GeoLog
Olivia Trani

Olivia Trani

Olivia Trani is the Communications Officer at the European Geosciences Union. She is responsible for the management of the Union's social media presence and the EGU blogs, where she writes regularly for the EGU's official blog, GeoLog. She is also the point of contact for early career scientists (ECS) at the EGU Office. Olivia has a MS in Science Journalism from Boston University and her work has appeared on WBUR-FM, Inside Science News Service, and the American Geophysical Union. Olivia tweets at @oliviatrani.

GeoTalk: Bárbara Ferreira – reflections on a science communication career with EGU

GeoTalk: Bárbara Ferreira – reflections on a science communication career with EGU

GeoTalk interviews usually feature the work of early career researchers, but this month we deviate from the standard format to speak to Bárbara Ferreira, EGU’s Media and Communications Manager. Bárbara has been an integral part of the EGU since September 2011, from coordinating science communication between the Union, journalists and the public at large, to overseeing many of EGU’s outreach activities, such as Planet Press, the EGU Public Lecture and the mentoring programme.

She’ll soon be starting an exciting opportunity at the European Southern Observatory, but before she goes, we’ve asked her to reflect on some of her most memorable times with EGU.  

Before we get stuck in, could you introduce yourself and tell us more about your career path? How did you first get into science communication and outreach?

When I was about 13 or 14 years old, I had a natural sciences’ teacher at school (in Leiria, Portugal, where I’m from) who taught us astronomy and encouraged us to ask as many questions as we wanted in class. Even though I was one of those teenagers who are generally too shy to ask questions, I loved that we could query him about what we were learning to our hearts’ content. So that’s how I decided I wanted to be an astronomer.

That lasted until about halfway through my PhD (Mathematical Astrophysics, Cambridge, UK), when I learnt what it was actually like to work in astronomy. I found that what I enjoyed the most was writing papers – because they helped me put my research into a broad context, – and giving talks – because I got to present my work to others. I found that I liked to communicate science more than doing science, and I preferred to have a broad overview about many topics than to have deep knowledge about one small area of research.

I continued (and finished) my PhD, but since I was already pretty certain I did not want to stay in research, I started looking around for ways to get experience in science communication. I went to science writing and science communication workshops, I wrote for a couple of science magazines associated with the University of Cambridge, I did an internship at the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology in London, I taught a summer science course to school students, I started a science blog, and I did some freelance work as a science editor. The experience I gained eventually helped me land an internship in science journalism at the European Southern Observatory (ESO), near Munich. These varied short-term stints helped me trial out different forms of science communication and outreach so that I could figure out exactly what it was that I wanted to do.

What motivated you to be a part of the EGU office? 

After a couple of months at my ESO internship, I knew I wanted to be an institutional science communicator and I knew I had the experience and skills to look for a longer-term position. And after having travelled to and lived in quite a few countries in the previous year, I also knew I wanted to stay put. So the opportunity to be a science communicator at the EGU office in Munich fitted like a glove. I have to say I had never heard about the EGU before, coming as I did from an astronomy rather than a geoscience background, but the more I read about the organisation, the more excited I got about the possibility of landing that job. I especially liked that the EGU covered so many different scientific subjects, which meant there was potential to learn about research in subjects from earthquakes and volcanoes to biogeosciences and climate science. The fact that EGU organises the largest geoscience conference in Europe and publishes so many open access journals were also motivating factors to apply.

The EGU Executive Office staff in 2012, celebrating the Union’s 10th anniversary at the Munich headquarters. From left to right: Edvard Glücksman (Science Communications Fellow), Karen Resenberger (Secretary), Philippe Courtial (Executive Secretary), Bárbara Ferreira (Media and Communications Officer).

In your eight years of working with EGU, in what ways have you seen the Union grow the most?

So many ways! Brace yourselves for a long answer!

