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April GeoRoundUp: the best of the Earth sciences from the 2017 General Assembly

April GeoRoundUp: the best of the Earth sciences from the 2017 General Assembly

This month’s GeoRoundUp is a slight deviation from the norm. Instead of drawing inspiration from popular stories on our social media channels and unique or quirky research featured in the news, we’ve rounded up some of the stories which came out of researcher presented at our General Assembly (which took place last week in Vienna). The traditional format for the column will return in May!

Major story

Artists often draw inspiration from the world around them when composing the scene for a major work of art. Retrospectively trying to understanding the meaning behind the imagery can be tricky.

This is poignantly true for Edvard Munch’s iconic ‘The Scream’. The psychedelic clouds depicted in the 18th Century painting have been attributed to Munch’s inner turmoil and a trouble mental state. Others argue that ash particles strewn in the atmosphere following the 1883 Krakatoa volcanic eruption are the reason for the swirly nature of the clouds represented in the painting.

At last week’s General Assembly, a team of Norwegian researchers presented findings which provide a new explanation for the origin of Munch’s colourful sky (original news item from AFP [Agence France-Presse): mother-of-pearl clouds. These clouds “appear irregularly in the winter stratosphere at high northern latitudes, about 20-30 km above the surface of the Earth,” explains Svein Fikke, lead author of the study, in the conference abstract.

“So far observed mostly in the Scandinavian countries, these clouds are formed of microscopic and uniform particles of ice, orientated into thin clouds. When the sun is below the horizon (before sunrise or after sunset), these clouds are illuminated in a surprisingly vibrant way blazing across the sky in swathes of red, green, blue and silver. They have a distinctive wavy structure as the clouds are formed in the lee-waves behind mountains”, writes Hazel Gibson (EGU General Assembly Press Assistant) in a post published on GeoLog following a press conference at the meeting in Vienna (which you can watch here).

With coverage in just over 200 news items, this story was certainly one of the most popular of the meeting. Read more about the study in the full research paper, out now.

What you might have missed

Also (typically) formed in the downside of mountains and in the conference spotlight were föhn winds. The warm and dry winds have been found to be a contributing factor that weakens ice shelves before a collapse.

Ice shelf collapse has been in the news recently on account of fears of a large crack in the Larsen C Ice Shelf generating a huge iceberg.  Though the exact causes for crack generation on ice shelves remain unclear, new research presented by British Antarctic Survey scientists at the conference in Vienna highlighted that föhn winds accelerate melting at the ice shelf surface.  They also supply water which, as it drains into the cracks, deepens and widens them.

Meanwhile, deep under ocean waters, great gouge marks left behind on the seafloor as ancient icebergs dragged along seabed sediments have been collected into an Atlas of Submarine Glacial Landforms, published by the Geological Society of London. The collection of maps sheds light on the past behaviour of ice and can give clues as to how scientists might expect ice sheets to respond to a changing climate.

Drumlins (elongate hills aligned with the ice flow direction) from the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea. Credit: Atlas of Submarine Glacial Landforms/BAS

Closer to the Earth’s surface, groundwater also attracted its fair share of attention throughout the meeting. It’s hardly surprising considering groundwater is one of the greatest resources on the planet, globally supplying approximately 40% of the water used for irrigation of crops and providing drinking water for billions around the world. ‘Fossil’ groundwater, which accumulated 12,000 years ago was once thought to be buried too deep below the Earth’s surface to be under threat from modern contaminants, but a new study presented during the General Assembly has discovered otherwise.

Up to 85% of the water stored in the upper 1 km of the Earth’s outermost rocky layer contains fossil groundwater. After sampling some 10,000 wells, researchers found that up to half contained tritium, a signature of much younger waters. Their presence means that present-day pollutants carried in the younger waters can infiltrate fossil groundwater. The study recommends this risk is considered when managing the use of fossil waters in the future.

Links we liked

News from elsewhere

The spectacular end to the Cassini mission has featured regularly in this month’s bulletins.

During its 13 years in orbit, Cassini has shed light on Saturn’s complex ring system, discovered new moons and taken measurements of the planet’s magnetosphere. On September 15th,  the  mission will end when the probe burns up in Saturn’s atmosphere.

On 22 April, the final close flyby of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, propelled the Cassini spacecraft across the planet’s main rings and into its Grand Finale series of orbits. This marks the start of the final and most audacious phase of the mission as the spacecraft dives between the innermost rings of Saturn and the outer atmosphere of the planet to explore a region never before visited; the first of 22 ring plane crossings took place on 26 April.You can watch a new movie which shows the view as the spacecraft swooped over Saturn during the dive here.

For an overview of highlights from the mission and updates from the ring-grazing orbits that began in November 2016 watch this webstream from a press conference with European Space Agency scientists at the General Assembly last week.

To stay abreast of all the EGU’s events and activities, from highlighting papers published in our open access journals to providing news relating to EGU’s scientific divisions and meetings, including the General Assembly, subscribe to receive our monthly newsletter.

