GeoLog

Early Career Scientists

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)

 

 

 

 

Volcanic ash layers in Svalbard hold clues to the formation of the North Atlantic

Volcanic ash layers in Svalbard hold clues to the formation of the North Atlantic

This guest post by Dr Morgan Jones (a Researcher in Volcanology at the Centre of Earth Evolution and Dynamics (CEED) at the University of Oslo, Norway) describes the latest findings of his multidisciplinary research into how the North Atlantic formed. His open access study, in collaboration with colleagues at CEED and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is published in the Nature Journal: Scientific Reports. This post is modified from a version which first appeared on John Stevenson’s blog, Volcan01010. Read the original post.

Summary

The Earth’s tectonic plates have pulled apart and come together multiple times during its long history. These processes leave hallmarks of the past layouts of continents, which allow scientists to reconstruct how the plates have moved through time. While we know from the geological record that these movements took place, it is sometimes difficult to work out when key events occurred and their correct order. One such example is just before the formation of the northeast Atlantic Ocean, around 62-55 million years ago, when there were several changes in the relative motions of North America, Greenland, and Eurasia (the combined landmass of Europe and Asia) in just a few million years.

A technique called radioisotopic dating allows us to determine the exact age of volcanic rocks. This study shows that the Greenland plate began to push against part of the Eurasian plate around 61.8 million years ago, leading to the formation of a mountain belt between Greenland and Svalbard. This precise age of first compression occurred at the same time as other changes around the edge of the Greenland plate. For the first time, this study provides evidence that these events are connected.

This gives scientists who work in plate tectonic reconstructions the ability to refine their models to understand how North America and Eurasia began to break apart.

Plate Tectonics in the Palaeocene

The Palaeocene epoch was between 66-55.8 million years ago, occurring after the Cretaceous period. The between the Cretaceous and the Palaeocene 66 million years ago is marked by the well-known catastrophe that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The Palaeocene was also an important time period for plate tectonic motions in the northern hemisphere. At the time when dinosaurs became extinct, the North Atlantic Ocean was still in its infancy and seafloor spreading did not extend further north than Canada and Portugal. Over the course of the next few million years, North America and Eurasia began to break apart, which eventually resulted in a seaway that connected the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

However, the break up was a complicated process. As the Atlantic Ocean grew northward, branches opened on either side of southern Greenland (between Canada to the west and Scotland/Norway to the east). The western arm pulled apart first, but at some point both of these rift zones were active, and a mountain range was formed in what is now Svalbard. This meant that for a short period (geologically speaking) Greenland was its own tectonic plate, moving independently of both North America and Eurasia.

The aim of our study is to pinpoint exactly when Greenland and Svalbard began to push together, as this compression is directly related to the rifting further south. This means that understanding the geological history of Svalbard can shed light on when and why Greenland became its own tectonic plate.

The Geology of Svalbard

The rock outcrops in western Svalbard are intensely folded and cut by long faults. They were once part of a mountain chain that formed due to Greenland and Svalbard pushing together. This was followed later by sideways movement as the northeast Atlantic Ocean began to open; pulling Greenland and Svalbard apart.

The rocks in south-central Svalbard, adjacent to this ancient mountain range, are sedimentary deposits that were formed in deltas and shallow seas. Mountain ranges often have low-lying regions alongside them (called basins) where sediments accumulate. Modern examples include the Po Valley next to the Alps in Italy and the Ganges Basin next to the Himalayas in India.

Importantly, these basins form at the same time as the mountains grow, which means that techniques to work out the age of rock formations can be used to accurately date when both the basin and the mountains started to form.

Dating First Compression between Svalbard and Greenland

An important tool for working out the age of a rock is radioisotopic dating. Radioactive isotopes of elements are unstable, meaning that over time they will degrade from one form to another. The half-life (the rate at which radioactive decay occurs) of each system varies from milliseconds to billions of years, which means that different isotope systems can be used for dating, depending on how far back in time your interest lies.

This is an edited version of Figure 5 from the paper, created using the open source plate tectonics software GPlates by Grace Shephard and Morgan Jones. It shows a regional reconstruction of how the tectonic plates were 62 million years ago. The blacked dashed lines show where the plate boundaries between North America, Greenland, and Eurasia are predicted to have been. The light blue areas show the approximate extent of seafloor in the Labrador Sea and in Baffin Bay. The orange areas show the rifting zone to the east of Greenland where the northeast Atlantic would later open. The purple areas show the known extent of magma intrusions and volcanic deposits from the first pulse of the North Atlantic Igneous Province (NAIP). The purple star is where the centre of the mantle plume is predicted to be at this time. The red arrows show the onset of compression between Greenland and Svalbard, beginning at 61.8 million years ago. The volcano symbols mark where the ash layers in Svalbard came from.

