General Assembly

GeoTalk: Talking about ‘ocean burps’ with James Rae

GeoTalk: Talking about ‘ocean burps’ with James Rae

Trying to understand the reasons behind the global warming of our climate is a never ending quest for scientists across the geosciences. Scientists often rely on deciphering past change to help us understand, and perhaps predict, what might happen in the future. Many will be familiar with the common saying ‘the past is the key to the future’. This is exactly what James Rae, a research fellow at the Earth & Environmental Sciences Department at the Universty of St. Andrews and this year’s recipient of the Biogeosciences Division Outstanding Young Scientists Award, has been focusing his efforts on. James’ research interest lies in understanding past climate change and he was recognised by the Biogeosciences Division after the publication of his research into ocean ‘burps’ – he and his colleagues found that changes in ocean circulation in the North Pacific caused a massive ‘burp’ of CO2 to be released from the deep ocean into the atmosphere, helping to warm the planet sufficiently to trigger the end of the ice age.

Before we get stuck into the details of your work, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little more about yourself and your career?

My name’s James Rae and I’m a geoscientist at the University of St Andrews. I actually grew up just down the road – in Edinburgh – but only just moved back to Scotland last year, after studies in Oxford, Bristol, and California. The locals tell me that the transition from LA to St Andrews shouldn’t be too tough – apparently St Andrews is “one of the sunniest places in the whole of Scotland”!

I got into geosciences through a love of the outdoors and outdoor sports – mountain biking, surfing, snowboarding, climbing – and though most of my work is now in a super clean lab, I still try to get out in the Scottish Highlands whenever possible.

My career to date has focussed on using geochemistry to reconstruct past environmental change. This means I make measurements of the chemistry of things like shells, fossils, rocks, and ice, which often reflect aspects of the environment they formed in. So by making a series of these measurements on fossil shells back through time we can see how the environment changed in the past. My specialty is using boron in tiny fossil shells, called foraminifera, to reconstruct past CO2 change.

So, ocean ‘burps’? During EGU 2015, you received the Biogeosciences Division Outstanding Young Scientists Award for your study of this unusual phenomenon. Can you tell us more about those?

One of the most interesting things about the ice ages of the last few million years is that they seem to be punctuated with really dramatic rapid climate change. The most recent examples of this are at the end of the last ice age – between about 20 and 10 thousand years ago – where we see intervals of rapid CO2 rise recorded in ice cores. The only place where you can quickly get enough carbon to drive these CO2 changes is the deep ocean. During ice ages we think CO2 gets hidden away beneath the waves, at water depths of 2000 – 5000m, and because the Pacific is so big it’s likely that a lot of this CO2 is stored down there. Other scientists had suggested that this CO2 remerged at the end of the last ice age in the ocean round Antarctica. However my research shows that it could also “burp” out in the North Pacific.

Schematic of how James use boron isotope measurements in foraminifera to reconstruct pH and CO2. Credit: James Rae

Schematic of how James use boron isotope measurements in foraminifera to reconstruct pH and CO2. Credit: James Rae

And how exactly did the release of CO2 in these ‘burps’ affect the climate of the ice age?

Our Pacific “burp” happens right at the beginning of the end of the last ice age – it coincides with the first CO2 rise that heralds the start of the deglaciation. It’s possible that the warming associated with the CO2 “burp” helped push the earth out of it’s ice age, though we need to do more work to test this. But even aside from the CO2, the change in circulation that drove this event had a big influence on local climate. Although most of the Northern Hemisphere is really cold at this time the North Pacific is actually quite warm, which I think is a result of this unusual circulation state.

So, the Northern Hemisphere was very cold at this time; can you describe a little more what the Earth might have looked at during this time and how the local climate of the North Pacific might have been different?

At the end of the last ice age massive ice sheets still covered much of North America and Northern Europe. Over St Andrews the ice was around a kilometre thick. Then, at the beginning of the last deglaciation, in an interval called Heinrich Stadial 1, the ice sheets round the North Atlantic start collapsing. This flooded the North Atlantic Ocean with fresh water and reduced the Atlantic overturning circulation that currently provides heat to this region. As a result much of the Northern Hemisphere got colder. However the climate in the North Pacific does something very different. Likely in response to the big cooling in the North Atlantic, there was a large change in the position of major rain belts, like the Westerly storm track and East Asian Monsoon, and we think this acted to make the North Pacific more salty. This led to a more vigorous overturning circulation in the Pacific, a regional warming, and a burp of CO2 release from the deep sea.