In Vienna for the weekend? Here’s a taste of what’s on offer…

In Vienna for the weekend? Here’s a taste of what’s on offer…

The General Assembly has come to an end, with only a few days left to go. Many of the participants will make their way home over the weekend, but if you’ve chosen to stay on for a little longer, then this list of cultural activities and things to do in Vienna might just be the ticket!

Liechtenstein Castle and Seegrotte Mines

Take a train to Mödling and take a bus to visit the former residence of the Prince of Leichtenstein. Then, take a gondola ride through Europe’s largest underground lake in the Seegrotte Mines, a short trip from Burg Leichtenstein.

Vienna’s Ring Tram

Want to tour some of Vienna’s classic sights in style? Why not consider a trip on the Ring Tram, a journey around the beautiful Ringstrasse all day between 10am and 17.30.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Vienna State Opera

For an evening of style why not consider a night at the Vienna State Opera? A performance of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk – a dramatic and alternative retelling of the story of Shakespeare’s famous anti-heroine is a great chance to experience the picturesque surroundings of the Wien Statsoper

Austrian Dinner Show

Fancy trying some traditional austrian cuisine while enjoying local classical music? Perhaps a dinner show could be for you. Described as  ‘A musical journey from the mountains of Tirol, the charming lakes of the Salzkammergut, and from the romantic Danube Valley to imperial Vienna’, the ticket comes with a three course set menu.

The Spanish Riding School in Vienna

Enjoyed the ‘dancing horses’ at the Olympics in the summer? If yes you’ll enjoy one of Vienna’s most famous attractions; the Spanish Riding School. The stunning white horses and their traditionally dressed riders will perform at 11.00am this Saturday and Sunday (advanced booking recommended). If you’re not into the dressage then you could try a guided tour of the stables or an architectural tour of the beautiful arena.

Spanish Riding School, Winter Riding School arena, Vienna, Austria. (Credit: Wikimedia commons).

Ludwig Reiter Frühlingsmarkt

110 year old shoe manufacturer Ludwig Reiter is throwing open their doors this weekend for a spring market, to celebrate the changing seasons. As well as shopping for that necessary summer fashion and some tasty local food, you can go behind the scenes of the manufacturer to see how shoes have been made here in Vienna for decades

TED Cinema Experience at the English Cinema Haydn

Not had enough science yet this week? Well you are in luck as all this weekend the English Cinema Haydn will be screening some of the best TED talks from around the world for your viewing and intellectual pleasure. Whether you want to re-live one of your favourites or discover new inspiration, you can for the first time experience these talks on the big screen, right here in Vienna.

By Hazel Gibson, Keri McNamara, Kai Boggild, Press Assistants at the EGU General Assembly

At the General Assembly 2017: Thursday highlights

At the General Assembly 2017: Thursday highlights

Welcome to the fourth day of General Assembly excitement! Once again the day is packed with great events for you to attend and here are just some of the sessions on offer. You can find out more about what’s on in EGU Today, the daily newsletter of the General Assembly – grab a copy on your way in or download it here.

The Union-wide session of the day focuses on making facts greats again: how can scientists stand up for science (US3)? The session aims to identify strategies to counter recent attacks on science and brainstorm ways in which scientists can stand-up for science. With a selection of high profile panellists: Christiana Figueres, Sir David King, Heike Langenberg, Christine McEntee and the EGU’s President, Jonathan Bamber as chair person, the session promises to be one of the conference highlights. Join the discussion from 10:30 to 12:00 in room E2.

Thursday also sees two interesting Great Debates taking place: Arctic environmental change: global opportunities and threats (GDB1, from 08:30–10:00 in E2, jointly organised with American Geophysical Union – AGU). While many scientist support open access publishing, is support for open access to the underlying research data as easy to achieve? Join the discussion in GDB4, from 15:30 to 17:00 in room E1. At the same time, in room D1, conference participants can take part in the third Great Debate of the day. The two-way, complex interactions between urban and geophysical systems has been recently recognised as the key question for the fate our planet and the issue of the Anthropocene. How can we transition to next generation cities and planet Earth future?  Tune into to the sessions on Twitter using the #EGU17GDB hashtag or online at http://www.egu2017.eu/webstreaming.html.

Today’s interdisciplinary highlights include sessions on…

Take the opportunity to expand your skills in one of today’s short courses and splinter meetings. Be sure to share what you learn on social media using the hashtag #EGU17SC:

There’s also a number of Medal Lectures on throughout the day – here’s a sample of what’s on offer:

What have you thought of the Assembly so far? Let us know at www.egu2017.eu/feedback, and share your views on what future EGU meetings should be like!

If you need a change of pace, stop by the Imaggeo Photo Exhibition beside the EGU Booth (Hall X2, basement, Brown Level). You can vote for your favourite finalists there and – while you’re in the area – take the opportunity to meet your Division’s representatives in today’s Meet EGU appointments. While on the subject of competitions, make sure to ‘like’ your favourite  Communicate Your Science Video Competition film on the EGU YouTube channel.

Have a lovely day!

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