When considering millions to billions of years in the past, uranium-lead (U-Pb) dating is used as 238U has a half-life of about 4.5 billion years. Zircon crystals are ideal for this method as they form in cooling magma chambers. Zircons can have a high uranium concentration, which means that if they are found in volcanic deposits such as lavas or volcanic ash layers, they can be used to accurately date those rocks.

The sediments in Svalbard have numerous volcanic ash layers preserved within them. These ash layers are likely to have originated from volcanoes in northern Greenland and Ellesmere Island, now over 1000 km away across the ocean.

Based on the dating of these ash layers it is possible to calculate when sedimentation first began in central Svalbard. This age of valley formation, and therefore the initiation of compression between Greenland and Svalbard, is predicted to be start around 61.8 million years ago.

This age is significant because it overlaps with key events further south. Around 61.6 million years ago there was a dramatic change in the sedimentation in the North Sea from limestone to sandstone and siltstone. The speed of seafloor spreading increased between Canada and Greenland, and many faults were active along the edges of eastern Greenland.

The synchronicity of these events strongly indicates a common driving force affecting all margins of Greenland.

Potential Causes

A remaining mystery is what caused Greenland to change direction.

There are several possible candidates that could have caused the shift, either individually or together.

The acceleration of seafloor spreading in the Labrador Sea has the potential to drive changes in relative plate motions. It is also plausible that events further afield may be important. Greenland was in between the North American and Eurasian plates, so the change in motion may be a result of forces acting on one of these much larger plates.

Another possibility is the arrival of a mantle plume at the base of the crust. Mantle plumes bring considerable heat from deep in the Earth, resulting in widespread crustal melting and volcanic activity. The North Atlantic Igneous Province (NAIP) is one such example. The first pulse of magma arrived at the surface around 62 million years ago and is still causing enhanced melting today to form Iceland.

The scale of volcanic and magmatic products from the NAIP is truly enormous. Current estimates put the total amount of magma at 6 to 10 million cubic kilometres. Much of this activity is still exposed along the edges of the northeast Atlantic, including the British Isles, Faroe Islands, and East Greenland. There are also considerable deposits found in West Greenland. It is therefore possible that the change in plate motions may be connected to this pulse of magma. However, further work is needed to test this hypothesis.

By Dr Morgan Jones, Researcher in Volcanology at the Centre of Earth Evolution and Dynamics (CEED) at the University of Oslo, Norway

GeoPolicy: How can geoscientists make the most of the Horizon 2020 programme?

GeoPolicy: How can geoscientists make the most of the Horizon 2020 programme?

As a geoscientist, I’m sure that you have heard of Horizon 2020, an EU programme that is allocating almost €80 billion to research and innovation over 7 years (from 2014 to 2020). This money is distributed throughout various scientific divisions and provides a plethora of opportunities for scientists, not only within the EU but also throughout the world.

Unfortunately, the magnitude of the Horizon 2020 programme has resulted in all the potential opportunities and openings offered to scientists, research institutes and innovators being difficult to navigate.

Luckily for you, this blog will outline some of the most relevant Horizon 2020 geoscience opportunities so that you don’t have to spend hours trying to map out the many existing options!

Horizon 2020: a summary

The Horizon 2020 programme follows the seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7), which ran from 2007 until 2013 with a budget of just over €50 billion. Research framework programmes were initially established by the EU to coordinate national research, pool research funding, increase knowledge sharing and reduce duplication.

Horizon 2020 aims to generate world-class science and technology to drive economic growth within the EU and be bigger, simpler and smarter than previous programmes. It consists of three primary research and innovation pillars:

In addition to these three pillars, there are two horizontal and three smaller programmes. These pillars and programmes are depicted in the figure below.

 

Horizon 2020 Structure. Credit: http://cerneu.web.cern.ch/horizon2020/structure

 

Each pillar and programme offers funding and opportunities that you may be able to access depending on the focus of your research. This blog will focus on Excellent Science as this is believed to be the most relevant pillar to the geoscience community.

Excellent Science

As you can see in the figure above, the Excellent Science Pillar has four primary components, all of which offer opportunities to researchers.

