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EGU

Gender equality in the geosciences: is it a numbers game?

Gender equality in the geosciences: is it a numbers game?

Here’s a tricky question for you. Try and name a woman in geoscience who has won an award for their studies in the last 5 years? How about a man? Chances are it is much easier to think of a male geoscientist who has won an award than a female one, but is that because more men win awards in geoscience than women (compared to the number of male and female geoscientists)?

This was the question that was raised at an innovative session co-organised by the European Research Council on ‘Promoting and supporting equality of opportunities in geosciences’, at the European Geosciences Union’s General Assembly in April this year. The session focused on gender based equality, and addressed the experiences of women from subject-based, institutional, national, and organisational levels. As well as the individual experiences described in the session, questions were also asked more broadly of the role of large organisations such as the publishing houses (including Nature and Science), the European Research Council and EGU – with a particular focus on recognition and awards.

Awards are not only useful for career progression for early career scientists (ECS), but also raise the profile of the researchers gaining them, who act as role models for junior staff and students. If women are missing out on awards that could not only impact negatively on the career prospects of those individuals, but also reflect a bigger issue in how women in geoscience are rewarded (or not) for their work.

The EGU has a unique insight into the question of gender equality in the geosciences as it has some data from its members, but also presents several of our discipline’s most prestigious awards and medals, to both advanced and early careers scientists. Alberto Montanari, the outgoing Chair of the EGU Awards Committee, presented the results of an investigation into the balance of male and female award winners.

First, some numbers. Every year the European Geosciences Union awards dozens of prizes to some of the world’s leading geoscientists. These prizes cover Union Medals and Awards, Division Medals, and Division Outstanding Early Career Scientists Awards (previously known as the Division Outstanding Young Scientists Award) . All award or medal nominees must be members of EGU to be eligible. The 2016 awards received 155 nominations, of which 16% were for female scientists. Of the total 49 prizes given this year eight were for female scientists (three of those were for early careers scientists). What is also important to note is the total number of EGU members divided by gender. In 2015, 69% of members were male and 31% were female, with the difference between male and female member proportions more pronounced for early careers scientists.

How visible are women in geoscience? (Mapping the Algerian shoreline credit: Filippo Dallosso, distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

How visible are women in geoscience? (Mapping the Algerian shoreline. Credit: Filippo Dallosso, distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Secondly came an interesting question – how do we compute gender equality for award winners? Do we calculate the total number of female award winners per female membership percentage, or the total number of female award winners by the whole population of members – male and female? This question raises an interesting dilemma as both methods have positives and negatives. If we calculate the number of female winners by the population of female members then essentially this is saying men and women have an equal chance of winning within their gender grouping. However this masks the potential for women to be underrepresented within the organisation, as is currently the case in EGU right now.

On the other hand if we calculate the number of female award winners by the total population of members (male or female) the female winners become equally as visible as the male winners. This can act as a catalyst that places the EGU as a gender balanced society, which could in theory encourage greater female membership. On the negative side, it does make it more competitive (proportionally) for members that want to win an award, and this is not what gender equality should be about.

When asked which of the two approaches he thought would be more useful in promoting greater gender equality in the geosciences, Montanari said:

“My opinion is that it is more appropriate to refer to the percentage of female awardees over the female membership. I think this is much more protective for women themselves, as awarding excessive recognition weakens the value of awarded women. Many women have confirmed this interpretation.”

He also added:

“This is a delicate question that would deserve a more profound discussion.”

One final thought on this issue, came, repeatedly from both the audience and the speakers. Although it is vitally important that gender equality is addressed in geoscience, it is not the only type of equality that needs to be examined. We need to be aiming for parity in racial, national and disability accessibility, to name just a few areas and it is hoped that in the future, EGU sessions like this one will continue to challenge our preconceptions of equality and fairness in our science.

By Hazel Gibson, EGU General Assembly Press Assistant and Plymouth University PhD student.

Hazel is a science communicator and PhD student researching the public understanding of the geological subsurface at Plymouth University using a blend of cognitive psychology and geology, and was one of our Press Assistants during the week of the 2016 General Assembly.

