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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.

GeoTalk: Connecting art and science with the 2019 EGU artists in residence

GeoTalk: Connecting art and science with the 2019 EGU artists in residence

At the annual EGU General Assembly in April, more than 16,000 scientists from 113 countries convened in Vienna to share exciting research and discuss the latest advances in their field. During this conference, the EGU hosted two artists in residence to engage with scientific research in a dynamic setting and be inspired by new scientific discoveries. This year, we interviewed the 2019 artists in residence, Morgane Merlin and Giorgo Skretis, on their General Assembly experience, their relationship with art and science, and their views on how art can be used to bridge the gap between science and society.

Merlin is an environmental science PhD student and visual artist based in Alberta, Canada. Credit: M Merlin

Morgane Merlin

Merlin is an environmental science PhD student and visual artist based in Alberta, Canada. She works with a variety of media, including watercolours, acrylics and pastels. At the meeting, she focused on creating illustrations based on the main research results of selected presentations.

You are a scientist; how did you start drawing?

I have always drawn my whole life, so it’s been something that I did as a kid.  I kept it up through school, and then after high school there was a point I had to decide if I wanted to go more towards the art school or to go towards the science path. I made the decision to go into science so I went to a science school university and now I am doing my PhD, but I always kept the art as something that I did in my past time, something that I wanted to put effort in. It has always been part of my life and I have been trying to incorporate [the] scientific part of my life so the EGU [General Assembly] was a great opportunity to do so.

What do you think that art and science have in common?

They both look at the environment that surrounds us. We just look at it differently. In science we are trying to understand what we are seeing, which is the natural environment for me, my research area, but in art it’s kind of the same, it’s how we perceive our environment around us. So they have very similar missions, but very different ways to communicate it. The science part can definitely gain some artistic perspective to be able to communicate more with the public…

From art and science, which one you enjoy the most?

That’s a tough question! It’s really tough because I really enjoy both of them. With the science I really enjoy doing experiments, finding some really new and exciting results, but at the same time, some days you need a break, so then that’s when I turn to art. And I really enjoy it, just take a step back and sort of focus on myself and a more down-to-earth activity I guess, by just drawing. Both of them bring a lot of joy, but they satisfy different parts of me.

The tiny menace of bark beetles for our forests. Artwork by Morgane Merlin. Photo from Anastasia Kokori

What can art bring to science? What are the benefits of art on science? What can science bring to art?

I think art can bring a lot in terms of just changing our perspective as scientists. Sometimes as scientists we get blocked down into the data and the analysis, and by trying to reach out and link it with arts, we can just take a step back and try to refocus on what it means and how to communicate that. With arts you can really focus on how to best communicate your message. People respond to different colours, different designs, and I think by incorporating some art concepts into our scientific communication, we can definitely improve on how we communicate our results, how we see our own results to better involve the public, for example, and just understand why we do that.

As an artist in residence, how was the experience at the EGU General Assembly? How do you feel?

This was my first time doing this kind of artist in residence thing. It was definitely kind of scary at first because I have never done this. I have been usually doing my art in the privacy of my own home; no one really saw me painting or drawing in my life, but it has been a really wonderful experience to see how open people are to see something different.

We may see the scientific community as very focused people and they only understand science, but a lot of them have a lot of things going on. I have discussed with a lot of people, [and] many people are just interested in just having a very quick chat about what I am doing here but also that themselves actually have drawn in the past time or they play music, or they did other things like that. So it has been a great experience for me as both a scientist and an artist to put myself outside there and just have a lot of good interactions with the people that came to the conference.

It is a big conference, I had people that were just stopping, coming to look, because it’s something different from what you expect from a scientific conference. So, lots of people just browsed, looked what I have been doing, and looked some of the paintings I have. About 75 percent of them also just stopped and asked me what I am doing here because they were not aware of this. Overall all these interactions made me feeling confident in bridging these two parts of my life, science and art. It has been a very diverse and exciting experience.

Magma transport in the crust. Artwork by Morgane Merlin. Photo from Anastasia Kokori

How can art be used to bridge the gap between science and society?

