Union-wide events at EGU 2018

Union-wide events at EGU 2018

Wondering what to expect at the General Assembly this year? Here are some of the highlights:

Union Symposia (US)

For events which will have general appeal, regardless of your field of research, look no further than the Union Symposia. The very first session, organized in collaboration with the European and American space agencies (ESA and NASA) will highlight observation missions focused on Earth and other planetary bodies, as well as discuss the challenges of organising future missions in an international framework.

Following this session will be Union Symposia 1: Past achievements and future challenges for the Geosciences, co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union. The Union Symposia on Wednesday will reflect on the fifty years of international ocean drilling. Thursday’s session will then feature reports on the Cassini mission and future perspectives for the exploration of the outer solar system.

And finally, Union Symposia 5 on Friday will cover Scientific research in a changing European Union: where we stand and what we aim for. Panelists will explore some of the challenges and potential threats to academics in the EU and how these issues can be addressed and overcome. The session will also outline some of the advantages of the EU, funding programmes that are currently provided and how the European Union can continue to develop and nurture its researchers.

Great Debates (GDB)
This year we’re holding four Great Debates! The topics covered this year are varied, from Natural versus anthropogenic threats for life on Earth to Low-risk geo-engineering: are techniques available now? The role of scientists in policy-making is another hot topic on the Great Debate agenda, with one debate dedicated to the subject on whether to be hands on or hands off in the political sphere. Continuing with the success of last year’s Early Career Scientist (ECS) Great Debate, the 2018 General Assembly invites participants to join a round-table discussion where everyone will be given the opportunity to discuss this year’s chosen topic: “Should early career scientists use time developing transferrable skills?” Whether you are in Vienna or elsewhere, be sure to follow and join in the debates using #EGU18GDB on twitter.

Educational & Outreach Symposia (EOS)
Educational and Outreach Symposia are sessions dedicated to all things education and outreach, and include the Geosciences Information for Teachers (GIFT) workshop, a long-running event for high school teachers that helps shorten the time between discovery and textbook.

Medal Lectures and Lectures organized by related scientific societies (ML, LRS)
There will be 3 lectures organized by related scientific societies as well as a grand total of 46 Medal Lectures this year!

Meet EGU (EGU)
Meet EGU does exactly what it says on the tin – these sessions are a great opportunity to get to know your division president and early career representative, put faces to names and find out what’s going on in the Union.

Townhall and Splinter Meetings (TSM)
Townhall Meetings allow participants to take part in a lot of open discussion. This year’s meetings cover a huge variety of topics, from a general discussion of the use of preprints and preprint servers like EarthArXiv, through to a talk on how geoscientists should address urbanisation. Like Townhall Meetings, Splinter Meetings are organised by participants, but they are typically smaller and can be either public or by invitation only.

The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria from 8 to 13 April. Check out the full session programme on the General Assembly website.

Imaggeo on Mondays: The Crossroads of Flood and Drought

Imaggeo on Mondays: The Crossroads of Flood and Drought

This picture was taken on the way back from collecting field measurements at the Lordsburg Playa in southwestern New Mexico, USA. The setting sun highlights the contrast between the dry, cracked soil and the standing water from antecedent rainfall.

A playa is a flat topographic depression in arid or semi-arid regions that contains a large amount of deposited sediment. When the surface of the playa is dry, this deposited sediment is exposed and at risk of being entrained into the atmosphere by wind.

With an extent of approximately 250 square kilometers, Lordsburg Playa is a dust ‘hot spot’ in the southwestern Unites States. Dust events originating from the playa are normally small, but they can contain high dust concentrations and occur frequently during the dry season in spring.

The Lordsburg Playa is of particular interest to the local population, as the interstate highway I-10 crosses over the region. Under windy conditions, dust emissions from the playa can drastically reduce visibility on the highway and cause severe traffic accidents.

In October 2016, I went on a one-week field trip to the playa, installing a temporary measurement site to study local dust emission mechanisms. At that time, parts of the playa were still flooded from summer monsoon precipitation. During the field trip, we observed a local, but strong dust event. The event started in the morning and peaked at around 9:00 am when visibility was reduced to a few meters for a short time. Fortunately, the dust was blown northward during this event and the highway was not affected. Visibility recovered shortly after, but small-scale dust phenomena such as dust plumes and dust devils occurred almost continuously during most of the day.

By Martina Klose, a post-doctoral researcher at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) in Spain

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at

GeoTalk: How will large Icelandic eruptions affect us and our environment?

GeoTalk: How will large Icelandic eruptions affect us and our environment?

Geotalk is a regular feature highlighting early career researchers and their work. In this interview we speak to Anja Schmidt, an interdisciplinary researcher at the University of Cambridge who draws from atmospheric science, climate modelling, and volcanology to better understand the environmental impact of volcanic eruptions. She is also the winner of a 2018 Arne Richter Award for Outstanding Early Career Scientists. You can find her on twitter at @volcanofile. 

