GeoTalk: Maribel García-Ibáñez, Early Career Scientist Representative

GeoTalk: Maribel García-Ibáñez, Early Career Scientist Representative

In addition to the usual GeoTalk interviews, were we highlight the work and achievements of early career researchers, this month we’ll also introduce one of the (outgoing) Division early career scientist representatives (ECS). The representatives are responsible for ensuring that the voice of EGU ECS membership is heard. From organising short courses during the General Assembly, through to running division blogs and attending regular ECS representative meetings, their tasks in this role are varied.  Their work is entirely voluntary and they are all active members of their research community, so we’ll also be touching on their scientific work during the interview.

Today we are talking to Maribel García-Ibáñez, ECS representative for the Ocean Sciences (OS) Division. Maribel has been in post for over 18 months, but her term comes to an end at the 2018 General Assembly. If our conversation with her inspires you to get involved with EGU and its activities for early career scientists, then check out what vacancies are available.

Before we get stuck in, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little more about yourself and your career?

Hi! As you said, I am Maribel and I am the ECS representative for the OS Division. I come from Spain where I studied the degree of Marine Sciences and later I obtained a PhD in Chemical Oceanography. My research interests are water masses and ocean acidification, especially in the North Atlantic and Arctic regions. Nowadays, I am based in Norway, where I work as a Postdoc at Uni Research.

Although we touch upon it in the introduction of this post: what does your role as ECS representative involve?

Well, as you mentioned, our main role is to ensure communication between the EGU and their ECS. The way to approach it varies from one division to another. In the OS division, we try to be as active as possible in social media (you can find us on Facebook and Twitter) and we also organise some short courses during the General Assembly. I also communicate with the OS division President, Karen Heywood, to increase the ECS representation within the division. Finally, I participate in the regular Skype meetings with ECS representatives from the other divisions during which we discuss about how to increase the ECS representation in EGU.

Why did you put yourself forward for the role?

I attended the General Assembly the year before becoming an ECS representative and I loved its networking environment. However, I felt a bit lost in such a big conference and when I saw the vacancy I thought I could help other newcomers feel more comfortable and welcome.

What is your vision for the Ocean Sciences Division ECS community and what do you hope to achieve in the time you hold the position?

I think it is a diamond in the rough. I see a lot of potential in networking, but we still need a push to become a more active division in EGU. I must also say that I have already seen an improvement in this aspect during my years as ECS representative, which I hope will continue. My idea when I started as ECS representative for the OS division was to create an active group of ECS ready to push forward the division. However, it has been harder than I thought, but I am positive about the future.

What can your ECS Division members expect from the Ocean Sciences Division in the 2018 General Assembly?

We have 63 sessions and 3 co-organised short courses: “How to publish in the EGU journal Ocean Science”; “What are the key problems in Climate Science?”; and “Polar science career panel”. I encourage the ECS from the OS Division to attend the Division Meeting during the General Assembly to get to know the division activities and the current division officers. I also recommend participating in the Mentoring Programme to help newcomers to develop new connections (deadline: 31 January 2018) and active participate in the events especially designed for ECS, such as The Early Career Scientists’ Great Debate that next GA will deal with: Should early career scientists use time developing transferrable skills?; and the short course Academia is not the only route: exploring alternative career options for Earth scientists. And, please, stay tuned to the EGU-OS’s official social media (Facebook and Twitter) and the EGU’s official social media and the EGU website, in particular, the pages dedicated to ECSs, and subscribe to the mailing lists so you do not miss any future activities.

How can those wanting to, get involved with the EGU?

Simply check the online resources to get to know what is going on in EGU. All divisions have they arms open to new active members! If you are interested in getting involved in the OS Division, you can contact me via email or social media (Facebook and Twitter). You can also contact the President of Division, Karen Heywood. Also, in 2018, our division is searching for a new ECS representative. If you are interested in the position, apply as a candidate for the OS  ECS representative by contacting us through the contact points mentioned above.

Interview by Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer

Arts and culture at EGU 2018

Arts and culture at EGU 2018

As well as a stimulating scientific programme (remember the call-for-abstracts is currently open!), the upcoming General Assembly will also feature exciting cultural activities. Read on for a whistle-stop tour of what to expect, and of course, stay tuned to our social media channels, and follow the official hashtag (#EGU18) for more information on the run-up to the conference.

A poet in residence

You might ask: what on Earth does poetry have to do with science?

Sam Illingworth – Science Communication Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University – is a firm believer that “poetry can be a very effective tool in communicating science to a broader audience, and can even help to enhance the long-term retention of scientific content.”

