Stratigraphy, Sedimentology and Palaeontology

Guilhem Douillet

Guilhem Amin Douillet works as a physical sedimentologist at the University of Bern (Switzerland). He is interested in currents and how they shape bedforms. He is currently studying bedforms created by pyroclastic density currents and tempestites from the swiss molasse basin. These main themes bring him to compare his field samples with other types of environments from turbidity currents, supercritical flows, wind driven transport and highly loaded rivers. He has been involved as a SSP sedimentology science officer since 2012, and was the SSP ECS representative from 2013 to 2016.

EGU goes greener, let’s go greener to EGU

For those in a rush, here is the conclusion already:
EGU is doing great efforts to become more environmentally friendly, but the huge issue of any conference lies in one aspect: participants flying there… Could we, participants, rush into the train next year?

I would not have realized all the evolutions of this year’s EGU2019 General Assembly if they had not been told to me. And that was precisely one of the goals of the evening session on “The carbon footprint of EGU’s General Assembly” led by Susanne Buiter, Jonathan Bamber, and Alberto Montanari (1). Since many of us couldn’t enjoy this in live, here is a summary in two acts: (i). What has been done, (ii) What could be made better.
I’ll conclude about air travel and groups that organize to limit it.

What has been done

A series of measures have been taken this year, some of them discrete or barely noticeable, but with a tremendous impact:

Carbon Offsetting programs:

For two years now, all participants are offered to offset their CO2 emissions related to the conference during the registration process. In 2018, support was given to a project to reduce deforestation in Brazil (2, 3). Donations allowed to support for about 4.251 tons of CO2. In 2019, participants could choose between 3 projects in Indonesia, Uganda, or Kenya. Whereas this is not the ultimate solution to make the General Assembly greener, it should be a mandatory transition for what cannot yet be perfected.

Printed Programme book:

The printed Programme book of 190 A5 pages was NOT distributed to the 15.000 attendees anymore. Instead, everything was available from the app and on the website. In case you felt a slight discomfort about it, I’m sure you’ll be happy to realize how many pages that makes, together with 15,000 metal spiral bindings. Also since 2019, the daily newspaper “EGU Today” went all online, saving around 15,000 double-sided A4 printed pages.
Actually, if you are a long-time regular attendee, you may have noticed that the full printed Programme book of 800 A4 pages stopped already back in 2007, whereas the initiative of distributing the Programme on USB sticks ceased after 2011.


This year, the floor of Hall A (a surface of 2.890 sqm) was kept free of single-use carpets.
– if you missed it, here is a post about single-use carpets from our blog: “EGU’s lost strata” (4).-
This is a great reduction of ca. 15%, but keep reading to know about what could happen to the remaining 17.230 sqm! Currently, the single-use carpet is down-cycled for noise-absorbent mats for cars and house building. The reason that the poster halls need carpet is for reducing the high noise levels. EGU is investigating options to reduce the noise in a more environmental friendly manner.

Water packaging:

Those 30.000 water PET bottles distributed in 2017 were replaced by water fountains in 2018, when we all received refill-bottles during registration. This year’s idea was even easier and effective: bring your own bottle to refill at the fountains.

Vegetarian lunch bags:

During the division meetings and lunchtime events, all meals were vegetarian. Yes, eating vegetarian is good at least for the climate (without entering into the subject of the benefits for your own health, the well-being of animals, or the fascinating book from Peter Singer revisiting our ethical bases (5) in 1975). I am very convinced that most attendees did not miss the ham sandwiches, and that even meat-lovers were happy to taste the vegetarian falafel option. Yes, even a meat-eater can enjoy a vegetarian meal. More about vegan lunch comes below.

Train discount:

-Since 2018, a reduction on the train ticket was put in place to attend EGU-Vienna by train departing from Switzerland (a 25 CHF discount for a return ticket). This initiative was rated as very successful by the Swiss train company (SBB) based on the response rates, an excellent result that might convince other companies around Europe to join. The extension of a similar scheme to some other national railway companies has unfortunately not been successful yet. The idea of reserving special EGU trains has also been investigated but seems fairly complicated due to administrative regulations, the need to reserve a track path 2 to 5 years in advance, and would require a substantial safety deposit.

