GeoEd: I’m a Geoscientist 2015

Imagine a talent show where contestants get voted off depending on their skills in their area of choice. Then imagine that this talent show is populated by geoscientists with school students voting them off based on the scientist’s ability to communicate their research well. This is the basis of an educational initiative called I’m a Geoscientist, a spinoff of UK’s I’m a Scientist. I’m a Geoscientist is funded by the EGU and, as such, it’s open to Union members, as well as all teachers who have participated in EGU’s Geoscience Information For Teachers (GIFT) workshops.

The first event of the programme ran in the summer of 2014 and following its success, was repeated in March of this year. A total of 200 students, from across 13 international schools, were able to engage with and learn from five European geoscientists. Students connected with the scientists by talking to them directly during hour-long live chats, by posting questions to them (ASK) or by reading the scientists on-line profile. The participating students enjoyed the event, with 99% (!) of registered students actively taking part by putting questions to the scientists and/or voting for them to remain in the competition.

I'm a Geo_Report1

Over the two week event, the scientists were faced with in excess of 250 ASK questions! The students were particularly interested in aspects of the geoscientists’ research, meaning they came up with well-thought-out questions covering a number of fields: the geoscience of other planets, extreme events and super volcanoes. “Oceans are very big and vast, can they really be threatened by human action?” It wasn’t just geosciences the students wanted to know about. The scientists also had to field questions about the practical aspects of their, such as: “What was your biggest challenge while working in the field?”, and share study and career tips.


The on-line chats where lively too. The scientists proved to be good at communicating the essence of what geoscience is, allowing students to start making connections between the geosciences and wider culture such as referencing books and sci-fi. Students were enthused by the discussions and often wanted to know more, asking ‘what if?’ style questions. Faced with some challenging queries the scientists did a great job of making even the most complex science accessible to the inquisitive students.

“How long could we survive without the atmosphere?” (student)

“We wouldn’t survive very long at all without the atmosphere! We need air to breath, but also the atmosphere keeps us safe from the sun! Without the atmosphere the heat from the sun would boil away all the oceans :s” (Rhian Meara, scientist).

After a hectic two weeks of questioning, probing and voting, Andi Rudersdorf, a PhD candidate in seismology at Aachen University, Germany, was crowned the winner of the 2015 event. Of his time in the competition Andi says “I learned a lot! I learned from the other contestants, from finding answers to challenging questions, and also from the students!” Being voted for by the students as the event champion, Andi wins €500 to communicate his work with the wider public. “With the money I would prepare a day out for many, many interested students to understand what earthquakes and natural hazards mean to all of us in real life.” It’s not just about the scientists! In recognition of great engagement and questions during the event, one of the participating students will also receive a certificate.

The scientists who took part in the 2015 event.

The scientists who took part in the 2015 event.

If you would like to get in contact with the EGU about I’m a Geoscientist or any of our other education initiatives, please contact Bárbara Ferreira at You can also read the full report on the event here.

General Assembly 2015 – Highlights

It’s been just over a month since the EGU General Assembly 2015 in Vienna. The conference this year was a great success with 4,870 oral, 8,489 poster, and 705 PICO presentations. There were 577 unique scientific sessions, complimented by an impressive 310 side events, making for an interesting and diverse programme.

The conference brought together 11,837 scientists from 108 countries, 23% of which were students. 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.

Why not watch this video of the best bits of the conference and highlights of a productive week?

The conference this year, as showcased in the highlights video, celebrate a theme: A voyage through scales. The theme was an invitation to contemplate the Earth’s extraordinary variability extending from milliseconds to its age, from microns to the size of the planet. The range of scales in space, in time – in space-time – is truly mindboggling. Their complexity challenges our ability to measure, to model, to comprehend. The range of scales were explored across four exhibition spots throughout the conference centre.

One of the exhibitions, ‘The scales in art‘, invited conference participants to participate in the dialogue between science and art. At the space, attendees watched the artistic interpretation of the theme developing over the week, with artist Eva Petrič.

We hope to see many of you at next year’s EGU General Assembly 2016 which takes place on: 17 – 22 April 2016, in Vienna, Austria.

Meet the experts: The future of solar-terrestrial research

Meet the experts: The future of solar-terrestrial research

This year’s General Assembly saw more Short Courses than ever before! With many of the 50 courses on offer having been organised by and/or for early career scientitst, there was no excuse not to pick up some new skills. In this guest blog post, Jone Peter Reistad a PhD candidate at the University of Bergen, outlines the details of a session which explored what the future might hold for research in the Solar- Terrestrial sciences. With active discussion between established and early career scietists this course was no doubt a hit.

