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 Laura Roberts Artal to pitch your idea.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Heavy machinery

Imaggeo on Mondays: Heavy machinery

How do you get heavy machinery, such as a drill spool onto an ice sheet? This week’s imaggeo on Mondays’ photography captures the freighting of components of a hot water drill to directly access and observe the physical and geothermal properties at the ice-bed interface. In the image, SAFIRE principal investigator Bryn Hubbard and post-doc Sam Doyle help fly in the drill spool at the start of the Summer 2014 field campaign on Store Glacier, Western Greenland.

Freighting several tons of equipment onto the Greenland Ice Sheet for the sake of science may be slightly intense, but in doing so, it reveals an environment that is complex in history and dynamics.

The Greenland Ice Sheet is losing mass at an increasing rate, and since 2010 has contributed 1 mm/year to global sea level rise. The large majority of changes occur within the drainage basins of marine-terminating glaciers (those which end at the lands edge and drain into the sea), which flow rapidly and drain 88% of the ice sheet. While the surface melt processes of glaciers has been well-studied and quantified, very little is known about what happens below the glacier surface, especially where the ice meets the bedrock.

Recent studies from Greenlandic outlet glaciers have emphasized meltwater-enhanced basal lubrication as an increasingly important mechanism to explain the flow of ice down a glacier. In essence, meltwater generated at the glacier surface will eventually find its way down to the glacier bed through crevasses that connect these two systems. The sudden influx of water increases the pressure within the environment, causing the glacier to “lift” off the bed and flow faster. However, the mechanism is largely an untested theory, and its specifics at the ice-bed interface are still largely unknown, especially on fast-flowing outlet glaciers. In order to achieve accurate predictions of sea level rise in the near future, we need to fully understand the dynamics occurring at the ice-bed interface and its complex response to climate-induced ice melt.
Obviously, a great method to tackle this research question is to air freight tons of heavy machinery onto the Greenland Ice Sheet, and to gain access to the bed of the ice sheet by drilling a 600-metre tunnel with hot water. This is part of the Subglacial Access and Fast Ice Research Experiment (SAFIRE), a collaboration between the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge and Aberystwyth University in Wales.

The SAFIRE project has two specific goals: 1. to identify and characterise the mechanical and hydrological conditions at the base of a large outlet glacier in Greenland, using instruments installed in boreholes drilled to the bed; and 2. to determine the role of basal processes in governing ice flow and iceberg calving. With no previous observation ever made in a subglacial environment of this type of glacier, this project breaks new ground, and from the unique datasets acquired from instruments deployed in boreholes and on the glacier’s surface, higher order numerical ice-flow models can be written and constrained.

Our work is mainly on Store Glacier, which is a large tidewater glacier in the Uummannaq region of northwestern Greenland. Store has a large drainage basin (35,000 km2) and flows up to 5 km/year at the glacier terminus, discharging extremely large volumes of ice into the ocean every day. Since 2014, we have been working on-site at a campsite ~30 km from the terminus, and our results characterise an extremely dynamic and warm basal environment over a deformable sediment bed. A detailed analysis of these unexpected results will be forthcoming in the near future.

By TJ Young, Scott Polar Research Institute / British Antarctic Survey 

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

Gender equality in the geosciences: is it a numbers game?

Gender equality in the geosciences: is it a numbers game?

Here’s a tricky question for you. Try and name a woman in geoscience who has won an award for their studies in the last 5 years? How about a man? Chances are it is much easier to think of a male geoscientist who has won an award than a female one, but is that because more men win awards in geoscience than women (compared to the number of male and female geoscientists)?

This was the question that was raised at an innovative session co-organised by the European Research Council on ‘Promoting and supporting equality of opportunities in geosciences’, at the European Geosciences Union’s General Assembly in April this year. The session focused on gender based equality, and addressed the experiences of women from subject-based, institutional, national, and organisational levels. As well as the individual experiences described in the session, questions were also asked more broadly of the role of large organisations such as the publishing houses (including Nature and Science), the European Research Council and EGU – with a particular focus on recognition and awards.