What is the next step, if you like, in order to better understand ocean ‘burps’?

At the moment our key evidence for the North Pacific burp comes from a single sediment core. To test the idea we really need to make more measurements from other cores in this region. Our main evidence for ocean CO2 change also currently comes from records from the deep ocean. One of my PhD students is currently making new records to test how much CO2 made it up from the deep to the surface ocean, and from there to the atmosphere. Finally, with collaborators in Switzerland and the US we’re also testing the physical driving mechanisms of this circulation change using state of the art climate models.

(L) An ocean cruise on which the sediment cores used in the study are collected. (R) Benthic foraminifera - James uses these to make measurements of the chemistry of these to reconstruct past climate change. Credit: James Rae

(L) An ocean cruise on which the sediment cores used in the study are collected. (R) Benthic foraminifera – James uses these to make measurements of the chemistry of these to reconstruct past climate change. Credit: James Rae

You’ve enjoyed success as a researcher, not least your 2015 EGU Award. As an early career researcher, do you have any words of advice for masters and PhD students who are hoping to pursue a career as a scientist in the Earth sciences?

Do what you really enjoy. This feeds in to everything else you do; it means you’ll work hard and carefully in lab, find the reading interesting, and be able to present your work effectively to your colleagues. We do science because we love it, so it’s really important to find topics within your field that you love working on. I think it’s also helpful to find skills to be a specialist in and be known for, but then to try to apply these broadly to big picture questions in geosciences.

Introducing the EGU Executive Office

With so many thinking the EGU’s activities are restricted to the organisation and running of the General Assembly, we thought we’d share a behind-the-scenes peek at the team who works year-round to promote the Earth, ocean and planetary sciences and the work of the members of the Union.

The EGU Office Team. From left to right: Philippe, Sarah, Bárbara, Robert, Laura, Christine and Leslie. Skye, in the front, is the energetic EGU office dog. (Credit: Bárbara Ferreira/EGU).

The EGU Office Team. From left to right: Philippe, Sarah, Bárbara, Robert, Laura, Christine and Leslie. Skye, in the front, is the energetic EGU office dog. (Credit: Bárbara Ferreira/EGU).

At the EGU Executive Office in Munich, Germany, you’ll find the Union’s headquarters. With a team of six employees, which grows to seven when a Union Fellow is appointed, the office runs the day-to-day activities of the EGU. We work year-round on assisting the EGU membership, running media and communications activities and the various EGU-related websites, among other activities. In these, we work in close collaboration with Copernicus, our publisher and conference organiser, and with the EGU Council and the various committees.

EGU Executive Secretary Philippe Courtial manages the office. With eight committees, the Union Council and the Executive board, it is also Philippe’s job to liaise between them all and assist them in their activities. Additionally, Philippe champions the work of the EGU and its members amongst our partner associations and by promoting the Union at conferences worldwide.

Robert Barsch is the Union’s Webmaster and System Administrator. He develops and maintains the EGU’s websites, including Imaggeo and the EGU Blogs, while at the same time taking care of the office’s IT needs. Christine Leidel is in charge of the EGU’s bookkeeping and handling travel expenses, while Leslie Todd provides administrative assistance, organises the Union’s business meetings and handles all membership issues. Leslie is also in charge of maintaining the all-important office coffee and biscuit supplies!

Keeping EGU members and other geoscientists, journalists and the broader public abreast of developments throughout the year falls to the EGU Communications Team. Overall coordination of these activities is the job of EGU Media and Communications Manager Bárbara Ferreira. Bárbara produces the EGU news items and press releases, the EGU’s monthly newsletter, and she also takes on the role of press officer at the annual General Assembly. Barbara is assisted by EGU Communications Officer Laura Roberts, who is in charge of the EGU’s online presence, including social media channels and the blogs. Additionally, she is the point of contact in the office for the Union’s early career scientist (ECS) membership.

The newest member of the EGU Office Team is Sarah Connors, the EGU Science Policy Fellow, who joined us in September this year. Sarah will be working to implement science-policy related activities for EGU scientists. You can learn more about Sarah’s role in this blog post.

To learn more about the EGU’s year-round activities why not visit our website? You’ll be able to find out more about some of our media and communications projects here. Our early career members can find information regarding jobs, career prospects, what’s on for the ECS community at the General Assembly, and much more on our dedicated ECS website.