I think art and bringing art into a scientific context can definitely help with communicating scientific results to the public because lots of artists are part of the general public, they don’t have a background in science. So by bringing artists and scientists to collaborate together in projects, I think this definitely helps communicating the science to the public and increase the efficiency of outreach.

Artists have this very visual representation. The whole thing is based on communicating to the public. When you put together artists and scientists with scientific results that [are] sometimes very hard to communicate, art is this sort of middle man that can help you translate the very jargon heavy scientific results to what is going to be understood by the public.

Do you have any further ideas or recommendations to improve the collaboration between art and science?

What I would suggest for the future, maybe having small panel sessions where the artists with the scientists can really engage with each other at a more intimate level by having structured sessions. Maybe with these sessions, both the artists and the scientists could complete something together and produce some art piece or artwork together and then being exhibited during the last days of the conference, for example, to promote the engagement of both the artists and the scientists.

Giorgo Skretis is a visual artist and musician based in Chania, Greece. Credit: G Skretis

Giorgio Skretis

Giorgo Skretis is a visual artist and musician based in Chania, Greece. During his residency, he created a small collection of sculptures using natural materials such as clay and plaster. The form and manner of creation of these sculptures reflected the various processes and forces of nature, with a focus on themes presented at the meeting.

As an artist, how did you become interested in science?

I have a small background in science; I also studied for a few years for an electrical engineering degree but I decided to stop in order to get engaged with art. But I have always been interested in science related issues. And this was going into my art in the past. In terms of sculpture, my interest is the object of science, the Earth processes. I am interested in all the processes and how matter changes when it is wet, or when it hot, or dry, all this kind of these things.

As a professional artist, what inspired you to go into science?

I am interested in the way that materials change and the different processes in nature, for example how land lies, or the earth falling, or the sediments.  So in a relation to art, how you can use these Earth related processes to talk about the human condition.

Artwork by Giorgo Skretis. Photo from Anastasia Kokori

What was the reaction from the public at the EGU General Assembly?

I had a range of people that couldn’t understand exactly what I was doing here, people that could really relate with what I was looking at, and let’s say the outcome. I had many people who came to me and we had interesting conversations about my subject that was on the use of materials and Earth resources by humans, the impact of this use and the extent to which we can control or limit or use the benefits of the wider ecosystem. There were people that just came and expressed their appreciation for the visual aspects of it.

What were the highlights from this year at the EGU General Assembly?

I have been hearing so much [at] this conference on how art can be used as an outreach method for scientists and I am sure it can work to this direction.

Through meeting different people, some ideas for future collaborations came up and I would love to join again as an [EGU artist in residence]. I think a big surprise was also the sculpture workshop that I ran, and there were lots of interested people to participate and they wanted to explore their research interests with materials such as clay. So it shows that the split fields of arts and science get more and more closer.

Interview by Anastasia Kokori, EGU Press Assistant

You can follow the art work produced by Merlin and Skretis via social media (using the hashtag #EGUart) and on GeoLog.  

Weathering the storm from a research vessel

Weathering the storm from a research vessel

Fieldwork can take geoscientists to some of the most remote corners of the Earth in some of the harshest conditions imaginable, but stories from the field hardly make it into a published paper. In this blog post, Raffaele Bonadio, a PhD student in seismology at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in Ireland, shares a particularly formidable experience in the field while aboard a research vessel in the North Atlantic Ocean.  

We knew it would be stormy that night. At the previous evening’s briefing, the captain of the ship, composed and collected, notified us that we needed to make a diversion from the planned route to avoid getting too close to the eye of the storm, “We’ll slow down the vessel…” “kind of five metres swell expected”. He was calm and comfortable. The crew members were calm and comfortable. We, the guest scientists, were not.

Why were we in the middle of the ocean?

I was part of a team of researchers from the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies working on the project SEA-SEIS (Structure, Evolution and Seismicity of the Irish offshore). Our task was to deploy a suite of seismometers on the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean from our research vessel, the RV Celtic Explorer, to investigate the geological evolution of the Irish offshore.