During the General Assembly a new short course took place: Meet the Experts – The Future of Solar-Terrestrial Research. In this session, three senior scientists as well as two Early Career Scientists (ECS) were invited to talk about their visions for the future of the Solar-Terrestrial sciences. They were given the difficult task of identifying important challenges within their field of expertise that the present young scientists need to address in the future.

The speakers came from the different communities within the solar-terrestrial division. This included the solar-, heliospheric-, and the near Earth space communities. They all did an outstanding job in pointing out challenges and knowledge gaps within their field.

Starting at the Sun, Louise Harra, Professor of solar physics at University College London, pointed out how much more we know today due to all the recent solar missions. She assured us that more is definitely to come, as new missions are already in the pipe-line, and encouraged the young scientists to get involved in these future missions at an early stage. She had lots of ideas of what to look for with more precise instruments, and pointed out that a key to understand the evolution of the structures observed at the surface of the Sun is to be able to model the evolution of the structures below the surface using helioseismology.

From the Heliospheric community, emphasis was put on the more recent ability to track evolution of hot gases all the way from the Sun to the Earth. Alexis Rouillard, researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, told us that the recent satellite missions had contributed to strengthen the bonds between the Solar and Heliospheric communities so that the two now uses a more common terminology. This was a tendency he very much hoped to see continuing into the future.

The crucial link to Space Weather applications is the ability to predict the orientation of the magnetic field originating from the Sun when it reaches the Earth. This is by far the most uncertain factor in modeling the geomagnetic impact of a solar storm. Rouillard discussed how having a satellite closer to the Sun could possibility enhance our understanding of this propagation and hence revolutionise space weather predictions in the future.

Yuri Shprits, speaking at the session about the  future of solar-terrestrial research. (Credit:  Christer van der Meeren, Birkeland Centre for Space Science, University of Bergen)

Yuri Shprits, speaking at the session about the future of solar-terrestrial research. (Credit: Christer van der Meeren, Birkeland Centre for Space Science, University of Bergen)

Space Weather – the impact on the near Earth space from the outside – was also discussed from a more Earth-centered perspective. Communication through space-based instrumentation becomes increasingly important as more and more infrastructure is becoming dependent on satellite communications. A detailed knowledge of the mechanisms that influence our communications are therefore more important now than ever. Yuri Shprits, researcher at MIT and UCLA, emphasized that the Earths radiation belts is a key region, and that there are still open questions regarding their buildup and loss mechanisms.

This short course was a result of feedback from last years survey among Early Career Scientists in EGU. The short courses at EGU was highlighted as one of the most important activities that was directly targeting the ECS’s. As each division in EGU has their own ECS representative, you can influence the division specific activities for young scientists by contacting your respective ECS representative. Visit for more information about the Early Career Scientist activity within the EGU.


By Jone Peter Reistad, PhD Candiadte at the University of Bergen.

Iceland’s Bárðarbunga-Holuhraun: a remarkable volcanic eruption

Iceland’s Bárðarbunga-Holuhraun: a remarkable volcanic eruption

A six month long eruption accompanied by caldera subsidence and huge amounts of emitted gasses and extruded lavas; there is no doubt that the eruption of the Icelandic volcano in late 2014 and early 2015 was truly remarkable. In a press conference, (you can live stream it here), which took place during the recent EGU General Assembly, scientists reported on the latest from the volcano.

Seismic activity in this region of Iceland had been ongoing since 2007, but in late August 2014 a swarm of earthquakes indicated that the activity at Bárðarbunga-Holuhraun was ramping up a notch. By August 18th, over 2600 earthquakes had been registered by the seismometer network, ranging in magnitude between M1.5 and M4.5. Scientist now know that one of the main drivers of the activity was the collapse of the ice-filled Bárðarbunga caldera.

Caldera collapses -where the roof of a magma chamber collapses as a result of the chamber emptying during a volcanic eruption – are rare; there have only been seven recorded events this century. The Bárðarbunga eruption is the first caldera collapse to have occurred in Iceland since 1875. They can be very serious events which result in catastrophic eruptions (e.g. the Toba eruption of 74,000 BP). In other cases the formation of the large cauldron happens over time, with the surface of the volcano slowly subsiding as vast amounts of magma are drained away via surface lava flows and the formation of dykes. Bárðarbunga caldera subsided slowly and progressively, much more so than is common for this type of eruption, to form a depression approximately 8km wide and 60m deep.

“The associated volcanic eruption, which took place 40km away from the caldera, was the largest, by volume and mass of erupted materials, recorded in Iceland in the past 230 years”, described Magnus T. Gudmundsson, Professor at the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland, during the press conference.

If the facts and figures above aren’t sufficiently impressive, the eruption at Holuhraun also produced the largest amount of lava on the island since 1783, with a total volume of over 1.6 km3 and stretching over more than 85 km4. In places, the lava flows where 30 m thick!