A guide to convening a session at the General Assembly – Part II

A guide to convening a session at the General Assembly – Part II

Convening a session at a conference can seem daunting, especially if you are an early career research and a first-time convener. That’s why we’ve put together this two part series to outline the main steps of the process, with more detailed instructions to be published on the 2016 EGU General Assembly in due course. Remember, the call for sessions is open until 18 September 2015!

This post picks up where the first post of the series left off. We’ve tackled how to successfully propose a session; but what happens once your sessions is included in the programme? What does being a convener actually involve? Read on to find out!

My session proposal has been accepted, now what?

The first thing to know is that once you take on the role of being a session convener or co-convener, you aren’t on your own. Our conference organisers, Copernicus, provide full support to those who take on this exciting task. You’ll receive reminders about major deadlines and milestones, such as when you need to rate financial (travel) support applications, and help to meet them via dedicated, easy-to-use online tools.

At a glance, as a convener, you have the following duties (there is a little more detail on each one further down):

  • Advertise your sessions to attract abstracts
  • Rate financial support applications
  • Organise your session in terms of the schedule
  • Allocate presentation types on the basis of the abstract submissions
  • Select chair persons to run the session

Advertising is everything

Spreading the word about your sessions is crucial to attracting abstracts. (Image modified from: Social Media Communication, distributed via Wikimedia Commons).

Spreading the word about your sessions is crucial to attracting abstracts. (Image modified from: Social Media Communication, distributed via Wikimedia Commons).

This year, the call for abstracts will open in late October and close in January. During this period it is important that you advertise your session within your community to attract people to submit abstracts. You can do this by reaching out to colleagues, collaborators and the wider contacts within your community. And don’t forget the power of social media! Advertise your session on Twitter, Facebook, etc. to reach people outside of your tight network. It may also boost interest to invite a limited number of solicited presentations: you can find some best-practice guidelines here.

Allocating financial support

Early career scientists and established researchers from low and middle income countries who wish to present their work at the EGU General Assembly are able to apply for financial support at the time of abstract submission. This year’s deadline is December 1st. After then, it is the conveners’ job to rate the applications on the basis of the quality of the science being presented. The Programme Committee (PC) then uses this raking to allocate the funds amongst the applicants. For a detailed description of this process, see the financial support pages on the EGU website.

Organising your session

Once all abstracts are in – the deadline for submission of abstracts is 13 January 2016 – it’s time to organise your session! Depending on the number of abstracts your session received, it will be accepted with oral blocks, accepted as poster-only session, or you might be asked to merge with another session and transfer the submitted abstracts to this merged session. In this latter case, you may become a co-convener in the newly created session. You’ll also have to review all the abstracts submitted to your session and decide whether to accept them, reject them or direct them to another more suitable session

Once the content of your session is finalised, you’ll get the opportunity to make your scheduling request. This means thinking about the expected audience size, and back-to-back and no-overlap requests with other sessions. Keep in mind that the PC will do its best to meet requests, but that this is not always possible due to the complications associated with building a huge conference programme!

By mid-February the PC has finalised the conference programme and conveners have one final job left: organise the details of sessions in terms of presentation types. Using the abstracts, you’ll have to choose which are to be allocated an oral presentation slot vs. a poster presentation. You’ll also have to define the length of each talk and make sure that you’ve chosen at least two abstracts from early career scientists for oral presentations. Make sure you’ve highlighted any invited speakers as ‘solicited’ in the programme and order the presentations using the online tool. Finally, be sure to select two chairs per oral block and per poster block.

A Union-wide session at the 2015 General Assembly. (Credit: EGU/Stephanie McClellan)

A Union-wide session at the 2015 General Assembly. (Credit: EGU/Stephanie McClellan)

Final tips and pointers

Armed now with an outline of how to put together a winning session and details of your roles and responsibilities as a convener, why not give it a go? You’ve got until the 18th September to submit a session proposal!

