GD
Geodynamics
Iris van Zelst

Guest

Iris van Zelst is a PhD student at ETH Zürich in Switzerland. She is working on the modelling of tsunamigenic earthquakes using a range of interdisciplinary modelling approaches, such as geodynamic, dynamic rupture, and tsunami modelling. Current research projects include splay fault propagation in subduction zones and the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake. Iris is Editor-in-chief of the GD blog team. You can reach Iris via email. For more details, please visit Iris' personal webpage.

Dancing on a volcano – the unspoken scientific endeavour

Dancing on a volcano – the unspoken scientific endeavour

Doing science is not a walk in the park. In fact, it might be closer to dancing on a volcano. Dan Bower, CSH and Ambizione Fellow at the University of Bern, Switzerland, takes full advantage of the creative freedom of a blog post to reiterate that scientific progress is not a straight-forward endeavour.

We all learn early in our education about the scientific method—the scientific approach to discern a new truth of nature by establishing a hypothesis that is then rigorously tested. Clearly this approach has been influential in establishing our wealth of knowledge to date, but it typically does not represent accurately the day-to-day reality of being a practitioner of science. This is because the scientific method implies a linear trajectory from proposing a hypothesis to sequential testing of the hypothesis until we naturally arrive at a conclusion that is a new result, hence providing a contribution to the knowledge database of humanity. It suggests we step through each stage of the method and necessarily arrive at a useful result, but unfortunately, this masks the reality of the daily lives of scientists.

In fact, as scientists our daily life often involves scrambling around on the side of a cantankerous volcano a few minutes before sunset; we have some understanding of where we came from and how we ended up here, but working at the edge of human knowledge is a challenging and unforgiving place. We took wrong steps enroute—some of which might actually turn out to be right steps in retrospect, but in relation to a completely different topic or problem than what we are working on. Rather than dancing elegantly through the different steps of the scientific method, we are instead struggling to see the ground below in the ever-darkening light, often dangling a foot into the unknown to see if we can gain some traction. Depending on your personality type and upcoming deadline schedule, this unknown can be the most invigorating or most stressful place to be in the uncharted landscape of modern science.

We glance at an incomplete map of the terrain to see if the discoveries of our scientific forefathers can cast new light on our scientific objective. We began the excursion optimistically with the goal of reaching the volcano’s crater, but after revising our project description and goals several times, we are now content with the view half-way up the mountain. It’s taken us longer than we thought to reach this point—but with an upcoming conference in a few weeks—we must set up camp, collect some data, and glean a new insight that no other soul on the rest of the planet has previously managed—either now or in the previous several centuries of modern science. The thought of that makes us a little nervous, not least because we now realise that the tools we brought with us are not up to the task following several breakages. There are new tools, but they have only just been delivered to base camp and will not be available for the rest of our project—we also need to obtain permission from an ex-collaborator (now turned competitor) to use them. We instead think of creative solutions to deal with this “challenge” (word of the expedition leader, I’d personally use stronger phrasing). We now iterate relentlessly between models and data until we conjure a new discovery. Well, we are not sure if it is strictly a discovery, but no-one else seems to report it any papers (that we read). We now debate if this is because our “discovery” is mind-blowingly obvious.

A helicopter flies overhead and drops us a few supplies for the remainder of our mountain excursion—including a new paper just published last week on the topic of our research. We panic—is this exactly the same as what we are doing, or a little bit different? Do our results agree? For that matter, do we want the results to agree? We again revise the goals of the project to utilise the one extra data point we have acquired to maximise the impact of our work and thereby justify our study as “a useful contribution to the literature” (again, words of the expedition leader). The title of our paper changes for the thousandth time, and even I am no longer sure I understand what the study is about. As a parting gift, the helicopter pilot informs us that we are not on the volcano we thought we were on—apparently that is a few hundred kilometers in a different direction. How did we end up here again? Not to worry, we can tweak a couple of parameters and then apply our insights to the actual volcano we are standing on—assuming it is actually a volcano—has anyone checked? We now push an excursion to the other volcano to future work, which in reality, means that we hope someone else will do it (but not before we write up our study). In the end of year summary, we report complete success of the project to the funding agency, and request follow-up funding a month later.