I guess I should start by talking about how much more the EGU does in terms of communication and outreach now than when I started. There was one EGU blog back then, and a Twitter account, but they focused mostly on the General Assembly. There were press conferences at the meeting, but no press releases year-round nor much in terms of policy or public engagement activities. Now we have a very popular and successful EGU blog and some 20 division and network blogs, we have multiple active social media accounts (like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) with more than 60,000 followers combined, and many of our divisions and journals have a presence on a number of social networks. We now have a more modern logo and website, with new content every week/day, and a monthly newsletter that brings that content to EGU members at the end of each month. We have highlight articles and press releases that regularly bring research published in EGU journals to broader audiences. We have a dynamic press centre at the General Assembly with press conferences that highlight science presented at the meeting to a growing number of journalists and members of the public. In the new Imaggeo, we have a modern home for some of the most beautiful geoscience images around the web. We have public engagement events, in Vienna and elsewhere in Europe, we offer public engagement grants and science journalism fellowships, and organise a number of activities to bring scientists and policymakers together.  And so much more (really, check the various sections of the EGU website!), all thanks to the hard work of volunteer EGU officers, especially past and current members of the Outreach Committee, and staff at the EGU office, including past employees.

Growing our communication and engagement efforts was also possible because the EGU was growing in other ways (growth that is now supported by a long-term strategy).

The EGU General Assembly went from about 11,200 participants at my first meeting in 2012 to over 16,000 this year. And it became more engaged with society too, with more sessions, and a lot more interest from participants, in science for policy, science communication, and science education, not to mention an artists in residence programme.

The same can be said of EGU publications, five of which were launched after I started, including one on Geoscience Communication. The awards and medals the EGU gives out grew too, with the addition of the Katia and Maurice Krafft Award for geoscience outreach and engagement, and the Angela Croome Award, for Earth, space and planetary sciences journalism.

The EGU also gained a committee in the past eight years, the Topical Events Committee (which did not exist as a stand-alone committee before), and with it came new conference series, new training schools, and the Galileo Conferences. And we gained a working group, focused on the ever-more important issues of diversity and equality in (geo)science.

Last but not the least, the EGU grew immensely in the ways in which it represents and supports early career scientists who now have a permanent contact point at the EGU office, have representation in Council, and have representation at division level in nearly all divisions.

What’s something about the EGU that you wish more people knew about?

How much time, effort and dedication people who work voluntarily for the Union put into it. At present, there are only seven employees at the EGU office. And, yes, our long-term, symbiotic partners Copernicus, who have far more employees than we do, support us greatly, handling the EGU General Assembly logistics and publishing the EGU journals. But everything else, from defining the scientific programme of the EGU General Assembly to evaluating proposals to EGU conferences or grants and coordinating and managing improvements in EGU publications, is (mostly) done by volunteers. I wish more people knew how much time these volunteers, together with EGU and Copernicus staff, spend carefully examining and discussing feedback people provide on EGU activities, namely the EGU General Assembly, to make sure we can fix what’s wrong the following year and improve what’s right. How much enthusiasm is put into organising the GIFT programme for teachers, or discussing new and exciting education and outreach activities. How much effort is put into promoting open access and interactive public peer-review.

Aside from that, I wish more people knew that we are so much more than a conference and do so much outside of the EGU General Assembly: read my answer to the previous question if you haven’t yet!

As part of your role, you highlight new research published in EGU journals through press releases year-round and press conferences at the EGU General Assembly. What have been some of the most memorable releases and press conferences to you?

One of the most memorable press releases we’ve published was a story on hair ice. It was not groundbreaking science, but it was a curious piece of research about a type of ice you can see in some places under certain weather conditions, usually in winter. The paper happened to come out in the middle of summer, and I thought not many journalists would report on it, so I decided to post the release on Reddit, to give it an extra boost. I’d done it with other releases before, without much success, but that one took off. By the time I looked at the Redddit thread again, there were hundreds of comments about how cool the phenomenon was, how much hair ice resembled a certain US politician’s hair, and about Reddit’s “hug of death”. The release reached the Reddit frontpage and the EGU website crashed with so many visitors trying to access the page in a short time. We had another release reach the frontpage recently, but the hair ice story is still by far our most popular in terms of number of pageviews.

