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This guest post was contributed by a scientist, student or a professional in the Earth, planetary or space sciences. The EGU blogs welcome guest contributions, so if you've got a great idea for a post or fancy trying your hand at science communication, please contact the blog editor or the EGU Communications Officer to pitch your idea.

Gender equality and equal opportunities – keep the discussion going!

Gender equality and equal opportunities – keep the discussion going!

Why do I feel uncomfortable as the only woman in a meeting? Why do they gossip about the male postdoc who is supervising three female MSc students? Have I really been asked to give this presentation just because I am a woman? It was thanks to all the work and reading I was doing for our study about gender inequality in the geosciences that I realised it is not ok I have to ask myself these questions.

In early 2018, it was my colleague and friend Andrea who came up with the idea to conduct an online survey about how geoscientists perceive gender stereotypes and inequality in their work environment. This was initially planned as a contribution to a session at the EGU General Assembly 2018. But once we realised how much this topic resonated in our community, we decided to aim for a publication in a scientific journal. ‘We’ are five early career hydrologists: Andrea Popp, Tim van Emmerik, Sina Khatami, Wouter Knoben and myself. None of us had prior experience conducting and analysing surveys, so we had to learn on the fly how to ask unambiguous questions and give the right number of possible answers. In just one month, more than 1200 people had participated in the online survey and we worked hard over the summer to analyse the results and write a story around them.

One and a half years later – after struggling with rejections from several geoscience journals – our study was finally accepted for publication in Earth and Space Science. We are happy to be able to contribute to the current conversation on this topic, which has been receiving more attention online (such as the Nature Geosciences Editorial “Of rocks and social justice” and a blog post from the EGU Hydrological Sciences division blog by Bettina Schaefli from the University of Bern.

The bottom line of our study is that we have serious problems with gender bias and inequality in our scientific community, and that these problems are not generally recognised in our community. Most strikingly, more than a quarter of the female respondents reported experiences with negative gender bias at their workplace (compared to under 10% of their male colleagues; see figure below).

Experiences with bias in scientific organizations among female vs. male respondents. Credit: Popp, A. L., Lutz, S. R., Khatami, S.,van Emmerik, T., & Knoben,W. J. M. (2019).

The respondents generally considered male geoscientists as more gender-biased than female geoscientists, and this became particularly obvious at the level of female professors, nearly half of whom perceive their male colleagues as gender-biased. Among the male respondents, however, it’s the postdocs who seem to feel most affected by negative gender biases. One explanation for this might be that some male postdocs expect disadvantages from policies that support early-career female scientists who might compete with them for the same positions.

Experience with gender bias in institutions by female and male respondents in each career level. Asterisks indicate statistically significant gender differences in each career level per category according to Fisher’s exact tests. Credit: Popp, A. L., Lutz, S. R., Khatami, S.,van Emmerik, T., & Knoben,W. J. M. (2019).

A crucial problem with a gender-imbalanced faculty, especially at higher career levels, is the lack of female role models at the workplace and conferences. Most of the female participants (84%) stated that role models are important to them and about a third of them prefer same-gender role models. But how can we make sure to have more female role models in academia? One could argue that gender quotas for academic positions would be a good way to attract and employ more women. However, our survey shows that gender quotas are a controversial issue, even among female respondents, with a quarter of them being rather critical of such quotas.

Approval vs. disapproval of gender quotas for academic positions among female and male respondents in each career level. Asterisks indicate statistically significant gender differences in each career level per category according to χ2-tests. Credit: Popp, A. L., Lutz, S. R., Khatami, S.,van Emmerik, T., & Knoben,W. J. M. (2019).

The key implication of our study is that those in leading positions – whose actions might have the largest impact – are the least affected by gender inequality in their job and might thus not see a good reason for taking a stand for more diversity and equality. In my own experience, I have had discussions with male senior scientists who are indeed willing to improve the current imbalance, but also believe that by inviting more women for job interviews or waiting for female students to move up the career ladder, the number of female senior scientists will gradually increase and the problem will finally be resolved.

In our paper, we argue that we as a community need to do so much more than this. We stress that, while the science community should certainly make an extra effort to look for qualified women when hiring new staff or awarding prizes, it is at least as important to challenge and improve the way we do research on a daily basis, interact and collaborate with each other and acknowledge our colleagues’ work.