Thank you for talking to us today! Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little more about your career path so far?

I was born and raised in Leipzig, Germany. I started my career completing an apprenticeship as an IT system engineer with the engineering company Siemens. I then decided to combine my interests in geology and IT by studying geology and palaeontology (with minors in Computing/IT and Geophysics) at the University of Leipzig in Germany. As part of my degree programme, I also studied at the University of Leeds’ School of Earth and Environment as an exchange student. I liked studying there so much I ended up returning to Leeds for a PhD.

My PhD on the atmospheric and environmental impacts of tropospheric volcanic aerosol again combined my interests in computing and volcanology, although I had to educate myself in atmospheric physics and chemistry, which wasn’t easy to begin with. However, I was embedded in a diverse,   supportive research group with excellent supervision, which eased the transition from being a geologist to becoming a cross between an atmospheric scientist and a volcanologist.

Initially, being neither one nor the other made me nervous. My supervisors and mentors all had rather straightforward career paths, whereas I was thought of as an atmospheric scientist when I presented my research in front of volcanologists and as a volcanologist when I presented to atmospheric scientists.

After my PhD, I spent just under 2 years at one post-doc before securing an independent research fellowship at the University of Leeds. The first year of total independence and responsibility as principle investigator was very challenging, but after a while I began to appreciate the benefits of the situation. I also really started to embrace the fact that I would always sit between the disciplines. I spent my summers in the United States at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research, helping them to build up their capability to simulate volcanic eruptions in their climate model. These research visits had a major impact on my career as they generated a lot of new research ideas, opened up opportunities and strengthened my network of collaborators greatly.

I considered myself settled when, shortly before the end of my fellowship, a lectureship came up. It had the word ‘interdisciplinary’ in its title and I simply couldn’t resist. Since September 2017, I have been an interdisciplinary lecturer at the University of Cambridge in the UK.

At this year’s General Assembly, you will receive an Arne Richter Award for Outstanding Early Career Scientists for your work on the environmental impacts of volcanic eruptions. What brought you to study this particular field?

I have always been fascinated by volcanic eruptions, but my first active volcano viewing wasn’t until college, where I had to chance to travel to Stromboli, a volcanic island off the coast of Sicily. While studying at the University of Leipzig, I used every opportunity to join field trips to volcanoes. I ended up spending 10 weeks in Naples, Italy to work with Giovanni Chiodini, a researcher from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Rome, and his team on CO2 degassing from soils at the Solfatara volcano. Later on I was awarded a scholarship from the University of Leeds, which allowed me to delve deeper into the subject, although I ended up learning as much about atmospheric science and computer modelling as about volcanology.

Anja in front of the 2010 Fimmvörðuháls eruption in Iceland. Fimmvörðuháls was the pre-cursor eruption to Eyjafjallajökull. Credit: Anja Schmidt.

My PhD work focused on Icelandic volcanism and its potential effects on the atmosphere as well as society. In 2010, during the 3rd year of my PhD studies, Eyjafjallajökull erupted in Iceland. While an eruption like this and its impacts did not really come as a surprise to a volcanologist, I personally considered it a game-changer for my career. I had an opportunity to witness the pre-cursor eruption in Iceland and present my research. Within a matter of months, interest in my work increased. I even started to advise UK government officials on the risks and hazards of volcanic eruptions in Iceland.

In August 2014, an effusive eruption started at the Holuhraun lava field in Iceland. To this date, analysing field measurements and satellite data of the site and modelling simulations keeps me busy. Many of my senior colleagues told me that there is one event or eruption that defined their careers; for me that’s the 2014-2015 Holuhraun eruption.

At the General Assembly you also plan to talk about your work on volcanic sulphur emissions and how these emissions can alter our atmosphere as well as potentially affect human health in Europe. Could you tell us a little more about this research?

On average, there is one volcanic eruption every three to five years in Iceland. The geological record in Iceland also reveals that sulphur-rich and long-lasting volcanic eruptions, similar to Iceland’s Laki eruption in 1783-1784, occur once every 200 to 500 years. Sulphur dioxide and sulphate particles produced by volcanic eruptions can have detrimental effects on air quality and human health. Historical records from the 1780s imply that the Laki eruption caused severe environmental stress and contributed to spikes in mortality rates far beyond the shores of Iceland. While these long-lasting eruptions occur much less frequently than more typical short-duration explosive eruptions (like Grímsvötn 2011), they are classified as ‘high-impact’ events.

I was always interested in investigating how a similar magnitude eruption like Laki’s would affect modern society. By combining a global aerosol microphysics model with volcanological datasets and epidemiological evidence, I led a cross-disciplinary study to quantify the impact that a future Laki-type eruption would have on air quality and human health in Europe today.