As final encouragement, we spoke to some early career scientist who’d convened sessions previously. Here are some of their top tips and what they had to say about the experience:

“Don’t be afraid to give it a go! Get at least one person in your team who has convened before, even if it is someone who is not that active in all organising activities. It is good to have someone who can offer advice at all stages.” Anne Marie Pluymakers (Tectonics and Structural Geology Division ECS Representative)

Sam Illingworth, Lecturer in Science Communication and former PC ECS Representative, shares some advice on actually running the session: “Remember to arrive to your session at least 20 minutes early, to check on the tech and upload all of the presentations. Also, if there is a no show then don’t panic. Either prepare a back-up presentation that you have, or host an extended Q&A where you discuss the talks that you have heard so far and/or a prominent issue in the field.”  Also, be prepared for the dreaded moment when the audience haven’t got any questions for the speaker: “always come up with a back-up question to ask the speaker, in case there are no other questions forthcoming in the Q&A,” says Sam.

Sam’s final top tip is one we couldn’t agree more with, after having invested a lot of time and effort in organising a session, make sure you enjoy it!

GeoTalk: Wouter Berghuijs, Union Level Early Career Scientist Representative

GeoTalk: Wouter Berghuijs, Union Level Early Career Scientist Representative

The EGU offers a platform for early career scientists (ECS) to become involved in interdisciplinary research in the Earth, planetary and space sciences, through sessions, social events and short courses at the annual General Assembly in April. One of the ways of ensuring that the voice of the Union’s ECS membership is heard is via the division early career scientist representatives.

Feedback gathered by the division representatives is collected by the Union level representative, who takes it to the EGU’s Programme Committee (PC) – the group responsible for organising the EGU’s annual General Assembly and the EGU Council – which is in charge of the overall management of the Union.  At the 2015 General Assembly (GA), Wouter Berghuijs, took on the role of union level Early Career Scientist Representative; a post he will hold until April 2016. In this instalment of GeoTalk, Wouter will tell us more about the ECS membership and how he hopes to make a difference to the community during his one-year term.

Before we get stuck in, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little more about yourself and your career?

My name is Wouter Berghuijs. I am a PhD student in Hydrology at the University of Bristol (UK). Prior to moving to Bristol, I gained an MSc and BSc in Civil Engineering at Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands). During my MSc, I spent three months at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (USA) for a research stay, and a further three months at the University of Bristol. I have been involved with the EGU since 2013, first as the Young Scientist Representative for the Hydrology Division, and since the GA in 2015 as the Union-wide Early Career Scientist Representative (editors note – Council approved having the newly elected representative to have a Union-wide role, rather than just represent the ECS membership at the Programme Committee level).

In my day-to-day research I am interested in what factors drive hydrological differences between places. Instead of studying one place in detail, I compare several hundred catchments (surface area that drains rainfall into a river, lake or reservoir) located in different landscapes and climatic regions. The aspects of hydrologic behaviour I look at can range from floods to droughts, and from short-term dynamics to multi-decadal averages. With a large part of hydrological science consisting of case-studies at individual locations, findings are difficult to transfers to other places. The comparative approach brings in opportunities to develop generalisations and expose patterns that would not be observed when a single catchment is studied in isolation.

For those readers who might not be so familiar with the Union’s ECS membership, could you explain the main idea behind it and your role as Union Level Early Career Scientist Representative?

Approximately one quarter of the Unions’ membership consists of scientists in the early stages of their career. EGU wants to provide support to this group, which has different needs compared to more established scientists. Therefore EGU supports these members by providing reduced conference fees, recognising outstanding students, awarding travel grants, organising short-courses, arranging networking possibilities and more.

Instead of going for a top-down (senior members decide all) approach, EGU decided to appoint Early Career Scientists Representatives for all their scientific divisions. These representatives serve as the link between the ECS members and the board of the different divisions. It is their task to ensure ECS needs are met, both at the Assembly and throughout the year. Other ECS members with questions, comments and thoughts can get in touch with them to ensure their opinion is represented within their division.

In my position of Union level Early Career Scientist Representative, I gather information from each of the division representatives and bring it to the EGU’s Programme Committee – the group responsible for organising the EGU’s annual General Assembly, and the Union’s Council – the board responsible for the overall management and control of the Union.

Some of the ECS Representatives at the most recent General Assembly in Vienna. From left to right, top to bottom: Matthew Agius (SM), Shaun Harrigan (HS),

Some of the ECS Representatives at the 2014 General Assembly in Vienna. Top, from left to right, (in brackets, the Division they represent) : Matthew Agius (SM), Shaun Harrigan (HS), Wouter Berghuijs (ECS Representative), Roelof Rietbroek (G), Matthias Vanmaercke (SSS), Auguste Gires (NP), Nanna B. Karlsson (CR), Bottom (left to right): Ina Plesa (GD), Lena Noack (PS and Deputy Union Level ECS PC Representative), Sam Illingworth (ECS PC Representative , 2013- 2015), Guilhem Douillet (SSP), Anne Pluymakers (TS), Jone Peter (stand-in for Beate Krøvel Humberset, ST).