Have you ever danced on a volcano? Tweet us your story on convoluted science projects @EGU_GD under the hashtag #DancingOnAVolcano



The featured image of this post is provided by Floor de Goede, a Dutch comic artist who penned the graphic novel ‘Dansen op the vulkaan’ (Dancing on the volcano). He also illustrated many children’s books and draws the semi-autobiographical daily comic ‘Do you know Flo?‘. You can follow Floor de Goede on instagram at @flodego for daily comics (also in English!).


EGU GA 2020 call-for-sessions deadline

EGU GA 2020 call-for-sessions deadline

The deadline for session (and short course!) proposals for EGU 2020 is tomorrow on September 5, 2019! So, if you have a great idea for a session or a short course you still have a little bit of time to write a smashing proposal, find a nice co-convener and submit it to ensure that you will be able to access the convener’s party next year without a fuss.

Why not share your knowledge on correct code management and version control with the community? Maybe you could spark a discussion about disabilities or gender equality in geosciences. Or maybe you and your colleagues can devise the perfect session for your niche research topic, such that finding a session won’t be a problem any more! Don’t hesitate: anyone can do it!

What? You don’t believe me? Well, we have been hosting the Geodynamics 101 short courses (inspired by our blog posts) for 2 years now and they have been a great success! And trust me, I didn’t know anything about organising short courses at EGU either before I embarked on this journey. Turns out: it’s pretty straightforward.

For a little transparency and insight into organising the courses, here is a little summary of the feedback from the two courses we hosted at EGU 2019:
• Geodynamics 101A: Numerical methods
• Geodynamics 101B: Large-scale dynamic processes
And we’ll also discuss our plans for the short course next year!

We decided to have 2 short courses at EGU 2019, because of the feedback we got at EGU 2018 about people desiring more info on the applications of numerical methods in geodynamics. Your wish is our command, so we delivered. Both courses were attended well, but the first course (about numerical methods) was more popular by far with people queueing and standing even outside of the room. So, we will ask for a bigger room at EGU 2020.

People from many different disciplines attended the courses. Surprisingly a large amount of geodynamicists were present! Most of them (you?) attended to get a quick refresher in (the broad area) of geodynamics and to see how you can do geodynamics outreach. Our course was particularly popular with geologists, and there were also some hydrologists, meteorologists, and computer scientists attending!

The scientific background of the participants in the two Geodynamics 101 short courses at EGU GA 2019. Did you join us?

People gave the course a high rating with an average grade of 4.4/5 for Geodynamics 101A and Geodynamics 101B. The highest ratings were given by the geodynamicists attending the short courses. Hm… maybe because you are our friends?

The rating of the Geodynamics 101 short courses by our participants (divided by background).

The main feedback was that people would like to know how to actually run codes and see some more hands-on examples. So, next year, we will be back with a new and improved version of the “Geodynamics 101: Numerical methods” course which will include some demos of running a code.

Maybe I will see you there and who knows…? Maybe I will be at your session or short course!

Happy blog birthday!

Happy blog birthday!

Can you believe it, people? We have been running this blog for 2 years! What a milestone! Time to celebrate and look back at a year of great blogging.

Who are the champions?

We are the champions, my friends!

That’s right! We actually won a prize this year: we won best blog post of 2018 by public vote for a post by one of our editors, Luca Dal Zilio, about a conference he attended in Singapore. So we are now an award-winning blog. Hell yeah!
Technically this post was written during our first blog year, but hey, we only got the prize in January, so I think we’re totally within our rights to mention it now. Since we won by public vote, we would like to thank all of you – our readers – for your support! It really means a lot to us and strengthens the idea that some people actually read this blog!