Returning beer bottles:

-About 40.000 beers were served in returnable glass bottles this year. It only depends on us to return these empty beers to the collecting boxes that can be found everywhere in and around the building.

What could be made better

In the forthcoming years, several other changes might come up to improve our environmental impact and use of consumables:

Reusable carpet:

That’s my favorite! Where possible, single-use carpet was already removed this year. However, our poster Halls in the basement are installed in an underground parking, so some noise reduction and embellishment are needed. What if the carpet was not thrown away at the end of the week but re-used? I’d love to pay the small extra cost that it would induce (7.32 Eur per attendee).

Coffee cups:

A provision of 108,000 paper cups was prepared for the 2019 General Assembly. We the attendees could actually bring our own coffee mugs! I personally had not even thought about it until other participants suggested it to me (although EGU had a #EGUmug competition on twitter to raise awareness). A nice gesture from all of us next year?


I want to ride my bicycle I want to ride it where I like“. Queen’s wish from 1978 should become real in 2020 at EGU: We should get a facilitated access to “City Bike Vienna” (6) and bike parking sites at the conference center.

Vegan lunch bags:

A choice of vegan lunch bags at lunch-time events could be provided. It is hard to guess how many attendees are vegan because of the huge span in numbers between countries and studies, together with a bias that veganism is more of an affluent (elitist) phenomenon (7)… Independently of this, a vegan food option could comply with the diet needs for a few hundreds of attendees, it might well lower the carbon impact of EGU, and it is enjoyable even without following a vegan diet.

Streaming and videoconferencing:

Currently EGU webstreams union-wide sessions, such as the Union Symposia and Union medal lectures. A possible future for EGU would be to webstream more sessions and even allow speakers to give their talk remotely as a videoconference. Saving a flight from Sydney to Vienna would spare 2.37 tons CO2… (8). Remote attendance may need a registration fee to cover the costs of webstreaming and rental of the conference centre. This might also be attractive to the very busy geoscientists or those having teaching duties during the General Assembly. Of course, an important reason for attending conferences is meeting colleagues and networking. That, unfortunately requires travel, and here is where we as participants have a responsibility.

Green meeting certification:

The Austria Center Vienna (ACV) hosting the General Assembly offers support and provide free green meeting certification in compliance with the Austrian ecolabel (9). A short term goal for EGU could be to achieve the mandatory criteria to be met in nine areas and become certified as a green meeting.

Condemn air travel

The EGU and Copernicus teams are doing large efforts to go greener. This is great, but let’s admit it: the one huge CO2 weak spot of a conference lies in the travel impact of its attendees. Flying is “the most carbon-profligate activity (per hour) humankind has thus far developed”… This is why EGU is trying hard to encourage the use of train (see above). But do we actually need any support to take the train? No, this is a self-motivated, moral choice, and several groups of scientists have already organized to condemn air travel by researchers:

-A petition currently received >1800 signatures for their “Call on Universities and Professional Associations to Greatly Reduce Flying” (10) with >600 of the signatories being researchers. The petition is anchored to a blog providing information and resources around the issue (11). Please sign and spread it as well!
-The “No fly climate Sci” was created by Earth Scientists and groups around 290 biographies of academics and non-academics that decided to reduce their travel by plane (12).
-In France, the recently created group “Labos 1.5” promotes clean practices in Science (13). They published their seminal text in the newspaper “Le Monde” (12), the latter also publishing other tribunes about scientists’ addiction to kerosene (13).
-As a member of the University of Bern (CH), I acknowledge to be in a very privileged situation. It is a huge pride that the majority of our lab took the 10 hours train ride to attend the General Assembly (>20 persons). The University of Bern dissuades air travels; our travel reimbursement forms state that “Flying has to be limited to the unavoidable and CO2 emissions have to be compensated* (14)”. If you are part of a lab that similarly fosters environmentally friendly practices, please share your experience in the comments!