The EGU General Assembly 2017 Press Centre with (from left to right) Keri McNamara, Kai Boggild, Bárbara Ferreira, Hazel Gibson and Laura Roberts Artal.

At the General Assembly, there were many popular and memorable press conferences. I think two stories stand out in particular because they were sort of quirky and unique and I knew, as soon as I read the abstracts, that they would be hits with journalists. One was a presentation by Paul Williams back in 2013 about research done by him and Manoj Joshi on climate change increasing turbulence on transatlantic flights. Everyone knows that aviation contributes to climate change, but finding out that climate change could impact aviation was somewhat surprising, and I think that’s why the story was so popular. Another memorable story was ‘Screaming clouds’, a presentation given by Helene Muri on behalf of Svein Fikke, who lead research on how mother-of-pearl clouds may have inspired the iconic Scream by painter Edvard Munch. I randomly found that abstract in the 2017 General Assembly programme by searching for the word “painting”.

What has been some of your favorite parts of working with EGU? What will you be missing the most?

I will miss the people the most. I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with amazingly talented and dedicated individuals during the past 8 years, who also happen to be incredibly nice and good people. Having the chance to work together with EGU office and Copernicus staff, EGU past and present volunteers and the regulars at the General Assembly press centre has probably been the best part of working with EGU.

I will miss the science too. It could be depressing at times to write about yet another paper or feature yet another abstract highlighting all the different ways in which humans are affecting our planet, but it was also rewarding to have the opportunity to bring that ever-more important research to broader audiences. And I’ve loved having the chance to learn and write about topics as varied as glacial geoengineering, water’s role in the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, or great-earthquake hotspots.

Now it’s time to go back to astronomy.

Interview by Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer

Help shape the conference programme: Inter- and Transdisciplinary Sessions at the 2020 General Assembly

Help shape the conference programme: Inter- and Transdisciplinary Sessions at the 2020 General Assembly

Do you enjoy the EGU’s annual General Assembly but wish you could play a more active role in shaping the scientific programme? Now is your chance! But hurry, the session submission deadline is fast approaching. You’ve got until 5 September to propose changes.

As well as the standard scientific sessions, subdivided by Programme Groups, EGU coordinates Inter- and Transdisciplinary Sessions (ITS) at the conference.

Now, you may be asking yourself: what exactly are ITS?

  • Interdisciplinarity looks for links between disciplines in a coordinated and coherent effort, with the aim of creating new approaches that would not be possible if handled separately.
  • Transdisciplinarity transcends traditional boundaries of disciplines by reaching out to, for example, social, economic, and political sciences.

The Earth, oceans, space and society are interconnected in many different ways; rarely can one system be perturbed without others being affected too.

The aim of ITS is to foster and facilitate exchange of knowledge both across scientific divisions. These sessions should either link disciplines within the geosciences in a novel way to address specific (and often new) problems (interdisciplinary sessions) or link the geosciences to other disciplines, in particular from the humanities, to address societal challenges (transdisciplinary sessions).

If inter- and transdisciplinarity is important to you and your work, know that you too can co-organise your session as an Inter- and Transdisciplinary Session. Read on to discover how!

The skeleton programme for the 2020 General Assembly currently features four ITS themes and a general open call for ITS sessions:

To propose a session in one of the planned inter- and transdisciplinary themes, follow these simple steps:

  • Visit the ITS pages on the EGU 2020 website
  • Suggest a new session (within one of the five ITS options)
  • Choose a Programme Group that will be the scientific leader. For example, if you choose Biogeosciences (BG), your session will be listed in the programme as ITS/BG
  • Suggest more Programme Groups for co-organisation in the comment box

Wondering whether your session would fit as an ITS? Just ask ITS Programme Group Chair, Peter van der Beek (its@egu.eu).