A map of the North Atlantic Ocean, showing the locations of seismometers deployed by the team’s research vessel, the RV Celtic Explorer. Credit: Raffaele Bonadio

Why study the Irish offshore?

The tectonic plate that Ireland sits on was deformed and stretched to form the deep basins offshore. The plate then broke, and its parts drifted away from each other, as the northern Atlantic Ocean opened. Hot currents in the convecting mantle of the Earth caused volcanic eruptions and rocks to melt 50-100 km below the Earth’s surface. These hot currents may have come from a spectacular hot plume rising all the way from the Earth’s core-mantle boundary (at 2891 km depth) to just beneath Iceland.

What do ocean bottom seismometers do?

Ocean bottom seismometers record the tiny vibrations of the Earth caused by seismic waves, generated by earthquakes and ocean waves. As the waves propagate through the Earth’s interior on their way to the seismic stations, they accumulate information on the structure of the Earth that they encounter. Seismologists know how to decode the wiggles on the seismograms to obtain this information. With this data, they can do a 3D scan (tomography) of what’s inside the Earth.

One of the research team’s seismometers being dropped into the North Atlantic Ocean. The instruments sink to the bottom of the ocean, where they measure the Earth’s movement. Credit: SEA-SEIS Team

In this project, we want to better understand how the structure of the tectonic plate varies from across the North Atlantic and what happens beneath the plates. And is there an enormous hot plume beneath Iceland, responsible for the country’s volcanoes today and the formation of Giant’s Causeway in Ireland? This is what we hope we will find out!

Experiencing an ocean storm

We were aboard the ship about 9 days and had just deployed “Ligea”, the 14th seismometer before the captain had notified us that a storm was heading our way.

While we were told in advance of the approaching storm, there was no way we could have imagined what it would be like to be in the middle of a stormy ocean. I had only heard some stories and I didn’t fully believe them…

I was awakened by the sound of my table lamp smashing on the ground, even the 15 cm protection edge around the table couldn’t help. The closet door opened and hit the wall. I managed not to fall off the bed, pointing my legs and make a crack with my back. I heard one of my colleagues laughing in the next cabin after a loud thud. “Did he just fall off the bed?” I thought to myself – his laugh did sound a bit of hysterical.

I realized a big wave had crashed on the side of the ship. I couldn’t believe that water and metal crashing together could make such a harsh bang. The previous evening was a continuation of bangs, splashes, sprinkles, bloops, clangs, and creaks … but even with all these noises and disturbances, I managed to sleep, exhausted from dizziness and sea-sickness.

I checked the clock on the wall: it was 3:20 in the morning. I looked at the porthole, due to the vertical movement my cabin was underwater half of the time. I walked through the cabin, trying to reach the toilet. “Oh, I wish they made the cabin smaller! I can’t reach both walls with my arms,” I said to myself. I opened the tap to refresh my face, the flowing water danced right and left across the basin. I then climbed up to the deck, I had to literally climb up the stairs. Up there I couldn’t see anything but darkness; I couldn’t see the boundary between the sky and the sea.

More than a week had passed since our departure, yet my body had still not adapted to this incessant movement. My eyes could not follow my body and my stomach did not react well, I couldn’t see anymore what was horizontal and what wasn’t. However, I wasn’t even scared, I believed nobody on the ship was (or is it only that I wanted to believe this?). It wasn’t fear, but rather an unceasing uncomfortable feeling: I knew I was more than 900 km from any dry land, in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, on a 66 m long vessel; I knew the captain and the crew were working hard to take us far from the storm. I was not scared…

In a few hours we were planning to deploy an ocean bottom seismometer, a very sophisticated device that is able to operate at huge pressures at the bottom of the ocean; released from the ship it would sink and install itself on the seafloor 4 km under the surface of the waves. In other words, a 200 kg ‘little orange elephant’, as the students who supported us from land every day liked to call it! “Will we be able to deploy? Will we be able not to crash the instrument on the sides? Will we instead be able to keep our balance and walk up to the deck?”

