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.

February GeoRoundUp: the best of the Earth sciences from across the web

Drawing inspiration from popular stories on our social media channels, as well as unique and quirky research news, this monthly column aims to bring you the best of the Earth and planetary sciences from around the web.

Major stories

The biggest story in Europe right now is the bone-chilling cold snap sweeping across the continent. This so-called ‘Beast from the East’ sharply contrasts with the Arctic’s concerningly warm weather. Scientists believe these warming events are related to the Arctic’s winter sea ice decline, which makes the region more vulnerable to warm intrusions from storms.

While a cold front covered most of Europe, warm air invaded the Arctic last week.
Credit: Climate Reanalyzer

However, we also wanted to highlight a couple of big stories from earlier in the month that may be less fresh in your memory.

Falcon Heavy

This month Elon Musk, the founder, CEO and lead designer of SpaceX, captivated a global audience when his company successfully launched the Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA.

The numbers associated with the rocket are staggering. SpaceX reported that the spacecraft’s 27 engines generated enough power to lift off 18 Boeing 747 ‘Jumbo Jets.’ The Falcon Heavy is currently the most powerful launch vehicle in operation and second only to the Saturn V rocket, which dispatched astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and 70s. The Guardian reports that the rocket “is designed to deliver a maximum payload to low-Earth orbit of 64 tonnes – the equivalent of putting five London double-decker buses in space.” Despite the rocket’s immense payload capacity, Musk opted to send just one passenger, a spacesuit-donned mannequin aptly named ‘Starman.’ The dummy sits aboard a cherry red Tesla Roadster with David Bowie tunes blasting from the speakers.

While Starman embarked on its celestial journey, two of the rocket’s three boosters successfully returned to the space centre unscathed via controlled burns. The third booster failed to land on its designated drone ship and instead crashed into the Atlantic Ocean at nearly 500 kilometers per hour.

SpaceX currently plans to fine-tune the Falcon Heavy and work on its successor, the Big Falcon Rocket, which Musk hopes could be used to shuttle humans to the Moon, Mars, or across the world in record time.

In a news report, BBC News listed some of the other possibilities that SpaceX could pursue with a rocket this size. Two of which include:

  • “Large batches of satellites, such as those for Musk’s proposed constellation of thousands of spacecraft to deliver broadband across the globe.
  • Bigger, more capable robots to go to the surface of Mars, or to visit the outer planets such as Jupiter and Saturn, and their moons.”

And what’s in store for Starman? Scientists estimate that the Tesla Roadster will orbit around the sun for millions of years, likely making close encounters with Earth, Venus, and Mars. They also report a small chance that the Tesla could face a planetary collision with either Earth (6 percent chance) or Venus (2.5 percent chance) in the next million years. However, even if the Tesla can escape collisions, it won’t be able to avoid radiation damage.

Cape Town’s water crisis

On 13 February South Africa declared Cape Town’s current water crisis a national disaster. Plagued by a three-year drought, the coastal city has been close to running out of water for some time, but this new announcement from government officials comes after reevaluating the “magnitude and severity” of drought. This reclassification means that the national government will now manage the crisis and relief efforts.

The declaration came a few weeks following Cape Town’s new water conservation measures, which limits individual water consumption to 50 litres a day. For comparison, residents from the UK use on average 150 litres of water per person daily. US citizens each consume on average more than 300 litres of water per day.

These new regulations, coupled with recent water use reductions and minor rainfall, will now push ’Day Zero,’ when Cape Town essentially runs out of water, from 12 April to 9 July. Day Zero more specifically marks the date in which the city’s primary water source, six feeder dams, is expected to drop below 13.5 percent capacity. At this level, the dams would be considered unusable and the government would cut off homes and businesses of tap water. Instead, the city’s four million residents would be forced to collect daily 25-litre water rations at one of the 200 designated pick-up points. If the city reaches this day, it would become the first modern city to run out of municipal water.

Scientists believe that Cape Town’s severe drought, considered the worst in over a century, is likely a result of Earth’s changing climate. In 2007 the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry warned that the area would likely experience hotter and drier seasons with more irregular rainfall due to climate change. However, experts note that the drought alone is not to blame for the national disaster. Poor water infrastructure, reluctance from the government to act on drought warnings, and inequality are also substantially responsible for the current crisis.

