AGU 2018


The AGU Fall Meeting: that other large geosciences meeting in the world. As every year, thousands of people burned their yearly share of carbon flying across the globe. Just like last year, the meeting was held on the East coast – but instead of balmy New Orleans, we found ourselves in somewhat chilly Washington DC. For those coming from Europe, this meant slightly less travel (as well as a slightly less gruesome jetlag) – for those coming from (East) Asia, it was probably the other way around.

And although DC is not as vast a US city as AGU’s traditional spot San Francisco (DC’s generally low architecture and building style having an oddly un-American and Old Worldy feel), the conference centre itself was spacious and well equipped for the 25 000 people it would host for the week of 10-14 December. For oral sessions, Seismology found itself mostly in the adjacent Marriott Marquis hotel, while one enormous poster hall down the basement of the conference centre (spanning multiple blocks) connected all of the geosciences, grouped together in themes ranging from the “Earth’s Interior” to “Beyond Earth”. Interestingly, seismology finds itself in every of these themes – especially with the recent addition of the lone seismometer of the Mars InSight mission.

The conference resulted in some decent workout for even the most avid armchair scholars, as we sped back and forth between the talks and posters. It is impossible to adequately summarise a five-day conference – but here are some highlights according to our envoyées Lucile, Marina and Nienke.


“Large meetings, such as the AGU Fall meeting, are always the busiest times of the year. They remain the best occasions to share and discuss science. They always feel like a high school reunion too, as we see colleagues and friends we haven’t seen for years. This year at AGU, as usual, I bit off more than I could chew, and planned to attend too many talks and posters. However, I was impressed by the number of sessions on the interaction between aseismic/seismic behavior. For years, we had seen these two topics in different sessions. There seems to be a better consensus now that they are intrinsically linked.”

Large meetings always feel like a high school reunion…


“During AGU 2018 I had the opportunity to help the AGU ‘Sharing Science’ Program from backstage. Bridging the gap between science and society is not an easy attempt and the mission of the AGU ‘Sharing Science’ is indeed to increase knowledge on how to effectively communicate the goals and the results of research projects to broader audiences, including journalists, educators, students, policy makers, general public.

A wide range of activities was proposed by the team. Among them, the most eye-catching was definitely the ‘Sketch Your Science’ wall, where scientists were encouraged to draw pictures depicting their research. The initiative was enthusiastically welcomed by the scientific community and largely followed on social media (e.g. #sketchyourscience on Twitter). No need to mention that within a few hours, the white wall had become a jumble of colors, covered with volcanic eruptions, chemical reactions, space shuttles, bacteria, river water pollution and fault systems.”

…a jumble of colors, covered with volcanic eruptions, chemical reactions, space shuttles, bacteria, river water pollution and fault systems…

Sketch your science wall

The ‘Sketch your Science’ wall at the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting


“Perhaps the most interesting contribution that I saw was that of emeritus scientist Roger Borcherdt, who presented a theory of ray propagation in viscoelastic media. While ray theory could be considered the foundation of all of seismology, I had never before seen a demonstration of how strongly ray paths can change as a result of attenuation. In an Earth that is increasingly found to be strongly heterogeneous, I suspect that this may prove to be very relevant theory for many. The talk was based on a book which has been out since 2009 but for which a new edition was published recently that allegedly contains updated content on head waves and numerical examples (see Borcherdt, “Viscoelastic Waves in Layered Media”, Cambridge University Press, 2018).”

What else happened…

…the renaming of our research field as “Seismonology” on the first day in the poster hall – quickly removed but captured by early-bird scientists.


The brand new field of seismonology

…the footprint of global politics in the programme, with many sessions showing withdrawn abstracts or missing presenters due to denied visas.

US visa denied for scientist

One presenting author who was clearly frustrated at being denied access to the USA

…and equally political, spotted on a British poster: a prominent EU flag next to the ERC logo.

British poster with European flag

A hint about Brexit?

SeismoChat: How to disarm earthquakes

SeismoChat: How to disarm earthquakes

Solmaz Mohajder is a researcher at the Earth System Dynamics Research group of University of Tübingen in Germany. She has published an online database and an interactive map for active faults in Central Asia (Mohajder et al., 2016).  More recently, Solmaz and her colleagues have compiled fault slip rates to investigate whether deformation rates from GPS and from geologic observations provide consistent slip rate information at the orogen scale (Mohadjer et al., 2017). In 2016, Solmaz was awarded an EGU Public Engagement grant.

The current call for applications for the EGU Public Engagement grant closes on February 15! See this page for more information.

Recently, Solmaz has described her work for and with the Public Engagement Grant on GeoLog. We have taken the opportunity to ask her about factors that shaped her career so far.