And talking about our readers…

Who are you?

Contrary to popular belief, there are actually people who read this blog! Although I don’t have any data to back this up, I think most of our readers are actually scientists from the geodynamics, tectonics and structural geology, and seismology divisions of EGU. So much for trying to do outreach. If I’m wrong, please let me know!
I do have some data on how many people visit our blog. On average, we have 37 unique visitors per day (and that’s quite something if you remember that we only post on Wednesdays and now Fridays). Our 100 most viewed pages (and this includes the homepage, author profiles, tags, etc. as well as individual posts) each have seen 150 unique visitors on average with some posts having over 2000 unique visitors in the past year! These popular posts are usually commissioned and promoted on social media by our editor Grace Shephard. Little gems of blog posts with many views from her hand include The Rainbow Colour Map (repeatedly) considered harmful, Thirteen planets and counting, and How good were the old forecasts of sea level rise?

We have a global readership! Most of our readers are accessing the website from the US, the United Kingdom, Germany, China, and Spain. Interesting list of countries, right? Apart from that, we also have some geodynamicists in Turkmenistan, Rwanda, Pakistan, Myanmar, and Mozambique. Or maybe that is just a result of geodynamicists being on holiday in exotic places who are dying to read geodynamics news to distract themselves from their amazing holiday destination. Who knows?

Who are we?

We have a lovely blog team and it’s quite a big team as well! Currently, there are 7 regular editors, one mysterious, anonymous editor under the name of ‘The Sassy Scientist’ and one Editor-in-Chief (yours truly). Who would’ve ever thought there would be 9 people in the blog team? Last year, we were 5, so we have grown a lot. If you have already forgotten who we are, you can check out our recent introduction post.

But, these 9 amazing editors don’t have the time (or the expertise) to write all these blog posts themselves. Therefore, we heavily rely on the most amazing guest authors. During the past year, we had 20 guest authors who contributed one or more posts. So here is a big shout out to all the guest authors of the past year:

• Manar Alsaif
• Marie Bocher
• Daniel Bowden
• Kiran Chotalia
• Robert Citron
• Lorenzo Colli
• João Duarte
• Rene Gassmöller
• Lars Gebraad
• Antoniette Greta Grima
• Charitra Jain
• Kirster Karlsen
• Maria Koroni
• Laurent Montesi
• Andrea Piccolo
• Adina Pusok
• Nico Schliffke
• Paul Tackley
• Katy Willis
• Jonny Wu

Thank you so much. We couldn’t do it without you!

Behind the scenes

During our first 1.5 years of blogging we had a system in place where we had regular types of posts, such as Geodynamics 101, Remarkable Regions, Peculiar Planets, and Wit & Wisdom posts. Additional content that did not fit in any of these categories, would go into our News & Views or Conferences. This meant that all the editors were encouraged to find posts that fitted into a certain topic and then we hoped for the best. In practice, most of the responsibility lay with yours truly: the Editor-in-Chief. I was in charge of keeping an eye on the schedule and asking the editors to contribute. In the end, I wrote and commissioned most of the posts myself.

That was clearly unsustainable.

Whenever I had a lapse of vigilance, holes were more likely to appear in the schedule, because no one else in the blog team felt responsible for posting (and rightfully so). This lead to the infamous gaps in content around February (which seems to be a recurring yearly theme).

Again: clearly unsustainable.