The EGU programme committee is looking forward to a strong inter- and transdisciplinary programme at the 2020 General Assembly. But they need your help to achieve this!

You can also find more information about the call for sessions (and the organisation of the scientific programme in general) on the EGU 2020 website.

The EGU’s 2020 General Assembly, takes place in Vienna from 3 to 8 May, 2020. For more news about the upcoming General Assembly, you can also follow the official hashtag, #EGU20, on our social media channels.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Monitoring Antarctica’s ocean current

Imaggeo on Mondays: Monitoring Antarctica’s ocean current

This week’s featured image depicts a quiet and still oceanic landscape in Antarctica, but polar scientists are studying how energetic and variable the ocean currents in this part of the world can be.

In this picture, the marine research vessel RRS James Clark Ross is making its way through the Lemaire Channel, a small passage off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, south of the southernmost tip of Chile. This channel is about 11 kilometres long and just 1,600 metres wide at its narrowest point, bordered by a spectacular range of steep cliffs.

At the time this photo was taken, the ship was headed to the Rothera Research Station, a British Antarctic Survey base on the white continent’s peninsula. The scientists aboard the vessel are part of a decades-long research campaign surveying the ocean current surrounding Antarctica, known as the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC). The ACC is the world’s strongest and most influential current, transporting 165 million to 182 million cubic metres of water every second and connecting most of Earth’s major oceans. As such, any changes to the ACC have the potential to impact other marine environments around the world.

For more than 25 years, scientists from the UK’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC) have ventured south each Antarctic summer to measure the ocean’s physical features in one region of the Southern Ocean, called the Drake Passage. Spanning just 800 kilometres between the Falkland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, the Drake Passage is the shortest crossing from Antarctica to any other landmass. This makes it a prime spot to survey the ocean’s currents, as the flow is constricted to a narrow geographical region.

So far, researchers have completed 24 survey trips across the passage. The data collected during these trips have been used to assess how physical features of the ACC change, both throughout a single year and over the course of several years. Yvonne Firing at NOC leads the latest expeditions as part of the UK funded ORCHESTRA project. The continuation of this monitoring is helping scientists study how the ocean stores excess heat and carbon. No other ocean basin has been monitored so consistently, making the Drake Passage the most comprehensively studied part of the Southern Ocean.

By Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer

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/.

July GeoRoundUp: the best of the Earth sciences from around the web

July GeoRoundUp: the best of the Earth sciences from around the web

Drawing inspiration from popular stories on our social media channels, major geoscience headlines, as well as unique and quirky research, this monthly column aims to bring you the latest Earth and planetary science news from around the web.

Major story

The world soaks up the sun

This summer our planet experienced the hottest June in recorded history, with the average global temperature reaching 16.4 °C, and July is on track to becoming the hottest month ever measured on Earth. And if you either live in or have been visiting Europe over the last few weeks, it sure feels like record-breaking heat.

In both June and July, several regions in Europe reached all-time temperature highs as warm air from northern Africa made its way through the continent. A rapid analysis done by researchers affiliated with the World Weather Attribution Network shows that human-caused climate change made the June heatwave at least five times more likely to happen. Furthermore, the scientists say in their report that “every heat wave occurring in Europe today is made more likely and more intense by human-induced climate change.”

Heatwaves this intense can put human health at risk and even be deadly in severe cases. A death toll reported that extreme heat Europe in the summer of 2003 led to more than 70,000 deaths throughout the continent.

The heatwave is now advancing towards Greenland, scientists report, and increased heat in the Arctic will likely lead to “another major peak in melt area,” said Twila Moon, a research scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Colorado, US, to Live Science.