Based on recent must-read literature (for example, Holmes et al., 2015) and personal discussions, we suggest several strategies in our paper to promote gender equality, among which are mandatory gender bias training, a transparent and standardised selection of job candidates and research grant awardees, more gender balance on the decision-making level of research institutions and scientific organisations such as EGU, and more flexible and family-friendly working conditions to support parents and informal caregivers.

And, above all, we should promote an open and continuous discussion about these matters, together with male colleagues of all career levels. Having such discussions can raise more awareness of the negative impact of exclusionary climates that exist in some institutions and scientific communities. These kind of environments can be harmful and daunting not only to female scientists, but also to ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ community, and everyone else who might not fit in with the ‘old white boys club’ culture. By having productive conversations on inappropriate and sexist comments, the feeling of being patronised or even silenced in discussions, or the pressure of having to work twice as hard to be recognised, we can work towards addressing these issues collectively.

So if you care about good science and happy scientists, please try to bring up this topic during meetings or personal conversations, and – if you are a woman scientist – find allies among your male colleagues who fight alongside you. Why should we all make an effort? Because we need a more gender-balanced and diverse workforce that ensures diverse perspectives, a more enjoyable work life and simply better science!

By Stefanie Lutz, Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research, Germany  

References

Holmes, M. A., OConnell, S. and Dutt, K., Eds.: Women in the Geosciences, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015.

 

Anon: Of rocks and social justice, Nature Geoscience, 9(11), 797–797, doi:10.1038/ngeo2836, 2016.

 

Popp, A. L., Lutz, S. R., Khatami, S., Emmerik, T. H. M. and Knoben, W. J. M.: A Global Survey on the Perceptions and Impacts of Gender Inequality in the Earth and Space Sciences, Earth and Space Science, doi:10.1029/2019ea000706, 2019.

Imaggeo on Mondays: How do Earth’s Northern Lights form?

Imaggeo on Mondays: How do Earth’s Northern Lights form?

Aurora Borealis, which means Northern Lights are caused by electrically charged particles from the sun, which enter the Earth’s atmosphere and collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen. When the charged particles are blown towards the Earth by the solar wind, they are largely deflected by the Earth’s magnetic field. However, the Earth’s magnetic field is weaker at the poles and therefore some particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere and collide with gas particles. It has been found that in most instances northern and southern auroras are mirror-like images that occur at the same time, with similar shapes and colours.

Auroras can appear in many vivid colours, although green is the most common. Auroras can also appear in many forms, from small patches of light that appear out of nowhere to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an incredible glow. Ny Ålesund, Svalbard constitutes an ideal platform for observing and investigating Aurora Borealis thanks to the scarcity of anthropogenic light sources and the dark polar night sky.

This photo was kindly provided by Gregory Tran, who is going to be the AWIPEV Station Leader for the Overwintering period 2019-2020.

Description by Konstantina Nakoudi, as it first appeared on imaggeo.egu.eu

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 http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

Imaggeo on Mondays: A lifeline between light and shadow

Imaggeo on Mondays: A lifeline between light and shadow

The Rapaälven making its way through the Rapadalen valley in Northern Sweden. After over a week of hiking through pure wilderness I reached the summit of Skierffe together with three friends. We were just blown away by the view and completely in awe for the beautiful shape of the rivers course… little lakes in between river channels of different sizes as well as dense vegetation forming a habitat for so many animals.. all controlled by erosion and the force of the water cycle…

A few days later we learned how difficult it is to hike through terrain like this for humans but how fast and quiet a moose can move right across the valley.

The Rapaälven is the biggest river in the Sarek National Park, the Swedish part of Lapland. Four smaller rivers (Smájllajåkkå, Mikkájåkkå, Guohperjåkkå, Áhkáåkkå) form this 75km long stream that drains around 30 different glaciers and the surrounding national park.

Description by Florian Konrad, as it first appeared on imaggeo.egu.eu

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 http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

Cities of the future

Cities of the future

Over half the world’s population lives in cities. Many a metropolis rises high above carpets of concrete and tarmac, vibrant, bustling, and prosperous. But this urban environment comes with many a problem. From poor air quality to hazardous temperatures, there are several dangers present in urban environments. Scientists speaking at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna earlier this year have been testing designs that could change cityscapes and tackle the challenges of urban living. The solution, it seems, is making these areas greener.