Since the 2016 edition of the meeting, along with a team of collaborators, Sam has organised the ever-popular ‘Rhyme Your Research’ short course, as well as poetry clinics at the Early Career Scientist Lounge and hosted the EGU Poetry slam (which takes place at the Conveners Reception).

Sam’s efforts to inspire others to take up poetry as a means of communicating their research, as well as his back catalogue of, frankly, brilliant science poems, mean he’ll be the poet in residence at EGU 2018. In this new role, as well as the activities he’s run in the past, Sam will turn some of the research presented during the conference into science poems.

“I am looking forward to the GA, because it is the scientific highlight of every year for me, and because this year I will be able to write even more poetry about the science that I love!” says Sam.

Read on for a taste of what to expect from Sam at EGU 2018:

What is a geoscientist?

We listen to the sounds of hidden lines,

And use them to look back to distant times.

We weigh the Earth to every grain of sand,

And use them to define where we now stand.

We model waves across the air and sea,

And use them to infer what might then be.

We search for answers to how we exist,

That is what makes a geoscientist.


Cartoons, cartoons everywhere

Words aren’t for everyone; some, have a much more visual memory, and, if you throw in a little humour in the mix too, then understanding complex science can become so much easier! That is precisely what Matthew Partridge (aka. ErrantScience) is an expert at.

At EGU 2017, Matthew set himself the challenge of keeping a daily diary of his time at the conference. As if that weren’t a tall enough order, the posts featured not only a witty take on his time in Vienna, but also cartoons!

In 2018 we’ve invited Matthew back, but this time, not to document his own conference experience, but rather to bring some of the science presented in the poster halls and presentation rooms to life.

The art (and science) of sound

When conducting research, Earth scientists rely most on what they see and can touch in the environment around them. Less often, sound might come into play too. But what if it could play a bigger part?

Antonio Menghini, a geophysicitst and Stefano Pontani, founders of EMusic (ElectroMagnetic Music) have taken that thought one step further. What if sound could not only play a part in research but turn complex, difficult to grasp electromagnetic data, into beautiful music which brings the science closer to all, not just researchers? What if we could capture the sound of Earth?

Well, at EGU 2018 you’ll be able to find out! Antonio and Stefano are due to perform “Sounds from the Geology of Italy”, during which they’ll play EMusic drawn from electromagnetic data collected in 4 beautiful scenarios: the Phlegrean Fields, Venice Lagoon, Selinunte Temple and Castelluccio Plain. Stefano will be on guitar and loops, while Riccardo Marini will focus on electronics and Marco Guidolotti will play the saxophone.

It promises to be a musical bonanza – absolutely not to be missed!

This is an excerpt of an EMusic show performed in an Ancient Roman Theater the last summer, with a similar musical format:.

Arts and culture in the scientific programme

As well as these Union-wide initiatives, the proposed conference programme of is packed with sessions and short courses which explore the relationship between art and science. If this is a topic which you feel passionately about, or would like to contribute more to, consider submitting an abstract to these sessions or attend the workshops:

·       EOS8: Scientists, artists and the Earth: co-operating for a better planet sustainability

·       EOS9: A pilot-platform for performing your Earth&Art work

·       SC2.5: How to cartoon science

·       While not strictly art, this session seeks contributions on how make large data sets visually appealing, ESSI4.1: State of the Art in Earth Science Data Visualization

This list is not comprehensive, please explore the programme for other similar sessions.

EGU 2018 will take place from 08 to 13 April 2017 in Vienna, Austria. For more information on the General Assembly, see the EGU 2018 website and follow us on Twitter (#EGU18 is the official conference hashtag) and Facebook.

Imaggeo on Mondays: A spectacular rainbow

Imaggeo on Mondays: A spectacular rainbow

Back in February 2005, François Dulac and Rémi Losno worked in the field in the very remote Kerguelen Islands (also known as the Desolation Islands). Located in the southern Indian Ocean they are one, of the two, only exposed parts of the mostly submerged Kerguelen Plateau.

Our work consisted in sampling atmospheric aerosols and their deposition by rain on the island, which is a meeting point for the roaring fourties (strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere between 40 and 50 degrees latitude) and the equally turbulent furious fifties (which occur at more southerly latitudes still).

The aim of the study was to evaluate the input of chemical elements (in very low concentrations) derived from continental soil dust, to the remote surface waters of the Southern Ocean. Given the scarcity of land areas at this latitude, the particles were expected to have travelled long distances before arriving at Kerguelen.

For example, iron – one of the major elements in the Earth crust and soils – is of particular interest in this oceanic area because it is a micro-nutrient that limits the productivity (and related CO2 sink) of the Southern Ocean.