 

Volcanic darkness marked the dawn of the Dark Ages

Volcanic darkness marked the dawn of the Dark Ages

The dawn of the Dark Ages coincided with a volcanic double event – two large eruptions in quick succession. Combined, they had a stronger impact on the Earth’s climate than any other volcanic event – or sequence of events – in the last 1200 years. Historical reports reveal that a mysterious dust cloud dimmed the sun’s rays between in 536 and 537 CE, a time followed by global societal decline. Now, we know the cause.

By combining state-or-the-art ice core measurements with historical records and a climate model, researchers from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Germany, and a host of international organisations showed that the eruptions were responsible for a rapid climatic downturn. The findings, published in Climatic Change, were presented at the EGU General Assembly in April 2016.

Explosive volcanic eruptions typically emit large volumes of ash and gas high into the atmosphere. The way this ash spreads depends both on how high up it’s propelled and the prevailing weather conditions. When it reaches the stratosphere, it has the capacity to spread far and wide over the Earth, meaning the eruption will have much more than a local impact.

Individually, these events were strong, but not that strong. Their combined force was what made their affect of the earth’s climate so significant. They occurred closely in time and were both in the Northern hemisphere.

Volcanic emissions reflect light back into space. Consequently, less light and, importantly, less heat reaches the surface, causing the Earth to cool. Diminishing sunlight following the eruptions resulted in a 2 °C drop in temperature, poor crop yields and population starvation. The drop in temperature led to a 3-5 year decline in Scandinavian agricultural productivity – a serious problem.

This double event had a major impact on agriculture in the northern hemisphere – particularly over Scandinavia. It’s likely that societies could withstand one bad summer, but several would have been a problem.

An ash covered plant via Wikimedia Commons.

An ash covered plant via Wikimedia Commons.

There’s agricultural evidence to support the theory too. Pollen records read from sediment cores can be used to work out when agricultural crops covered the land and when the land was ruled by nature. Scandinavian cores suggest there was a shift from agricultural crops to forest around the time of the eruption. There is some scepticism regarding the cause of this shift, but the implication is that when food decreases, so does the population, This means there’s no need to farm as much land, nor enough people to do so. In the absence of agriculture, nature takes over and trees once again cover the land.

By Sara Mynott, EGU Press Assistant and PhD candidate at the University of Exeter.

Sara is a science writer and marine science PhD candidate from the University of Exeter. She’s investigating the impact of climate change on predator-prey relationships in the ocean, and was one of our Press Assistants this year’s General Assembly.

GeoEd: Planet Press – geoscience news for children

GeoEd: Planet Press – geoscience news for children

Inspiring children to be interested in the geosciences isn’t always an easy task. While dinosaurs, volcanoes and earthquakes are a sure hook (rightly so!), there is also much more to the Earth, ocean and planetary sciences!  Not only that, but new developments happen much more quickly than the lifetime of a textbook, meaning that breaking science is often underreported in the classroom.  However, distilling the complex science behind ocean dead zones, how scientists measure the height of ice sheets and the history of European droughts, into children friendly language which captures the imagination isn’t plain sailing.

In September 2014 the EGU developed the Planet Press initiative – engaging and bitesize press releases for kids, parents and educators to help them get to grips with the latest geoscientific research going on across the world. Planet Presses are primarily aimed at 7 to 13 year olds, but can be used by children in other age groups too!

How are Planet Presses made?

The starting point is a press release – a statement released to journalists to alert them about exciting and newsworthy research published in one of the EGU’s open access journals.

Example of a Planet Press Release: Studying glaciers with animated satellite images, published September 2015.

Example of a Planet Press Release: Studying glaciers with animated satellite images, published September 2015.

A Planet Press (PP), is then written in-house by a member of the EGU’s communication team (mostly by the Media and Communications Manager, Bárbara Ferreira), based on an existing EGU press release.

It is reviewed by two scientists, as well as an educator to ensure the science content is accurate and the writing is appropriate for the target age group. In addition, fun printable versions are then made for classroom use.

Because Planet Presses are intended for use across Europe, the final step of the process is to have them translated into various languages. This is done by volunteer scientists and educators.