Our work suggests that such an eruption could significantly degrade air quality over Europe for up to 12 months, effectively doubling the concentrations of small-sized airborne particles in the atmosphere during the first three months of the eruption. Drawing from the epidemiological literature on human response to air pollution, I showed that up to 140,000 cardiopulmonary fatalities could occur across Europe due to such an eruption, a figure that exceeds the annual mortality from seasonal influenza in Europe.

In January 2012, this discovery was used by the UK government as contributing evidence for including large-magnitude effusive Icelandic eruptions to the UK National Risk Register. This will help to mitigate the societal impacts of future eruptions through contingency planning.

Anja and her colleague Evgenia Ilyinskaya from the University of Leeds carrying out measurements during the 2014-2015 Holuhraun eruption in Iceland. Credit: Njáll Fannar Reynisson.

Since then, we have done more work on smaller-magnitude effusive eruptions such as the 2014-2015 Holuhraun eruption in Iceland, showing that this eruption resulted in short-lived volcanic air pollution episodes across central and northern Europe and longer-lasting and more complex pollution episodes in Iceland itself.

Something that you’ve touched on throughout this interview are the challenges of ‘sitting between the disciplines.’ From your experience, what has helped you address these issues throughout your career?

Indeed, it is often challenging to sit between the disciplines, but it can also be very rewarding. It helps to ignore boundaries between disciplines. I also tend to read a lot and very widely to get an idea of key concepts and issues in specific fields. In addition, I think collaboration and a willingness to challenge yourself are key if you want to make progress and break traditional disciplinary boundaries.

Anja, thank you so much for speaking to us about your research and career path. Before I let you go, what advice do you have for aspiring scientists? 

Be curious and never hesitate to ask a lot questions, no matter how ‘stupid’ or basic they may seem to you. The latter is particularly true when it comes to cross-disciplinary collaboration and work.  I also didn’t always follow the conventional route most people would advise you to take to achieve something. Never be afraid to take a chance or work with some level of risk.

I also have two or three close mentors that I can approach whenever I require some advice or feedback. No matter what career stage you are at, I think it almost always helps to get an outsider’s perspective and insight not only when there are problems.

Finally, never forget to have fun. Some of my best pieces of work were done when I was surrounded by collaborators that are really fun to be with and work with!

Interview by Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer.


Ilyinskaya, E., et al.: Understanding the environmental impacts of large fissure eruptions: Aerosol and gas emissions from the 2014–2015 Holuhraun eruption (Iceland), Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 472, 309-322, 2017

Schmidt, A., et al.: Satellite detection, long-range transport, and air quality impacts of volcanic sulfur dioxide from the 2014–2015 flood lava eruption at Bárðarbunga (Iceland)Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres12097399757, 2015

Schmidt, et al.: Excess mortality in Europe following a future Laki-style Icelandic eruption, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(38), 15710-15715, 2011

EGU 2018: Getting to Vienna, getting to sleep and getting to know the city

EGU 2018: Getting to Vienna, getting to sleep and getting to know the city

With the conference only a few weeks away here is a brief, and by no means comprehensive, introduction of how to get to Vienna and what to do when you’re there!

Getting here

Vienna’s International Airport is served by many of the major European airlines. If you would like to consider overland you’ll find more information on the General Assembly website. And, if you haven’t seen it already, make sure you check out the General Assembly guide, which is full of even more hints and tips on how to get to Vienna and get ready for the conference.

Getting to sleep

An abundance of accommodation options can be found on the EGU 2018 website. But if you’re not a fan of hotels, there are a variety of alternatives in Vienna. Here are a few examples!

If you’re looking for a low cost option, there are a host of hostels in Vienna, just check these sites:

And, if you’d like to feel more at home, or stay in a flat with fellow geoscientists, you can consider the apartments available in Vienna:

Getting to know Vienna

Vienna’s Prater Park. Credit: Michal Jarmoluk (distributed via

The Vienna tourist board has all you need to know about sightseeing, shows, shopping, dining and other information about Vienna and you can top this information up with this list of the city’s museums.

Tourist information offices can be found in the Arrivals Hall of Vienna International Airport or at the Tourist Information Centre, which sits behind the Vienna State Opera (the Tourist Information Centre is open daily 09:00-19:00 and you can access it from the U-bahn stop Albertinaplatz/Maysedergasse). Additionally, there is another tourist information office located in the main train station, the Hauptbahnhof, also accessible on the U-bahn. It is also open Mon- Sun from 09:00-19:00.

If you’ve been before and can recommend a good spot for dinner, or something to do when you have a little down time, feel free to make suggestions in the comments!

The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria from 8 to 13 April. Check out the full session programme, for a complete list of short courses available, on the General Assembly website.