The island’s air was often very clear and the horizontal visibility unusually high, as can be seen in the photo. It highlights that atmospheric aerosol concentrations (the mixture of solid and liquid particles from natural and anthropogenic sources) are very low in this environment. Field sampling and subsequent chemical analyses require constraining protocols adapted to ultra-traces in order to minimize contamination of samples and blank levels.

The unique atmospheric conditions also meant we had problems estimating distances: we often found ourselves underestimating the stretch between two points during our long walks between the base and our remote sampling stations. In addition, the combination of very clean air, low sun and fast running atmospheric low-pressure systems carrying water clouds at low-level over the cold ocean make rainbows relatively frequent.

Walking back to the base after changing samples, we were caught in a rain shower. Raindrops were almost falling horizontally due to the high wind speed, leaving the soil dry downwind of the stones and rocks lying on the ground. A few minutes later clouds had passed and sunlight reflecting and diffracting in the cloud droplets offered us a spectacular semi-circular rainbow.

It was particularly special because it displayed an infrequent combination of (i) the main, classic, bright rainbow that shows up at 138-140 degrees from the direction of the sunlight, (ii) a secondary rainbow due to double reflection of sunlight in droplets that appears higher on the horizon at an angle of about 127-130 degrees and with an inversion of colours compared to the main bow (red inside), and (iii) one supernumerary rainbow with pastel green, pink and purple fringes on the inner side of the primary bow.

This stacked rainbow is caused by interferences and was first explained in 1804 by Thomas Young. It indicates the presence of small, uniformly sized droplets.  The dark area visible here on the right-hand side between the primary and secondary rainbows is called the Alexander’s band, after the ancient Greek philosopher Alexander of Aphrodisias comments on Aristotle’s Meteorology treatise, published in the early 3rd century. It is due to a lack of light resulting from the fact that diffracted rays are either reflected back inside the primary rainbow (causing this area to be brighter) or outside the secondary rainbow.

By François Dulac, Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’EnvironnementCEA/LSCE, Gif-sur-Yvette, France

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

GeoSciences Column: Don’t throw out that diary – medieval journals reveal the secret of lightning

GeoSciences Column: Don’t throw out that diary – medieval journals reveal the secret of lightning

When 17th century Japanese princess Shinanomiya Tsuneko took note of an afternoon storm in her diary one humid Kyoto summer, she could not have imagined her observations would one day help resolve a longstanding scientific conundrum. Statistical analysis of her journals has revealed a link between lightning strikes and the solar wind – proving that your teenage diary could contain good science, as well as bad poetry.

The mystery of lightning

Lightning has amazed and alarmed weather-watchers since time immemorial. So it may come as a surprise that we still have little idea what sets off one of nature’s most thrilling spectacles.

Any school child will tell you lightning is caused by a difference in electrical charge. Up- and downdrafts cause molecules of air and water to bump against each other, exchanging electrons. When the potential difference is big enough, all those separated charges comes rushing back in one big torrent, superheating the air and turning it into glowing plasma – that’s what we call lightning.

So far, so sensible. But there’s a problem. Air is an insulator – and a very good one at that. To get the current flowing, charged particles need some sort of bridge to travel across. And it’s this bridge that has vexed lightning scientists – fulminologists – for decades.

The most prominent theory points the finger at cosmic rays – heavy, fast-moving particles that impact the Earth from space. Packing energy roughly equivalent to a fast-bowled cricket ball into one tiny atom-sized package, a cosmic ray can shred electrons from their nuclei with ease. The spectacular Northern Lights reveal the effect this can have on the atmosphere: columns of ionised air, perfect conductors for charges to travel along.

Most cosmic rays originate in deep space, hurled at close to the speed of light from distant supernovae. The extreme heat of the sun’s surface also sends more than a few our way – the so-called ‘solar wind’ – but because these particles are more sluggish than galactic cosmic rays, researchers at first doubted they could have much effect on the atmosphere. Lightning’s time in the sun was yet to come.

27 days of summer

Anyone who has lived a year in Japan will be familiar with the country’s long, sultry summers – and its famously methodical Met Agency. It’s a good place to go looking for lightning.

Inspired by some tantalising work out of the UK, Hiroko Miyahara and colleagues across Japan went sifting through their own Met data for patterns that might suggest a connection between solar weather and lightning strikes. They had their eye out for one pattern in particular – the 27-day cycle caused by the sun’s rotation. This is just short enough that the solar wind streaming from any given region of the sun is fairly constant, limiting the impact of solar variability on the data. It’s also short enough to fit comfortably within one season, which helped the authors compare apples with apples over long timespans.