So. This year, I got inspired at the EGU Blog Editor meeting a few days before the General Assembly and I thought of a complete new blog strategy during EGU. I know: I spent my time at EGU wisely…

We recruited a bunch of new editors and we have now successfully implemented a new schedule: all 7 regular editors are responsible for a blog post for 1 week in a 7 week cycle. They can commission blog posts, write them, give their slot to another editor who might have more blog posts lined up, or whatever they want to do, but they are – in the end – responsible for uploading a blog post on Wednesday. I still keep an eye on the schedule and fill gaps where necessary, but at least now I have someone to address whenever there seems to be an empty slot. We also added some extra repercussions to increase the responsibility of our regular editors: if they fail to upload a Wednesday blog post on time in their scheduled weeks twice within one year, they will automatically stop being editors. Of course, we want to keep everyone in the team, so everyone is encouraged to help each other out, if a gap in the schedule threatens to appear.
The Sassy Scientist is responsible for weekly Friday Q&As, which is a lot of work actually: 52 blog posts in a year is a lot. So for these posts, we are working with a backlog of at least 5 blog posts at all times to ensure that our Sassy Scientist can sometimes take a holiday. Currently, I am editing all the Sassy Scientist blog posts, but I’m hoping they can fly solo soon! One of the most difficult things is getting questions for the Sassy Scientist to answer. So far most of the questions have been asked by editors, although some wished to remain anonymous, so their names were changed. Therefore, we ask everyone to just e-mail the Sassy Scientist a question, leave a comment to one of the blog posts or on social media. You will remain anonymous, if you so desire, and we will make sure that your question gets answered soon (i.e., we will adapt the schedule accordingly).
The new system works well so far. Let’s see if we can keep it up!

So now what?

Well, onwards and upwards, don’t you think? We will try to keep providing you with geodynamics news on Wednesdays and Sassy Scientist Q&As on Fridays for another year. That’s twice as much content as in our first year! Theoretically. We have lots of great posts lined up as well as some very impressive, new guest authors who are dying to pen down their thoughts. If you would like to contribute to the blog, don’t hesitate to contact us by sending us an e-mail. Until then: enjoy the read!

Introducing the blog team!

Introducing the blog team!

It’s time for another proper introduction of the blog team! As you will probably know, things have been a bit silent on the blog front lately. This is because all the blog editors were very busy and also: it’s hard to upload 52 times a year. You come up with some great blog ideas! (if you do: e-mail us, please!). Luckily, we used the EGU General Assembly to find some fresh blood for the blog team. Together with the seasoned blog team members and a new blog strategy, we are buzzing to give you regular content once again. Expect the usual blog posts on Wednesday at 9:00 am and in the future, maybe expect a little extra on Fridays… But who are these great people providing you with your weekly dose of geodynamics news?

The Blog Team

Iris van Zelst
I am a PhD student in the Seismology and Wave Physics group at ETH Zürich, Switzerland. I am right at the seismology border of geodynamic research, as I am combining geodynamic modelling with dynamic rupture modelling to look at earthquakes in subduction zones on the entire timescale relevant to the process. I also occasionally look at some data, because you should always keep it real. I am in the final year of my PhD (oh help!), so my aim as Editor-in-Chief is to make sure everyone else is organised and uploading regularly, while I will be mostly pulling the strings behind the scenes and writing an occasional blog post. Such as this one! In my spare time, I love to read lots of books in all kinds of genres, go to the theatre, and play a little bit of theatre myself. I recently enrolled in an improv class and it is so much fun! All the world’s a stage. You can reach my via e-mail.

Luca Dal Zilio
I am a postdoctoral researcher in Mechanical Engineering and Geophysics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). My research is primarily aimed at understanding the relationship between crustal deformation and earthquakes in mountain belts, such as the Alps and Himalaya. By combining theoretical, computational, and observational approaches, I attempt to understand the interplay between geodynamic space–time scales of millions of years of slow and broadly distributed regional deformation with seismic space–time scales of rapid and localised earthquake processes. My passion lies in democratising science communication via innovative and accessible tools in order to spread scientific research and discovery. And yes, I like coffee. Espresso. You can reach me via e-mail.

Anne Glerum
I am a postdoctoral researcher at GFZ Potsdam, Germany. With numerical models, I investigate the link between local stress and strain observations and far-field forcing in the East African Rift System. Other modelling interests include magma-tectonic feedback and surface evolution during continental extension. Outside of research, I love to go on walks with my dog, to explore my new home Berlin and to read books on all possible topics. I’m excited to show you the variety of geodynamics and its overlap with other disciplines as an editor of the GD blog team. You can reach me via e-mail.