As well as making cities more aesthetically pleasing, more vegetated urban environments come with a wealth of benefits, including improving wellbeing, absorbing noise and creating new habitats. With horizontal space at a premium, scientists and engineers are looking to city walls to make environments greener, exploring how growing vertical gardens can help address the challenges associated with urban environments.

“We should have much more vegetation than we currently have. That’s the source of a number of problems,” says Fulvio Boano an environmental engineer at Politecnico di Torino, Torino, Italy.

The problems include a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect. Cities are typically warmer than the surrounding countryside. Dense networks of dark roads and pavements absorb more solar radiation than natural vegetation, and high-rise buildings can also interfere with natural cooling effects, like wind. Combined, these urban features make cities warmer than their surroundings. The effect is more pronounced at night, leaving urban areas several degrees warmer than their suburban counterparts, resulting in an urban heat island.

The difference may only be a few degrees, but the impact that this change can have is no small matter, especially when combined with a heatwave. For vulnerable members of the population, including those over the age of 65, deaths due to heat stress are much higher when night-time temperatures exceed 25 °C indoors. Of course, air conditioning can help bring room temperature down, but there may be more sustainable solutions out there. Thomas Nehls, a researcher at Technical University Berlin, Germany, suggests vertical gardens are among them. He presented his recent research at the Assembly in April.

Roof and wall structures are ideal for urban greening, but with much more wall space going, vertical gardens could well be the future. Credit: Ryan Somma

Planting building walls with greenery provides shade, reducing the solar radiation reaching the building and the way plants uptake and lose water also helps remove heat. Between a bare wall and a green one, the difference in temperature can be as much as 16 °C on a hot summer’s day and – over a large area – these vertical gardens could help cities stay cooler. “For indoor night-time heat stress, every single wall especially south, south-west and west oriented walls will reduce the heat stress inside the buildings,” explains Nehls, whose interest in urban greening started with ideas around how to handle rainwater in cities.

“Water needs to get evaporated into urban atmospheres instead of being drained to the sewers and, finally, rivers or surface waters,” asserts Nehls. Vertical gardens slow down water movement, allowing it to be used by plants, and evaporated back into the atmosphere, rather than racing down a gutter. It means the gardens can be watered sustainably too.

Ongoing research at the Department of Land, Environment and Infrastructure Engineering (DIATI) in Torino, Italy, goes one step further – exploring whether vertical gardens can clean up domestic wastewater too.

A tiny vertical garden in testing at the Department of Land, Environment and Infrastructure Engineering at Politecnico di Torino. Credit: Alice Caruso

The average person uses 200-250 litres of water per day, and most of this ends up as wastewater, which usually requires energy to treat and make reusable. But, with vertical gardens, we can do the same with much less energy and fewer resources.

The idea is simple, by covering building walls with layers of plants, you get the many benefits of urban greening, and your very own wastewater treatment facility.

How domestic wastewater purification works. Credit: Alice Caruso

The design is currently being tested on university buildings at Politecnico di Torino, and is capable of cleaning all domestic wastewater except sewage. With roughly 100 litres of this produced daily per person, the technology could be a big step towards meeting water treatment demands. Scaling up the technology is the next challenge, including working out how the vertical wall should be built to meet the needs of a family.

Domestic wastewater provides plants with the water they need and, as it percolates through the system, the water is slowly cleaned and stripped of many ‘undesirables.’ The process removes many common pathogens, present in concentrations orders of magnitude lower than the original wastewater. Microbes in the soil and roots are thought to do most of the work, but exactly how they purify the water is not yet known. Together, the plants and microorganisms remove nutrients and contaminants.

“We need energy to treat water, we need energy to make water drinkable and we need energy to pump it into houses. This kind of application is going to reduce all that,” Boano explains.

There may be other benefits too, “green surfaces in your direct surroundings will keep you calm, reduce blood pressure and other symptoms of stress,” suggests Nehls, emphasising that while the benefits to wellbeing aren’t fully known, there’s a lot of potential.

For the scientists working on the future of our cities, the reasons for making them greener couldn’t be clearer: “[we want] to make the environment more comfortable for people and our children,” says Politecnico di Torino’s Alice Caruso, who presented the work at the Assembly.

By Sara Mynott, EGU Press Assistant