“Yes, we will.”

How did this look like? Find out more in this video:

 

So, what did we accomplish?

As part of the SEA-SEIS project, led by Dr. Sergei Lebedev, our research team successfully deployed 18 seismometers at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. The network covers the entire Irish offshore, with a few sensors also in the UK and Iceland’s waters. The ocean-bottom seismometers were deployed between 17 September and 5 October, 2018, and will be retrieved in April of 2020.

To find out more about the SEA-SEIS Projects, have a look at SEA-SEIS or check out our introductory video.

By Raffaele Bonadio, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Ireland

Imaggeo on Mondays: Foggy Bandon beach, Oregon

Imaggeo on Mondays: Foggy Bandon beach, Oregon

This picture was taken at Bandon beach, Oregon. Bandon is well-known for its memorable seascape of stacks of all shapes and sizes. These rock formations are known to geologists as ‘knockers’ and carry nicknames like ‘the Wizards hat’. They date from the Jurassic period – about 200 to 145 million years ago – and are what remains from the great mélange during tectonic subduction processes when different types of rock are exposed to the surface, and the softer sandstone and mudstone are eroded away.

Fog does roll in occasionally during summer because if the valley is baking in 30°C heat or higher, the weather systems tend to suck ocean air and create fog on the beaches. Usually the fog disappears when you go inland for a couple of hundred meters and temperature rises as well.

Description by Frederik Tack, 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/.

Sharing & talking isn’t enough – we need a change in culture around mental illness

Sharing & talking isn’t enough – we need a change in culture around mental illness

The EGU Early Career Scientists’ (ECS) Great Debates offer early career scientists at the EGU General Assembly the chance to network and voice their opinions on important topics in the format of round-table discussions. At the end of the debate, each table delivers a statement that summarises the discussion and recommendations. By publishing the results, we hope to highlight some of the needs of the EGU ECS community and how these matters should be addressed.

Early career scientists (ECS) demand more open and honest discussions around mental health in academia to combat stigma and create supportive environments – they also acknowledge that, while their own approaches are part of the change, assistance from the top is required as well.

At this year’s ECS Great Debate, the topic was mental wellbeing.  The main question was “How can Early Career Scientists prioritise their mental wellbeing?”, which was discussed by almost 100 participants – mostly ECS but this topic is relevant to everyone. To guide our debate of this very broad topic we focused on two aspects:

  1. What can ECS do themselves
  2. What support would ECS like to see from institutions

Even though this is a very personal topic, we could have discussed both aspects all night, and in fact just having the topic in the General Assembly programme sparked debates during the week. I’m grateful that all participants debating this topic with us felt safe to share some very personal stories.

Early career scientists having round-table discussions on mental wellbeing in research and academia at the EGU General Assembly 2019.

Approximately one in four people will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime – this number is even higher for PhD students, early career scientists and academics. This means it is time to discuss this aspect of research life more openly, not only to provide support but also to reduce the stigma around mental illness and ensure it does not turn into career enders. By openly discussing all aspects of research careers, we make certain that diversity is celebrated and ECS feel supported.

Increasing demands on researchers, highly competitive working environments, uncertain career paths and expected relocations were some of the challenges highlighted at the event that can impact ECS mental wellbeing. As ECS face these challenges, it is important to find ways to protect and care for oneself to ensure that mental health is not ignored and that ECS feel supported to seek help or guidance if they encounter mental health issues. The top tips from the ECS debating this topic can be summarised in three key themes:

  1. Be more than your research: have hobbies and find communities outside your lab or office. This helps to find perspective, get additional assistance or just to distract yourself. This can be difficult if you are new to a research group and have to relocate regularly. This is where online communities can be very helpful as they provide support and local knowledge irrespective of physical location.
  2. Be kind to yourself: selfcare is important, so know your limits and don’t fall down the trap of overworking; work smarter not harder. Take regular stock of your achievements, such as a DONE list rather than a To-Do list. It can be tempting to compete with your colleagues who is in the office first and who ends up staying the longest, but are all these hours productive? Figure out your best times to be productive and let the flexible working hours of academia work for you.
  3. Share with others and learn to be an ally: it’s ok to not be ok; we play a part in sharing this to help to create a more open, accepting environment. It’s not only about speaking openly about your own mental health but it’s also about listening without judgement when others share their experiences – this allows supportive environments to flourish. In this kind of space, everyone can feel comfortable to share their experiences, worries and fears, as well as celebrate successes, good practices and support.