These examples of initiatives show us one fact: things are moving, less and less scientists accept to plead the importance of their work to destroy the environment. We feel the “flygskam” (15). It’s time to change our practices. And in case this text is troubling you, it is probably not going to be the last one: the flood of millions of high-school students supporting Greta Thunberg is about to join the ranks of our universities.


*In German: “Flugreisen sind auf das Notwendigste zu beschränken. CO2-Emissionen sind grundsätzlich mittels eines Klimatickets zu kompensieren, dessen Wahl in der Kompetenz der Organisationseinheit liegt. Die Kompensation ist über Drittmittel zu finanzieren.

Glacial grooves from the Laurentide Ice Sheet (Québec, Canada)

These impressive glacial grooves observed along the North Shore of the St. Lawrence Estuary (Québec, Canada) were carved into the crystalline bedrock by the Laurentide Ice Sheet.
The grooves mark the basement of a complex sedimentary system known as the Tadoussac Delta, lying at the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord and intimately tied to the Late Pleistocene-Early Holocene deglaciation of the area.
The exact glacial dynamics that created these straight regular marks has still to be constrained. For more information on the formative processes and the general context, keep an eye on a forthcoming paper by Lajeunesse et al…
These grooves were visited this summer during a fantastic field trip of the ISC2018: “Landforms, sedimentary facies and stratigraphic architecture of a deglacial, forced-regressive context: the Québec North Shore” by Pierre Dietrich, Patrick Lajeunesse and Jean-François Ghienne.

EGU’s lost strata… what happens to conference carpets?

Being a stratigrapher or not, there’s one stratum you have all trod upon if you ever went to the General Assembly (GA), without probably noticing it. The uppermost unit of EGU’s GA floor, a ca. 5 mm thick layer with a soft rubbery texture and peculiar light-grey colour, outcropping over the whole poster halls: Carpet! Yes, the focus of this post is the carpet draping the GA’s floor with its lifetime of 5 days and yearly recurrence.

We never thought about it, until we thought about it all the time. This brand new carpet, specially produced for our yearly geoscience event, 12.000 m2 (1), put here for 5 days of conference. And then what?

The growing queue on Friday evening to enter the conveners’ party is the perfect occasion to take a walk through the halls and observe the methodical deconstruction that happens during the whole night. And yes, carpet seems to be thrown away. After asking Copernicus (the company that organizes the EGU meetings, 2), which called the company taking care of mounting and taking care of the infrastructure, which explained that they employ another company for carpet disposal, it is uncertain what actually happens with this material.

This beautiful grey carpet…

Carpet waste in numbers
As far as we know, this process repeats every week for every meeting, and at most conference centers in the world. That sounds like a consequent amount of carpets… The topic has actually already attracted the attention of the “ZeroWaste” environmentalists, and there is a huge amount of information and references in their reports which we will not retranscript here (3, 4). Here is a brief summary in numbers:
-700 Mio. m2 of carpet were sold in 2016 in the EU, 11.7 Bn. m2 in the USA;
-1.6 Mio. tons of carpets are thrown away yearly in the EU;
-Without transparent information, the authors of the report “believe” that only 3% of this carpet is recycled (actually down-cycled);
-97% (= 1.552.000.000 kg) ends up in landfills or is incinerated;
-Some organisations claim that they recycle large parts of their carpets, however, in many countries, incinerating waste to collect heat is considered as recycling. The Cannes festival for example claims that they recycle 100% of their carpet (5), comparing numbers from the French website, it’s actually 16 tons out of 80 that come to recycling, which is barely 20%.

We, the EGU community, can change the norm
We truly believe in EGU, we truly believe in our good intentions, we embrace EGU’s motto that “we are a bottom-up organization”, that our Early-Career-Scientists (ECS) are given a special place and voice, and that we all agree that wasting carpet makes no sense. We really see that EGU can become an environmentally-friendly meeting that will find a solution and become a model for recycling conference carpet. EGU already offers reduced train fares for their participants, the possibility to compensate carbon emissions, they made an effort on reusable water-skins. This carpet challenge is only the reachable next step!