Why do you feel passionately about the ECS community?

The nice part of working for the ECS community is that relatively small contributions can make huge difference to people’s research career. For example, the ability to attend a conference due to an awarded travel grant can be really important to meet other people in your field and create exposure for your research. It sounds somewhat cliché, but the ECS members are the future of geoscience. An investment now in one of these members can be important for the next 40 years.

Additionally, with the recent appointment of ECS representatives it is an interesting task to start shaping how these representatives can best contribute to the Union, and can make sure they voice the opinion of a broad group of ECS members. With a significant part of the members being ECS it is a nice challenge to change this group from being mostly consumers of activities, to explicitly having them contributing at an organisation level.

What is your vision for the EGU ECS community and how do you hope to drive change during your year long position?

Sam Illingworth (on the left) handing over the batton of the ECS Community over to Wouter at EGU 2014. Image Credit: Roelof Rietbroek, ECS Representative for the EGU Geodesy Division.

Sam Illingworth (on the left) handing over the batton of the ECS Community over to Wouter at the EGU General Assembly, 2014. Image Credit: Roelof Rietbroek, ECS Representative for the EGU Geodesy Division.

Last year Sam Illingworth was the PC Early Career Scientist Representative and made a great start to bringing all ECS together and voice their opinion to Council. My first task is to continue this work. The relative short appointment (1-year) makes it difficult to ensure both short-term and long-term improvements to the Union are made. Short-term improvements involve, for example, dealing with the feedback that provided suggestion for improvement of next years’s GA. During the year I have regular Skype meetings with all ECS representatives, and it is then my task to make sure the outcomes are discussed during e.g. the programme committee meeting (where the plans for the upcoming GA are usually set out), and council meeting later this year.

Recently, the name used to refer to early researchers across EGU was changed from Young Scientist to Early Career Scientists. Could you tell us a little more about what brought about that change and its significance?

One of the findings of the 2014 Young Scientist Survey and Forum at the GA was that early career scientist did not identify with the term young scientists due to the age connotations associated with the name. ECS benefits were considered important during the onset of academic career, independent of the age of the person. The ECS Representatives put together a proposal promoting for the name change which was brought to the EGU Council; who voted in favour of the renaming. It highlights the bottom-up nature of the organisation and how early stage scientists can make a difference in the Union.

The past General Assembly, saw a record number of short courses take place and the growth of networking opportunities and ECS specific activities. What further changes can the ECS look forward to for the 2016 conference?

The young scientists' lounge at EGU 2014. Credit: Stephanie McClellan/EGU

The young scientists’ lounge at EGU 2014. Credit: Stephanie McClellan/EGU

The short courses and ECS specific activities have been very popular at this year’s EGU, and they are definitely a keeper. I don’t think these activities should increase in number, as it is not the intention to lure away the ECS from the regular parts of the scientific meeting; it is important that they also integrated as best as possible with the more established members of their divisions.

The goal for next year is mostly to maintain the activities that were a success, try a few new concepts for those sessions that didn’t work so well. There are also several improvements that can be made such as the capacity of the rooms of short courses and their timing compared to the rest of the programme.

How can those wanting to, get involved with the EGU?

EGU is a versatile organisation; besides organising their Annual General Assembly and running 17 peer-reviewed open access journals, EGU is busy with Topical meetings, education, and various forms of outreach. Because all these aspects are run by members there is always need for motivated people with refreshing ideas. If the ideas you have (or you want to develop) relate to your division, you should contact the respective ECS representative. If the ideas are broader ranging than your division, a good start is to contact me as the Union Level ECS representative.

You can also check the EGU volunteering pages, where you’ll find information on the helping out the EGU in their activities year round. Additionally, the EGU Blogs, from the EGU offical blog GeoLog, through to the Network and Division Blogs, welcome guest contributions; so if you’d like to report from an Earth science event, conference or fieldwork, or comment on the latest geoscientific developments and write about recently published findings in peer-reviewed journals you might consider sharing your thoughts on the Blogs. For more information or to submit a post, click here or get in touch with the EGU Communications Officer, Laura Roberts Artal.


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