Planet Press, two years on

Since the start of the project, 36 PPs (out of 36 press releases) have been published. You can download copies of all the existing texts on the EGU website. The texts have been translated approximately 220 times, including into Serbian, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and many other languages too. This truly herculean task has been accomplished by a team of over 60 volunteers, without whom the Planet Press project wouldn’t be the success it is today. (All figures correct at time of publication of blog post).

“This is one of the most exciting and rewarding projects I work on at the EGU,” says Bárbara. “Planet Press has received incredibly positive feedback from both scientists and educators, and when I presented it at the EGU 2016 General Assembly, many in the audience gave constructive and useful suggestions for improvement, which we’ve since implemented in the most recent texts. Further, whenever we put out calls for volunteers on our social media channels, I always receive plenty of emails from people interested in helping out with Planet Press, and who are extremely keen to dedicate some of their time and energy to getting geoscientific news to kids around Europe (and further afield).”

Lessons learnt and challenges

The coordination of the volunteers is time consuming and one of many side projects and tasks the EGU’s Media and Communications Manager works on. Despite this limitation, the project has received praise from scientists who enjoy seeing their work being made accessible to a younger audience, as well as educators who use the PPs in the classroom.

But it is precisely distributing the texts to a wide number of educators and ensuring it reaches an extensive demographic of children which remains one of the main challenges of the project. Currently, newly produced releases are advertised on the EGU’s social media channels, as well as the EGU’s website and amongst the educators part of the EGU’s GIFT programme. However, many of those who receive the announcements are not the target audience of the Planet Presses, though we are working to change that and get Planet Press to reach more schools kids across Europe.

Not only that, once the texts have been produced and distributed, measuring their impact: how well they do, how useful educators and children find them and how well they achieve their aim of engaging children with the Earth and planetary sciences, remains very difficult to establish and quantify. This is something we are planning on improving in the future.

Languages into which Planet Presses have been translated into so far (figure correct as of April 2016). Credit: Bárbara Ferreira / EGU

Languages into which Planet Presses have been translated into so far (figure correct as of April 2016). Credit: Bárbara Ferreira / EGU

A final hurdle is the dearth of translations in a number of languages including Slovenian, Russian, Dutch, Croatian and Swedish. So, if you feel inspired to contribute to the effort of translating existing releases, or indeed reviewing the scientific or educational content of the PPs, please contact Bárbara Ferreira.

By Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer

This post is based on ‘Planet Press: an EGU initiative to bring geoscientific research to children’, a presentation by Bárbara Ferreira, at the EGU 2016 General Assembly in session EOS4 – Communication and Education in Geoscience: Practice, Research and Reflection. You can download a copy of Bárbara presentation here.

Planet Press, has the support of the EGU Committee on Education. We are grateful for the help of Jane Robb, former EGU Educational Fellow, with launching the project. Planet Press is inspired by Space Scoop, an initiative by UNAWE, the EU-Universe Awareness organisation, that brings astronomy news to children every week.

 

General Assembly 2016 – Highlights

General Assembly 2016 – Highlights

It’s been a month and a half since the EGU General Assembly 2016 in Vienna. The conference this year was a great success with 863 oral, 10,320 poster, and 947 PICO presentations. A further 619 unique scientific sessions were complimented by an impressive 321 side events, creating an interesting and diverse programme.The conference brought together 13,650 scientists from 109 countries, 25% were students and 53% early career scientists (under the age of 35 years).

Keeping abreast of everything that was going on throughout the week was made easier due to the distribution of 15,000 copies of EGU Today, and as a result of a keen media presence and their reporting of the scientific sessions. Thousands of visits to the webstreams, as well as GeoLog, meant those at the conference and those who couldn’t make it stayed tuned to the best of the conference! We thank all of you very much for your attendance and active contribution to the conference.

Help us make the General Assembly next year (23–28 April 2017, Vienna, Austria) even better by filling out the feedback questionnaire. It only takes a few minutes, but hurry, it closes on Friday the 11th June!

To reminisce about a productive week, why not watch this video of the best bits of the conference?

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