Awards are not only useful for career progression for early career scientists (ECS), but also raise the profile of the researchers gaining them, who act as role models for junior staff and students. If women are missing out on awards that could not only impact negatively on the career prospects of those individuals, but also reflect a bigger issue in how women in geoscience are rewarded (or not) for their work.

The EGU has a unique insight into the question of gender equality in the geosciences as it has some data from its members, but also presents several of our discipline’s most prestigious awards and medals, to both advanced and early careers scientists. Alberto Montanari, the outgoing Chair of the EGU Awards Committee, presented the results of an investigation into the balance of male and female award winners.

First, some numbers. Every year the European Geosciences Union awards dozens of prizes to some of the world’s leading geoscientists. These prizes cover Union Medals and Awards, Division Medals, and Division Outstanding Early Career Scientists Awards (previously known as the Division Outstanding Young Scientists Award) . All award or medal nominees must be members of EGU to be eligible. The 2016 awards received 155 nominations, of which 16% were for female scientists. Of the total 49 prizes given this year eight were for female scientists (three of those were for early careers scientists). What is also important to note is the total number of EGU members divided by gender. In 2015, 69% of members were male and 31% were female, with the difference between male and female member proportions more pronounced for early careers scientists.

How visible are women in geoscience? (Mapping the Algerian shoreline credit: Filippo Dallosso, distributed via

How visible are women in geoscience? (Mapping the Algerian shoreline. Credit: Filippo Dallosso, distributed via

Secondly came an interesting question – how do we compute gender equality for award winners? Do we calculate the total number of female award winners per female membership percentage, or the total number of female award winners by the whole population of members – male and female? This question raises an interesting dilemma as both methods have positives and negatives. If we calculate the number of female winners by the population of female members then essentially this is saying men and women have an equal chance of winning within their gender grouping. However this masks the potential for women to be underrepresented within the organisation, as is currently the case in EGU right now.

On the other hand if we calculate the number of female award winners by the total population of members (male or female) the female winners become equally as visible as the male winners. This can act as a catalyst that places the EGU as a gender balanced society, which could in theory encourage greater female membership. On the negative side, it does make it more competitive (proportionally) for members that want to win an award, and this is not what gender equality should be about.

When asked which of the two approaches he thought would be more useful in promoting greater gender equality in the geosciences, Montanari said:

“My opinion is that it is more appropriate to refer to the percentage of female awardees over the female membership. I think this is much more protective for women themselves, as awarding excessive recognition weakens the value of awarded women. Many women have confirmed this interpretation.”

He also added:

“This is a delicate question that would deserve a more profound discussion.”

One final thought on this issue, came, repeatedly from both the audience and the speakers. Although it is vitally important that gender equality is addressed in geoscience, it is not the only type of equality that needs to be examined. We need to be aiming for parity in racial, national and disability accessibility, to name just a few areas and it is hoped that in the future, EGU sessions like this one will continue to challenge our preconceptions of equality and fairness in our science.

By Hazel Gibson, EGU General Assembly Press Assistant and Plymouth University PhD student.

Hazel is a science communicator and PhD student researching the public understanding of the geological subsurface at Plymouth University using a blend of cognitive psychology and geology, and was one of our Press Assistants during the week of the 2016 General Assembly.


Imaggeo on Mondays: Using geophysical techniques to unlock the secrets of the past

Imaggeo on Mondays: Using geophysical techniques to unlock the secrets of the past

Unravelling the secrets of past civilisations is tricky at the best of times. More so if many of the records which hold clues about how communities lived, built their homes and temples, as well as how they fed themselves, were destroyed by subsequent invaders. In these instances, as Felix Rodriguez Cardozo explains in today’s post, geophysical techniques (such as Lidar, which very recently hit the headlines for contributing to discover new Cambodian temples close to Angkor Wat) can be a great asset to traditional archaeological methods.