Armed with the appropriate controls, and a clever method they developed for counting lightning strikes that smooths over patchy observations, Miyahara and the team got stuck into the data for Japan circa 1989–2015. Early in 2017, in a paper published in Annales Geophysicae, they presented their results. The 27-day signal stood out to four standard deviations: a smoking-gun proof that solar weather and lightning strikes are connected.

But how is the relatively sluggish solar wind able to influence lightning strikes? The key, according to Miyahara, is the effect the solar wind has on the Earth’s magnetic field – sometimes bolstering and sometimes weakening it, allowing the more potent galactic cosmic rays to wreak their mayhem.

A window into the past

Of course, the 27-day cycle is only the shortest of the major solar cycles. It is well known that the intensity of the sun varies on an 11-year cycle, related to convection rates in the solar plasma. Less understood are the much longer centurial and millennial cycles. The sun passed through one such cycle between the late Middle Ages and now. The so-called Little Ice Age, coinciding with a phase of low sunspot activity known as the Maunder Minimum, precipitated agricultural collapse and even wars across the world – and solar physicists believe we may be due for another such minimum in the near future, if it hasn’t begun already.

Understanding these cycles is a matter of no small importance. Unfortunately, pre-modern data is often scattered and unreliable, hampering investigations. A creative approach is called for – one that blends the disciplines of the human historian and the natural historian. And this is exactly what Miyahara and the team attempted next.

Shinanomiya Tsuneko was born in Kyoto 1642 – just before the Maunder Minimum. A daughter of the Emperor, Shinanomiya became a much-respected lady of the Imperial Court, whose goings-on she meticulously recorded in one of the era’s great diaries. Luckily for Miyhara and his colleagues in the present day, Shinanomiya was also a lover of the weather, carefully noting her observations of all things meteorological – especially lightning.

Figure and text from Miyahara et al, 2017b: “a) Group sunspot numbers around the latter half of the Maunder Minimum. b) Solar cycles reconstructed from the carbon-14 content in tree rings. The red and blue shading denotes the periods of solar maxima and minima, respectively, used in the analyses. c) Periodicity of lightning events during the solar maxima shown in panel (b). The red dashed lines denote 2 and 3 SD during the solar maxima, and the red shaded bar indicates the 27–30-day period. d) Same as in panel c) but for solar minima.”

Shinanomiya’s diary is one of five Miyahara and the team consulted to build a continuous database of lightning activity covering an astonishing 100 years of Kyoto summers. Priestly diaries, temple records, and the family annals of the Nijo clan were all cross-referenced to produce the data set, which preserves a fascinating slice of Earth weather during the sun’s last Grand Minimum.
Analysis of this medieval data revealed the same 27-day cycle in lightning activity observed in more recent times – proof of the influence of the solar wind on lightning frequency. The strength of this signal proved to be greatest at the high points of the sun’s 11-year decadal sunspot cycle. And the signal was almost completely absent between 1668 and 1715 – the era of the Maunder Minimum, when sunspot numbers are known to have collapsed.

Put together, the data provide the strongest proof yet that solar weather can enhance – and diminish – the occurrence of lightning.

Lightning strikes twice

Miyahara and the team now hope to expand their dataset beyond the period 1668 – 1767. With a little luck – and a lot of digging around in dusty old archives – it may be possible to build a record of lightning activity around Japan from before the Maunder Minimum all the way up to the present day. A record like this, covering a grand cycle of solar activity from minimum to maximum and, perhaps soon, back to a minimum again, would help us to calibrate the lightning record, providing a powerful new proxy for solar activity past and future. It may even help us to predict the famously unpredictable – lightning strikes injure or kill a mind-boggling 24,000 people a year.

As for the rest of us, the work of Miyahara and his colleagues should prompt us to look up at the sky a little more often – and note down what we see. Who knows? Three hundred years from now, it could be your diary that sets off a climate revolution – though it may be best to edit out the embarrassing details first.

by Rohan S. Byrne, PhD student, University of Melbourne


Miyahara, H., Higuchi, C., Terasawa, T., Kataoka, R., Sato, M., and Takahashi, Y.: Solar 27-day rotational period detected in wide-area lightning activity in Japan, Ann. Geophys., 35, 583-588,, 2017a.

Miyahara, H., Aono, Y., and Kataoka, R.: Searching for the 27-day solar rotational cycle in lightning events recorded in old diaries in Kyoto from the 17th to 18th century, Ann. Geophys., 35, 1195-1200,, 2017b.