“What is now certain is that Cape Town will become a test case for what happens when climate change, extreme inequality, and partisan political dysfunction collide,” reports The Atlantic.

A dried up section of the Theewaterskloof dam near Cape Town, South Africa, on January 20, 2018. Credit: The Atlantic

In order to ‘Defeat Day Zero’ Cape Town officials hope to limit city water consumption to 450 million litres per day, but as of now residents use on average 526 million litres of water. In addition to promoting water conservation techniques, the city is also rushing to construct desalination plants, implement wastewater recycling, and drill into aquifers within the region. The latter initiative deeply concerns ecologists, who argue that depleting these groundwater resources would endanger dozens of endemic species and threaten the ecosystems unique diversity.

Other news stories of note

The EGU story

Early this month we issued a press release on research published in one of our open access journals. The new study reveals novel insights into Earth’s ozone layer.

“The ozone layer – which protects us from harmful ultraviolet radiation – is recovering at the poles, but unexpected decreases in part of the atmosphere may be preventing recovery at lower latitudes, new research has found. The new result, published today in the European Geosciences Union journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, finds that the bottom part of the ozone layer at more populated latitudes is not recovering. The cause is currently unknown.”

This month also saw the online release of the 2018 General Assembly scientific programme, which lists nearly 1000 special scientific and interdisciplinary events as well as over 17,000 oral, PICO and poster sessions taking place at this year’s meeting. The EGU issued a statement stressing that all scientific presentations at the General Assembly have equal importance, independent of format.

And don’t forget! To stay abreast of all the EGU’s events and activities, from highlighting papers published in our open access journals to providing news relating to EGU’s scientific divisions and meetings, including the General Assembly, subscribe to receive our monthly newsletter.

EGU 2018 General Assembly programme is now online!

EGU 2018 General Assembly programme is now online!

The EGU General Assembly 2018 programme is available here. Take a look and – if you haven’t already – register for the conference by 1 March to make the early registration rates!

This year’s scientific programme of the General Assemby includes Union-wide Sessions, such as the medal lectures, great debates, short courses, education and outreach symposia, as well as townhall and splinter meetings, just to name a few.

The Disciplinary Sessions and Interdisciplinary Events, encompass the oral, poster and PICO sessions covering the full spectrum of the Earth, planetary and space sciences.

There are several ways to access the programme, so you can explore the sessions with ease:

  • Browse by day & time: view the oral, poster and PICO sessions by their time and location, each sorted chronologically by conference day, time block and programme group
  • Browse by session: view the scientific sessions and their oral, poster and PICO sub-sessions by programme group
  • Personal programme: a great tool to generate your own personal programme, just select the specific presentations or sessions you’re interested in to create your own personal schedule
  • Sessions of ECS interest: this is a list of sessions of particular interest for early career scientists
  • Papers of special interest: take a look at the abstracts that were selected by their respective session conveners to be of interest to the press, media and the public

Want more ways to browse the programme? We’ll be releasing the EGU 2018 mobile app closer to the conference, stay tuned!

We look forward to seeing you in Vienna for the General Assembly (8 – 13 April 2018).

GeoTalk: Stephanie Zihms, Early Career Scientist Representative

GeoTalk: Stephanie Zihms, Early Career Scientist Representative

In addition to the usual GeoTalk interviews, where we highlight the work and achievements of early career researchers, this month we’ll also introduce one of the Division early career scientist representatives (ECS). They are responsible for ensuring that the voice of EGU ECS membership is heard. From organising short courses during the General Assembly, through to running and attending regular ECS representative meetings, their tasks in this role are varied. Their role 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 Stephanie Zihms, ECS representative for the Earth Magnetism & Rock Physics (EMRP) Division and the incoming Union-level ECS representative. Interested in getting involved with EGU and its activities for early career scientists? Consider applying for one of the vacant representative positions

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

Where to start, I’m originally from Germany but moved to the UK in 2005 for an year and ended up staying. I have had a varied career and would probably call myself a multidisciplinary geoscientist.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Earth Science from the University of Glasgow (2007), I worked for a geotechnical drilling company in Scotland as a geologist. However, I still had a drive to further my education, so following the economic downturn in 2008-2009, I started my PhD in Civil & Environmental Engineering from University of Strathclyde. After my PhD, I left academia again to work for the British Geological Survey, where for 14 months I studied the impact of heat on bentonite for radioactive waste disposal. This wasn’t quite the right fit for me, and I left to go back to academia for a postdoc.