Anna Gülcher
I am a PhD student at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics group at ETH Zürich, Switzerland. With the use of numerical modelling, I study the interior dynamics of the Earth and other planets. For my research, I am trying the put geophysical, geological, and geochemical observations in a geodynamically coherent framework (with an emphasis on trying). I found a passion for windsurfing early on while still living in my flat home country (the Netherlands). Yet, since moving to mountainous Switzerland, I have traded in my windsurfing equipment for hiking boots or snowboarding gear and try to spend my free time in the Alps to seek some adrenaline. I’ve very recently started to learn how to play the guitar, and am very proud to say that I can now play my very first complete song. I am excited to be part of the GD team as an Editor! You can reach me via e-mail.

Diogo Lourenço
I am a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of California Davis, USA. My research aims at understanding the evolution and interior dynamics of the Earth and other rocky planets, primarily through the use of numerical models. When I am not working on theoretical geodynamics, I like to keep things theoretical. I like reading and playing music. Sometimes I also exercise by walking around museums and looking at things. With my work as an editor in this blog, I hope to bring geodynamics to the reader in a friendly and exciting way. I also hope to help building a more involved and integrative geodynamics community. You can reach me via e-mail.

Tobias Meier
I am currently a PhD student at the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) at the University of Bern. My research focuses on understanding the interior dynamics of rocky exoplanets, particularly planets that are partly molten. At the CSH, Earth and planetary scientists and astrophysicists work side-by-side to understand the formation and evolution of solar system bodies and exoplanets. As an editor of the GD blog I will nurture the link between geodynamics and terrestrial planet evolution and foster interactions between related disciplines.
As an undergraduate I worked in the field of cosmology, so it was necessary for me to downsize from thinking about the vast scales of the universe to zooming in on individual planets when I transitioned to my PhD work. At the time of writing, there has not been a confirmation of an inhabited exoplanet where we could possibly travel to. So, on our own wonderful planet, I enjoy hiking in the beautiful Swiss mountains and I also (almost) never say no to a game of table tennis. You can reach me (also for table tennis!) via e-mail.

Antoine Rozel
I am a senior researcher in ETH Zürich. After studying physics (nobody is perfect), I have been working on numerical simulations of mantle convection involving absurd rheologies for quite a while now, I am getting old. I am also interested in crust and craton production in all solar system planets. To make life even more beautiful, I have also finished the conservatory in classical piano and I organised some painting exhibitions in the last years (you can find my gallery here). I have also found recently that -when I do not play pinball or videogames- I can save time by doing both music and sport at the same time by playing Japanese drums (taiko)! You can reach me via e-mail.

Grace Shephard
I am a Researcher at the Centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics (CEED) at the University of Oslo, Norway. My research links plate tectonics,​ palaeogeography, and deep mantle structure and dynamics. I spend much of my time hunting for evidence to constrain the opening and closure of ocean basins, particularly around the Arctic, Atlantic and the Pacific. I think GPlates is an excellent Tardis with which to time travel. Geodynamics offers a lot of interdisciplinary and creative avenues to explore – and why not follow up your idea with a blog post! You can reach me via e-mail or find a sporadic tweet at @ShepGracie.

The Sassy Scientist
I am currently employed at a first tier research institute where I am continuously working with the greatest minds to further our understanding of the solid Earth system. Whether it is mantle or lithosphere structure and dynamics, solid Earth rheology parameters, earthquake processes, integrating observations with model predictions or inversions: you have read a paper of mine. Even if you are working on a topic I haven’t mentioned here, I still know everything about it. Do you have any problems in your research career? I have already experienced them. Do you struggle with your work-life balance? Been there, done that. Nowadays, I have only one hobby: helping you out by answering the most poignant questions in geodynamics, research, and life. I am waiting for you right here. Get inspired.