These are big asks, and it was acknowledged that a supportive workspace environment is also key to allow researchers to look after their mental wellbeing. Institutions have a key role in creating and maintaining the right kind of working environment and office culture. Stigma around mental illness is probably the biggest barrier, and employers have to do more to both reduce the stigma and foster kind, safe and judgment-free office environments. Offering awareness training and handing out phone numbers for support or help lines is a start but not enough. ECS listed these things as key actions they would like to see implemented to create supportive environments:

  1. Specialised training and guidance for supervisors and managers: These kinds of workshops should not only teach employers how to identify needs and offer help but also how to raise awareness and create a more open working culture.
  2. Open discussions (such as coffee mornings or discussion groups) should be encouraged by institutions across all career stages to allow people to share their experiences.
  3. Celebration of available support: far too often finding guidance or the right person to talk to is a difficult task, especially when you are in crisis or difficult situation. Raising awareness and celebrating support programs provided by institutions and other organisations can make it easier for people to reach out and get help at the right time.
  4. Research culture changes: work environments that bolster and celebrate diversity are key for ensuring that ECS feel supported.

The overarching theme of the debate was that mental health management cannot be left to the individuals alone, but instead together we can all play our part in making sure our work environments become more accepting, less judgmental and truly value diversity.

By Stephanie Zihms, lecturer in researcher development, University of the West of Scotland, UK 

If you are looking for someone to talk to or resources, here are some phone numbers and websites:

UK:

Samaritans: 08457 909090
Abuse Not: 0808 8005015
Brook Young People’s Information Service: 0800 0185023
Eating Disorder Support: 01494 793223
Anxiety UK: 0844 477 5774
Depression Alliance: 0845 123 23 20
Rape Crisis Centre: 01708 765200
Rape/sexual assault: 0808 8000 123 (female) or 0808 8000122 (male)
Miscarriage Association: 01924 200799
LLGS Helpline (LGBT): 0300 330 0630

Germany:

TelefonSeelsorge Deutschland: 0800 111 0 111 or 0800 11 0 222
https://www.telefonseelsorge.de/?q=node/6293

China:

Helpline 1: Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center Hotline: 800-810-1117 or 010-82951332
Helpline 2: Lifeline Shanghai: (english-speaking) (021) 6279 8990
Website: http://www.lifeline-shanghai.com
Helpline 3: Shanghai Mental Health Center: 021-64387250

Italy:

Helpline 1: 199 284 284
Website: http://www2.telefonoamico.it/

France:

Helpline 1: (+33) (0)9 51 11 61 30
Website: https://www.sos-amitie.org/

USA:

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Depression Hotline: 1-630-482-9696
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-8433
LifeLine: 1-800-273-8255
Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
Sexuality Support: 1-800-246-7743
Eating Disorders Hotline: 1-847-831-3438
Grief Support: 1-650-321-5272

Austria:

Helpline 1: 142
Website: http://www.telefonseelsorge.at/

Krisenhilfe: 0732 2177

Switzerland:

Die Dargebotene Hand (Schweiz) phone 143 or https://www.143.ch

Netherlands:

Helpline 1: 0900-0767
Website: https://www.deluisterlijn.nl/

Collection of helpline numbers around the world:

https://togetherweare-strong.tumblr.com/helpline

Coping tips:

https://www.rethink.org/diagnosis-treatment/symptoms/suicidal-thoughts/today

Resources to be a better ally:

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk
http://www.sane.org.uk
https://www.wie-gehts-dir.ch/de/