In January 2015 I joined Heriot-Watt University, originally for a postdoc position looking at CO2 bubble behaviour in flow conditions (definitely a ‘tide me over’ position). After 4 months I joined the Institute of Petroleum Engineering for a geomechanics postdoc – finally working with rocks again. Now I have a postdoc in the Heriot-Watt University Lyell Centre studying fracture flow. This postdoc is great since it combines my experience from my previous postdoc and my time at the British Geological Survey.

Outside of work I love running, and I am currently training for a half marathon. I started running again after I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis to better manage my mental health and increase my overall fitness.

Although we touch upon it in the introduction of this post: could you tell us what your role as ECS representative has involved and explain your new role as the Union-level ECS representative?

I was the first ECS representative for the EMRP Division and was kind of thrown in the deep end, but it was great to have some freedom to shape the role within the division. The biggest part is being the link between the division president and officers and the ECS community. I attend online meetings where all the ECS representatives exchange ideas, discuss issues and find solutions or support. For EMRP, I set up the division Twitter account and recruited some other ECS to help me run a Facebook page. Most divisions have a small team, which is a great way to get involved. At the 2017 General Assembly I organised an ECS dinner (open to all EMRP scientists) which went really well with over 40 scientists attending. We are planning to host a similar event at this year’s General Assembly.

As the Union-level ECS representative, I will be the link between the Union and the ECS via the division representatives. This is a very important role since it will be my job to represent the work the ECS representatives have done and present any changes the ECS representatives would like to see. Of course, I will have help from the new incoming Union-level representative Raffaele Albano, the EGU Outreach Committee, and you as the communication officer*.

I’m looking forward to working with you! So, why did you put yourself forward for these positions?

I volunteered for both roles because I think it’s important for ECS to have a say, get involved and have proper representation. We are the future of research and our voice should be counted. I am a big believer in peer-support and the ECS representatives provide this in a very positive way. It is also a great opportunity to get to know the insides of the EGU better and how it is all organised.

What can your ECS division members expect from the Earth Magnetism & Rock Physics Division in the 2018 General Assembly?

For the 2018 General Assembly we are planning an ECS dinner again (check your emails or our Facebook page for more information and updates). We will have representatives at the ECS Corner at the ice-breaker on Sunday evening, and I hope EMRP ECS will stop by to say ‘Hi!’ In addition to the official ‘Meet EGU’ booth with our division president, I’m planning a Meet & Greet in the ECS Lounge as well to provide another opportunity for ECS to introduce themselves, ask questions or get advice.

We are not planning any EMRP specific short courses this year but would be happy to help organise some for 2019. The short course programme at the EGU General Assembly is always great, and I highly encourage everyone to have a look at what’s offered.

Our division ECS team has four members, with one stepping up as the next EMRP division ECS representative. If anyone is interested in helping out but not sure about becoming a representative, consider joining your division ECS team. They will be grateful for the support.

What is your vision for the EGU ECS community and what do you hope to achieve as Union-level ECS representative in the time you hold the position?

I would like to see the ECS community more involved in organising sessions and shaping what the General Assembly looks like. We are running a short course on this year to accomplish these goals. I would also like to develop ways in which the ECS community could acknowledge established scientists that support ECS activities, but I would be interested in discussing just how to achieve this with the division ECS representatives.

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

There are lots of ways to get involved!

  1. See if your division is looking for an ECS representative and apply
  2. If the ECS representative position is taken, or if you’d rather not take on that role, ask if you can join the ECS team
  3. Fill in the surveys – this feedback is vital for us
  4. Attend the General Assembly ECS Forum (Thursday, 12 April at 12:15) and provide feedback
  5. Talk to your division ECS representative – either at one of the ECS events (ice-breaker, Networking & Careers Reception, Meet EGU) or you can shoot them an email

 

Interview by Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer

 

* The EGU communications officer is the ECS contact point at the EGU office.