  1. European Research Council’s frontier research encourages high-risk, high-reward proposals in an attempt to generate revolutionary science and innovation by providing a number of different grants, including:

 

    • ERC Starting Grants: support talented early-career scientists (with 2 – 7 years of experience) who have already shown potential as a research leader
    • ERC Consolidator grants: fund researchers with 7 – 12 years of experience who would like to consolidate their independence or who would like to strengthen a recently established, independent research team
    • ERC Advanced Grants: empower individual researchers who have already established themselves as independent research leaders
    • Proof of Concept Grants: are secondary sources of funding for researchers who have already received an ERC grant for the frontier research project and now want to explore the commercial or societal potential of their work

2. Future and emerging technologies supports the following collaborative research initiatives that aim to extend Europe’s capacity for advanced innovation:

    • FET Open: funds projects that focus on new technologies and that are in the early stages of development
    • FET Proactive: seeks to establish a critical mass of European researchers on emerging, exploratory themes and ultimately build-up a new interdisciplinary research community
    • FET Flagships: fund 10-year initiatives that involve hundreds of European researchers who focus on solving an ambitious scientific and technological challenge e.g. developing uses for new materials such as Graphene

3. Marie-Sklodowska-Curie individual fellowships provide innovative research training, attractive career options and knowledge-exchange opportunities to scientists across all disciplines. Key opportunities within this fellowship that may appeal to geoscientists include:

    • Innovative Training Networks (ITN): provide up to four years of funding for a joint doctoral-level research training programme that is implemented by at least three partners from in and outside academia
    • European Researchers’ Night (NIGHT): is a Europe-wide public event dedicated to the sharing of science and engaging the public. The next NIGHT will take place on the 29thof December 2017 in over 300 EU cities. Find a NIGHT near you!

For information about science-policy fellowships and training opportunities you can also visit last month’s GeoPolicy blog on science-policy placements.

4. Research infrastructure (including e-infrastructures) aims to further European research infrastructure for 2020 and beyond. The primary geoscience related outcome of this Excellent Science component is:

As well as the opportunities within the Excellent Science pillar of the Horizon 2020 programme, there are numerous overarching initiatives, tenders and training courses which may be of interest to some geoscientists

  • Researchers are able to join the Horizon 2020 Database by creating a profile outlining their relevant fields and experience. Once registered, researchers may be called upon to provide expert advice and contribute to various projects, evaluations and policy designs
  • Scientists can also play a more active role by submitting a proposal through the Horizon 2020’s Call for Proposals. These calls are continually updated and require a collaborative approach with at least 3 organisations from different EU Member States or associated countries. Various EU partner search services are available for researchers who want to contribute to a project but who are lacking collaborators
  • The Horizon 2020 programme runs innovation competitions. These competitions revolve around prominent societal problems and offer cash prizes to whoever can find the most effective solution or best meet the defined challenge
  • Research institutes within widening countries may find the Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation scheme particularly beneficial. Primarily focused on Eastern Europe, it has several initiates that aim to ensure the equal division of innovation and subsequent social and economic benefits across the EU

Despite offering so many opportunities to researchers, the Horizon 2020 programme is not without criticism. Like almost all funding programmes, it is highly competitive.

The proposals submitted during the first 100 Calls for Proposals within the Horizon 2020 programme only had a 14% success rate. While not a surprising percentage, it is approximately 6% lower than the overall proposal submission rate success for the previous research Framework Programme (FP7). The grant and proposal style of funding has also been said to fuel the propagation of casual academic contracts. These casual contracts often result in high competition for positions and increased pressure on researchers due to the continuous tendering and application process.

The Horizon 2020 programme has released an Interim Evaluation Report which despite not mentioning the proliferation of casual contracts, did acknowledge the need for additional funding, intensified international cooperation and greater data accessibility. The Interim Report also highlighted the Horizon 2020’s successes including increased efficiency compared with its FP7 predecessor, scientific breakthroughs, the generation of economic growth within the EU and the strengthening of research infrastructure.

Research and innovation funding post 2020 is yet to be secured but potential for continued growth within the sector was discussed during the Research & Innovation – Shaping our Future conference and in the Investing in the European Future We Want publication.

For further information regarding the Horizon 2020 programme and other EU funding instruments, you can email the Research Enquiry Service or Horizon 2020 National Contact Points.

References 

Academia is now incompatible with family life, thanks to casual contracts: https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2016/dec/02/short-term-contracts-university-academia-family

European research funding: it’s like Robin Hood in reversehttps://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2014/nov/07/european-research-funding-horizon-2020

Horizon 2020 statistics: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/horizon-2020-statistics

Science and Innovation Strategic Policy Plans for the 2020s (EU, AU, UK): Will They Prepare Us for the World in 2050?: http://redfame.com/journal/index.php/aef/article/viewFile/909/851

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.

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