We thought about it for the case of the GA, and well, there are a few constrains that cannot be tackled easily:
Noise reduction: In a hall containing 15.000 geoscientists hydrating themselves with free beers, the sound volume increases rapidly, and carpets might be useful to reduce resonance (although this should really be measured);
Flexibility: The event industry should be able to transform the space for its need, so that swarms of different holes in the carpets will be created for each occasion. Thus consequent parts of a carpet floor still need to be changed on each occasion;
Cleanliness: Carpets can become dirty very fast, especially with free red wine. It is not sure that chemical cleaning products would be better for the environment than recycling carpets;
Industry: There is a strong “event-carpet” market. Forcing the re-use of products would have a negative impact on it, and it is often wise to find a solution together with the industry.

Under these conditions, it seems that single-use carpet remains the easiest solution for a while. Other solutions would imply consequent re-structuration of the halls for noise reduction, force a fixed exhibition format to the event industry, and disturb a well-established market. This could confront us with more opponents than supporters.

The Austria Center of Vienna (ACV, the building hosting EGU, 1) is neither in charge of carpet, nor of waste management, yet they provide containers for disposal. This is somehow a good news, since it means that Copernicus has the full freedom to decide what happens with the waste of EGU.

A recyclable design, that gets recycled
The current dominant carpeting is manufactured with multiple layers (the face fiber i.e. what we see, and several backing layers, where the fibers connect to) made of different types of material (nylon, polypropylene, PET, PVC, latex) that are glued together and really hard to separate. This sandwiched mixture is thus, in its design, near impossible to recycle. But solutions exist for almost 100% recyclable carpets.

Now come the subtle differences of the green washing vocabulary. It’s not because something is recyclable that it is created with recycled material, and unless they are collected and sent to a recycling platform, recyclable materials won’t recycle themselves.
There’s also a consequent difference between “down-cycling”, i.e. recycling into a product of lesser quality and real “closed-loop” recycling, whereby a carpet is recycled as… a carpet.
Finally, many claim to “recover” their waste without further explanation. It usually means that the waste is burnt to produce heat (energy recovery). -Germany, the European leader in recycling claims to recycle 65% of its total waste. Actually they collect 65% of their waste in a sorted fashion, but 35% of it is actually incinerated for “energy recovery” (6). There seem to have been a law proposal in the EU to exclude burning from the numbers, but guess who voted against? Germany did, but we’re going off topic here.-

The commonly used “partially” recyclable carpet costs about: 1.20 Eur/m2 for an area of the size of the AVC halls (12.000 m2), according to quotes by French carpet company “Beaulieu”. This is a cost of around 14.400 Eur for one of our GA. The cost for a 100% recyclable carpet floor would be only 0.2 Eur/m2 higher, adding a total extra-charge of 2400 Eur). Using carpets 100% recyclable would thus induce an over-cost of less than 0.16 Eur per participant in the GA. Who would disagree?

Existing solutions
There is another large meeting hosted by ACV, the “European Radiology Congress” (>20.000 participants, 7), which took care of their carpet problem. They are provided by the company Alma, which produces the “Kenafloor” (8), a needlefelt carpet made of kenaf (9) and 100% biodegradable, as well as the “Alma Green” a carpet 100% recyclable …into carpet (10). And the waste management company of the European Radiology congress confirmed that all carpets ends up in a recycling chain. One step further, the European Radiology Congress is also organized as a “green meeting” (11). This is a Austrian certificate that a meeting can reach by accomplishing some environmentally friendly points, and the ACV Vienna is habilitated to deliver it. The ACV even provide assistance to reach as many points as possible.

So in conclusion, solutions and working examples exist. We’d love that our whole EGU community, members, Program Committee, ECS representatives, the Copernicus office, and the ACV work together to walk on sustainable carpets for the next GA. And why not target in the same time to reach the “green meeting” standards?

Guilhem Amin Douillet & Vanille Ritz

(1) The website of the Austria Vienna Center states that they have 22.000m2 of space, 12.000 of them for the four exhibition halls (
(2) Copernicus is the society that organizes the EGU meeting, as well as became an ethical open access publisher, and offers its service for organization to other meetings.