Please tell us about your research interests!

My research focuses on quantifying natural hazards using a variety of different techniques such as GPS geodesy and terrestrial remote sensing (Lidar), and making research results available to those at risk through geohazards education and community outreach.

In how many countries did you live/work up to now? How has living in many countries reshaped your way of doing research?

I have stopped counting. I was born and raised in Iran and spent most of my life living in the US (Pacific Northwest) and Germany with one year in Tajikistan.

I learned and embraced the culture of volunteerism, community outreach and education for the first time in the United States. As an undergrad at the University of Washington, I volunteered with the Pipeline Project as a science/math tutor in Seattle public schools, immigrant/refugee community centers and correctional facilities in my neighborhood. I then took my newly-discovered passion and skills for science, education and outreach to the University of Montana. I combined scientific research with science education and outreach as part of my Master program, for example working on an earthquake education curriculum for K-12 schools (Mohadjer et al., 2010) and on quantifying the deformation field in Central Asia (Mohadjer et al., 2010).

But it wasn’t until I was asked questions by those I met in places like Pakistan and Tajikistan, particularly children, that I became aware of the importance of my research in practical life. Simple yet important questions such as “What is an earthquake?”, “How does it affect me?” or “What to do about them?” kept me up at night, and eventually shaped the way I’ve been doing research since 2006.


You have published a paper about “A Quaternary fault database for central Asia”. Tell us something about your work: What is the general context of this study?

To calculate and map seismic hazard, it’s essential to know where the active faults are and how they behave. The Quaternary fault database for Central Asia improves access to this kind of information through a web-based interactive map and an online database with search capabilities that allow users to organize data by different fields. The database can be accessed here.

It took about 2 years to build and populate the database. The work involved reviewing over 250 published papers and compiling three large sets of data: fault locations (~1196 traces of faults), fault attributes (for 123 faults) and seismicity (>34,000 earthquakes). But what you see on the site is subject to change based on community’s feedback.

What was the main motivation for this work?

The project was inspired by my interactions with the general public, their curiosity, and genuine concern for earthquakes. In Tübingen, Germany, I continue to make and take opportunities to interact with the public through events such as TEDx Stuttgart (e.g. How to disarm earthquakes) and by developing educational videos that can be shared globally (e.g., earthquake video library project).      

What is new with respect to previous similar studies?

We have access to a large amount of data on active faulting in Central Asia, but these data are often documented in a wide range of formats (digital, text, maps, etc.) and published in non-open access journals. This makes data access and dissemination difficult especially for non-academic users and the general public. This project provides an open-access and searchable database that includes an interactive fault map. It allows users to run queries (e.g., what are the faults located near I live?) and access important fault parameters such as slip rates and earthquake history.  

What are your hopes for the impact that it might have on science/society in general?

My hope is that local and intentional organizations working in Central Asia (especially those involved in development-related projects) consider fault location and parameters in their project analysis.

What will be the next step in the project?

The next steps may include: addition of new fault information (e.g., fault geometry, recurrence interval, slip/strain rate maps), as well as information from existing landslide and flood inventories for the region. We also hope to include geo-thermochronology data for catchment mass fluxes and fault offsets.   

You are last year’s EGU public Engagement Grant Awardee!

— Can you tell us more about what you did with this grant?

This grant has helped us produce 10 earthquake education videos covering topics that range from Earth’s interior and plate tectonics to liquefaction and structural hazards. These videos are designed to translate seemingly abstract or banal concepts into easily accessible, practical and potentially life-saving information. The production involved young scientists from several universities across the UK and Germany, and is endorsed by institutions such as the MIT BLOSSOMS, Teachers Without Borders, and Geology for Global Development. Most of these videos are currently available for viewing and download on the EGU Media channel– The remaining 2 are in production right now.

Do you have tips for other ECS on how to turn their science useful to the public?

Talk to the public and listen to their comments and questions, and take them seriously. Often, the public will tell you (or at least hint at) how you can make your work more relevant and useful to them. I’d suggest start with family members and friends and think twice about turning down a public speaking opportunity that you’ve been offered.

As a conclusion, what was the most helpful advice you have ever got for your scientific work/career and who gave it to you?

“Don’t kill or get killed” is a really important advice for those who work in remote and potentially dangerous parts of the world. Also “always save your data before you do anything else” because if you die, at least there’s a chance for someone else to use your data. Words of a role model, friend, colleague and an adviser.  

Thank you for the seismochat!

The open-access active fault database project:

Would you like to share the passion for your science in a seismochat? Contact us at

Edited by ECS representatives Redouane Chimouni, Koen van Noten, Lucia Gualtieri, Laura Ermert