until 23rd November 2017) receive a heavily discounted rate, as do AOGS and EGU members. Students also benefit from reduced registration fees.

The website is also packed with logistical information, from details about the conference venue, through to what you can expect to eat, see and do in Tagaytay City. You can also find out if you require a visa for travel to the Philippines and what to do if you are a national of a non-visa exempt country.

By Laura Roberts (EGU Communications Officer) in collaboration with the AOGS–EGU Joint Conference Executive Organizing Committee

For inquiries about the conference please contact Meeting Matters International (nathazards@meetmatt.net). Further contact information is available on the Joint Conference website. You can also receive updates about the conference on Facebook.

Shape the EGU 2018 scientific programme: Call-for-sessions is open!

Shape the EGU 2018 scientific programme: Call-for-sessions is open!

Do you enjoy the EGU’s annual General Assembly but wish you could play a more active role in shaping the scientific programme? Now is your chance!

From today, until 8 Sep 2017, you can suggest:

  • Sessions (with conveners and description), or;
  • Modifications to the existing skeleton programme sessions
  • NEW! Suggestions for Short courses (SC) will also take place during this period
  • From now until 18 January 2018, propose Townhall and spinter meetings

Explore the EGU 2018 Programme Groups (PGs) to get a feel for the already proposed sessions and to decide which PG would be the best fit for your session. When proposing a session, make sure you consider gender diversity (i.e. is there at least one female convener?), diversity in countries/institutes, and the inclusion of early career scientists as conveners. A minimum of three conveners per session is generally desirable.

Does your idea for a session fall under the remit of two (or more) PGs? Co-organization is possible and encouraged between PGs! Put your session proposal into one PG, and you will be able to choose other PGs that you believe should be approached for co-organization.

A new Programme Group, Interdisciplinary Events (IE)was introduced in 2016. IE looks for links between disciplines in a coordinated and coherent effort, trying to create new approaches that would not be possible if handled separately. IE has four sub-programme groups that highlight new themes each year. If you plan to propose an Interdisciplinary Event, please submit your proposal in Programme group IE and indicate relevant other Programme groups in the session description or comment box. For IE sessions we kindly ask to identify another Programme group that becomes the scientific leader of the event. Accepted IE sessions will be part of the session programme of the scientific leader in addition to the IE programme.

The PG officers are on-hand to answer questions about the appropriateness of a specific session topic, so don’t hesitate to contact them if you have queries! You can also find more information about the call for sessions (and the orgaisation of the scientific programme in general) on the EGU 2018 website.

The EGU’s 2018 General Assembly, takes place in Vienna from 8 to 13 April, 2018. For more news about the upcoming General Assembly, you can also follow the offical hashtag, #EGU18, on our social media channels.

EGU geoscientists are out of this world!

EGU geoscientists are out of this world!

Space science has always been an exciting relative of the geosciences, and so it may come as no surprise that the woman who could become Germany’s first female astronaut attended the EGU General Assembly this year. Insa Thiele-Eich has made it to the final of Germany’s ‘Die Astronautin’ competition, which intends to send a German female astronaut to the International Space Station for a ten day research mission in 2020. She’s also a meteorologist and is currently finishing up a PhD on flooding in Bangladesh.

Insa wasn’t the only Die Astronautin competitor exhibiting at EGU and was joined by several female geoscientists who took part in the contest. Liv Heinecke and Sandra Tippenhauer also made it into the final rounds of the tough competition while juggling careers as geoscientists. Liv is coming to the end of her PhD on lake sediments in the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan, while Sandra researches physical oceanography and the effect on ocean biology.

We caught up with them at the EGU booth to find out about why they applied to be an astronaut and how their experiences of geoscience influenced their decision.

What made you apply to Die Astronautin?

Insa: It’s been a dream for me, as I think for all of us, we’ve been wanting to do this for so long that I don’t think anybody was surprised that any of us applied- for my family is was more like ‘oh ok- you finally had the opportunity’

Liv: The call was for scientists and engineers- STEM women- and I thought ‘yep, that sounds pretty cool!’ They asked for outdoor experience and usually in our field we go into the field- to Siberia, Antarctica- something like that. So you need to be adventurous, excitable and you need to love your work. It is also encouraging girls to go into STEM. I have two kids and I don’t ever want anyone to tell my daughter she can’t get a Nobel Prize in physics.

Sandra: I always wanted to be an astronaut since, I don’t know when! It made me think want I would do [to be an astronaut] so I decided to go into science. I really love my job in science; I always want to know how things work so studying physics was the right decision. I also work with the earth to try and understand how things work- at the moment I apply it to the oceans. I love the ocean and I live really close to it so I can go out and immediately see what I’m working with! But I also love space and I’d love to do science in space.

What was the application process like?

Insa: Initially there were 409 applicants, which were reduced to 120 and asked to fill out a medical questionnaire. Then 90 were invited to go to Hamburg for the first stage of cognitive testing, so that was maths, physics, memory span and a lot of other cognitive tests. And from those 90 we were reduced to 30, who continued on.

Then it was five days in groups of six. That was more group psychological testing and a psychological interview about yourself and how you work in a team as teamwork is essential. I think that’s where being a geoscientists, always having to go out and do fieldwork, really helps. You’re usually in a stressful situation because you (usually) have little funding, or you have to perform now because you can’t do it again. You have to cooperate; you’re often jetlagged with little sleep! So it really helps!

Also working in an international field, for me at least, has helped. You know- stay calm, assess, does everyone know what we’re talking about here? As everyone’s from different background, especially when you do interdisciplinary work you have to be a very good team player.

I just wanted to add that there are so many geoscientists that applied that we actually agreed to meet at EGU. I know at least of eight in addition to myself, but it’s probably even more- so I thought that was pretty amazing.

 

Interview by Keri McNamara, Video by Kai Boggild, EGU 2017 press assistants.

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