The Yucatan Peninsula, in the southeast of Mexico, is a gorgeous place not only because of  the natural landscape but  also due to the  marvellous structures built by indigenous cultures prior to the European colonization process during the 17th Century. While it is widely known that there are several and complex indigenous structures built by different cultures along Mexico, the Yucatan’s structures blend in perfectly with the jungle, complementing rather than contrasting with the natural landscape.

Although Mexico is a country surrounded by a vast amount of natural hazards (eg. earthquakes, volcanism, hurricanes, etc.) many of the ancient structures have shown an extraordinary skill for resisting all of them. Unfortunately, during the colonization period much of the information related to the ancient cultures of México (and America in general) disappeared, including the information on the building techniques used employed to erect these incredible structures.

All was not lost!  Thanks to the archaeology and more recently, other disciplines like geophysics, we can now figure out with certain confidence the technology and building methods used  by our american ancestors.

I took this photo while conducting a geoelectric and geomagnetic survey to try and discover the foundations of the Kukulklán pyramid and learn more about its internal structure. While the photo does not show any device used during the survey, it does portray perfectly the harmony between the indigenous building and the surrounding nature, something uncommon in modern society. ,

By Félix Rodríguez Cardozo

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




Testing triggers of catastrophic climate change

Tipping points that could trigger catastrophic climate change via Wikimedia Commons.

Tipping points that could trigger catastrophic climate change via Wikimedia Commons.

The research presented during the EGU’s 2016 General Assembly have wide-reaching implications for how we understand planet Earth. In today’s post, Sara Mynott, an EGU press assistant during the conference, writes about findings presented at the meeting which highlight the importance of the biosphere when it comes to understanding the threat posed to our planet by environmental challenges.

With the climate changing, land use shifting and continued environmental pollution, something’s got to give. And if it does, it may well trigger catastrophic change. With so many threats to our planet’s integrity, making decisions about what environmental challenges we should tackle first is a challenge. This is why the Stockholm Resilience Centre created the planetary boundaries framework. The framework identifies key tipping points that could cause catastrophic climate change. Recent updates to the framework have identified biosphere integrity and climate change as two of the core planetary boundaries that, if crossed, could endanger human prosperity.

A lot of research has been done into the tipping points that could trigger catastrophic climate change, from large scale methane release to irreversible ice sheet melt, but one area remains profoundly overlooked. The biosphere.

“It’s very well known that the climate affects the biosphere and the biosphere affects the climate, but there’s still a large amount of uncertainty about how those two are going to interact and play out,” explains Steven Lade, a modeller at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Climate talks tend to focus around cutting CO2, but there is three times as much carbon stored in soils and vegetation than there is in the atmosphere, making the biosphere a major reservoir. By modelling interactions between the climate and the biosphere, Lade aims to find out whether biosphere degradation could trigger catastrophic climate change.

“There’s definitely enough carbon in the biosphere to cause catastrophic climate change. There’s no question about that. The question is how accessible it is, how rapidly it will be pumped out, how rapidly other feedbacks in the climate system might counteract that. The quantity is enough, but the speed and the feedbacks may help counteract that. This is why we’re trying to do a dynamical model.”

Just one small part of the biosphere. Credit: Paul via Wikimedia Commons.

Just one small part of the biosphere. Credit: Paul
via Wikimedia Commons.

Rather than predicting where these boundaries lie, Lade is looking for things that could cause catastrophic feedbacks. This means his models are relatively simple – a way of finding out what happens when you push life to its limits.  

“The point is to incorporate different assumptions about what people know, for example, about how the climate and biosphere interact and look at the consequences of those assumptions. To show, for example, whether the biosphere might be strong enough…if you stopped emitting more carbon, but degrade the biosphere heavily – could the resulting carbon emissions trigger catastrophic climate change?”

He aims to see whether those outcomes are plausible or not. It’s an interesting approach, one that will help shape decisions about we can prevent catastrophic change and let policy be put into practice.

By Sara Mynott

Sara is a science writer and marine science PhD candidate from the University of Exeter. She’s investigating the impact of climate change on predator-prey relationships in the ocean, and was one of our Press Assistants this year’s General Assembly.