Simultaneous to the heatwave, a new study has reported that Earth’s current global warming is the only worldwide climate event to have happened in the last 2,000 years. While there have been notable climate events within the last few centuries, such as dramatic temperature changes from volcanic eruptions, the impact of these events were more regional rather than universal. In contrast, the study finds that modern climate change has affected 98 percent of the world.  “Absolutely nothing resembling modern-day global warming has happened on Earth for at least the past 2,000 years,” said the Atlantic.

50 years since one small step

20 July 2019 also marked the 50th anniversary of the first human steps on the Moon. In 1969, NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon’s surface as part of the Apollo 11 Mission, revolutionising our understanding of our closest cosmic neighbor. For the 21 hours and 36 minutes on the lunar landscape, Armstrong and Aldrin reported field observations, installed instruments for multiple experiments, and gathered more than 20 kilograms of rock and dust samples.

Since then, scientists have made several discoveries from the data collected during the Apollo 11 Mission. For example, the rocks brought back from the Moon were determined to be about 4.5 billion years old, not much older than the Earth. Geoscientists also found that rocks from the Moon were very similar chemically to those on Earth, suggesting that the two bodies could have evolved in tandem from a large impact event, a leading theory also known as the giant-impact hypothesis.

Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin photographed during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the moon. Aldrin had just deployed the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package. In the foreground is the Passive Seismic Experiment Package; beyond it is the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LR-3). Credit: NASA

While operational, the lunar seismometers installed by Armstrong and Aldrin detected ‘moonquakes’ and revealed that the Moon has a relatively small solid core and a thicker crust compared to the Earths’ interior.

Armstrong and Aldrin also set up a Laser Ranging Retroreflector to precisely measure how close the Moon is to the Earth. The retroreflector is still operational to this day, and the data obtained from the experiment shows that the Moon is almost literally inching away from the Earth at 3.8 centimetres (1.5 inches) each year on average.

These examples are just some of the discoveries made following this mission, and scientists are still studying the samples and data obtained 50 years ago to learn more about the Moon, the Earth and the solar system.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that the Apollo samples aren’t being studied anymore, and that the Apollo samples only tell us about the moon,” says Ryan Zeigler, Apollo sample curator at the Johnson Space Center, in Science News.

What you might have missed

A new study published in July reported that tidewater glaciers, ones that flow from land to sea, could be melting much faster than previously thought. By analysing detailed measurements collected through radar, sonar and time-lapse photography, a team of researchers found that one Alaskan tidewater glacier is releasing a surprising meltwater from below the surface of the ocean.

“The melt rates that we measured were about 10 to 100 times larger than what theory predicted,” says lead study author David A. Sutherland, an oceanographer at the University of Oregon, in Scientific American.

The new findings could help scientists better understand how glaciers respond to global warming and how such glacial melt contributes to sea level rise and impacts local ecosystems.

Researchers studying LeConte Glacier in Alaska have found that its melt rate was 10 to 100 times larger than expected. Credit: US Forest Service, Carey Case

Other noteworthy stories

The EGU story

In July we are advertised another vacancy at the EGU Executive Office in Munich, Germany: EGU Communications Officer. The successful candidate will manage the EGU blogs and social media channels and be the office contact point for early career scientists.

Additionally, we are providing an EGU member with the opportunity to visit Brussels and work alongside a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for a day. The pairing scheme will enable the selected EGU member to experience the daily work of an MEP, learn more about the role of science in policymaking, and potentially provide expertise on a science-policy issue. Interested EGU members should apply by 6 September.

Also in July, we have opened the call for candidates for EGU Union President, General Secretary and Division Presidents: if you’d like to nominate yourself or propose a candidate, you can do so by 15 September.

Finally, if you’d like to apply for financial support from the EGU to organise a meeting, make sure to submit an application by 15 August. This is also the deadline to submit proposals for Union Symposia and Great Debates at the EGU General Assembly 2020. The deadline for scientific sessions and short courses is 5 September.