The impressive figures shouldn’t detract from the significance of the events that took place during those six months: scientists were able to observe the processes by which new land is made on Earth! Major rifting episodes like this “only happen once every 50 years or so”, explained Gudmundsson.

So what exactly have scientists learnt? Most divergent boundaries – where two plates pull apart from one another – are found at Mid-Ocean Ridges, meaning there is little opportunity to study rifting episodes at the Earth’s surface. The eruption at Bárðarbunga-Holuhraun offered researchers the unique opportunity to take a closer look at how rifting takes place; something which so far has only been possible at the Afar rift in Ethiopia.

New crust is generated at divergent plate margins, commonly fed by vertical sheet dykes – narrow, uniformly thick sheets of igneous material originating from underlying magma chambers. Dykes at divergent plate boundaries are common because the crust is being stretched and weakened. One of the clusters of seismic activity at Bárðarbunga-Holuhraun was consistent with the formation of a dyke. The seismic signal showed that the magma from the Bárðarbunga caldera, rather than being transported vertically upwards to the surface, was in fact being transported laterally, forming a magma filled fissure which stretched 45 km away from Bárðarbunga. This video, from the Icelandic Met Office, helps to visualise the growth of the dyke over time.

The figure shows all the earthquakes which took place in the region in and around Bárðarbunga, from 16 August 2016 until 3 May 2015. The bar on the right counts days since the onset of events, and it gives a colour code indicative of the time passed. The dark blue colour implies the oldest earthquakes whereas the red colour implies the youngest earthquakes. The earthquakes clearly show the growth of a lateral dyke, headed northeast, away from the Bárðarbunga caldera. Click here to enlarge the map. (Credit: Icelandic Meteorological Office)

The figure shows all the earthquakes which took place in the region in and around Bárðarbunga, from 16 August 2016 until 3 May 2015. The bar on the right counts days since the onset of events, and it gives a colour code indicative of the time passed. The dark blue colour implies the oldest earthquakes whereas the red colour implies the youngest earthquakes. The earthquakes clearly show the growth of a lateral dyke, headed northeast, away from the Bárðarbunga caldera. Click here to enlarge the map. (Credit: Icelandic Meteorological Office)

Further study of the dyke using understanding gained the from propagating seismicity, ground deformation mapped by Global Positioning System (GPS), and interferometric analysis of satellite radar images (InSAR), allowed scientists to observe how the ground around the dyke changed in height and shape. The measurements showed the dyke was not a continuous feature, but rather it appeared broken into segments which had variable orientations. Modelling of the dyke revealed that it was the interaction of the laterally moving magma with the local topography, as well as stresses in the ground cause by the divergent plates, that lead to the unusual shape of the dyke.

On average, magma flowed in the dyke at a rate of 260 m3/s, but the speed of its propagation was extremely variable. When the magma reached natural barriers, it would slow down, only picking up momentum again once pressure built up sufficiently to overcome the barriers. Shallow depressions observed in the ice of Vatnajokull glacier (the white area in the map above) – known as Ice cauldrons – were caused by minor eruptions underneath the ice at the tips of some of the dyke segments. The dyke propagation slowed down once the fissure eruption at Holuhraun started in September 2014.

What has the Bárðarbunga-Holuhraun taught scientists about rifting processes? It seems that at divergent plate boundaries, in order to create new crust over long distances, magma generated at central volcanoes (in this case Bárðarbunga), is distributed via segmented lateral dykes, as opposed to being erupted directly above the magma chamber.


By Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer


Further reading and references

You can stream the full press conference here:

Details of the speakers at the press conference are available at:

The speakers at the press conference also reported on the gas emissions as a result of the Holuhraun fissure eruption and the implications for human health. You can read more on this here: Bardarbunga eruption gases estimated.

Sigmundsson, F., A. Hooper, Hreinsdóttir, et al.: Segmented lateral dyke growth in a rifting event at Bárðarbunga volcanic system, Iceland, Nature, 517, 191-195, doi:10.1038/nature1411, 2015.

Sigmundsson, F., A. Hooper, Hreinsdóttir, et al.: Segmented lateral dyke growth in a rifting event at Bárðarbunga volcanic system, Iceland, Geophys. Res. Abstr.,17, EGU2015-10322-1, 2015 (conference abstract).

Hannah I. Reynolds, H. T., M. T. Gudmundsson, and T. Högnadóttir: Subglacial melting associated with activity at Bárdarbunga volcano, Iceland, explored using numerical reservoir simulation, Geophys. Res. Abstr.,17, EGU2015-10753-2, 2015 (conference abstract).


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: