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The ReSToRE summer school on the sustainable development of Earth resources: reflecting back

The ReSToRE summer school on the sustainable development of Earth resources: reflecting back

How can we source and use Earth resources in an ethical and responsible way? And how can we bring different actors and communities together to achieve sustainable resource development? These are just some of the questions that early career researchers from around the world came together to discuss during the inaugural Researching Social Theories, Resources, and the Environment International Summer School, held at the University College Dublin last month. In this blog post, Anthea Lacchia, a postdoctoral researcher at the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences, and Jen Roberts, a Chancellor’s Fellow in Energy at the University of Strathclyde, share their experience reporting on this summer school.

On the first week of July 2019, we were lucky enough to be part of a very special gathering of geoscientists and social scientists from developed and developing countries at University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland. The occasion that brought them all together was the inaugural Researching Social Theories, Resources, and Environment (ReSToRE) International Summer School.

The goal of the ReSToRE summer school was to enable critical cross-disciplinary discussions around the sustainable sourcing and use of Earth resources now and in the future. Big topic, right? And certainly one that can only be tackled by bringing together different perspectives, as became apparent during the week.

Organised by iCRAG, the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences, the summer school included 42 early career researchers and recent graduates from 28 nations including 18 developing countries.

“Moving forward for sustainable development is very complicated,” said Murray Hitzman, Director of iCRAG. “Not only are there technical challenges in terms of Earth resources and energy, but in terms of how people actually perceive both sustainable development and those challenges is even more critical.”

“This summer school is trying to help with this not just in one society, but in multiple societies, and to get those societies to understand one another as well, which is also a huge challenge,” he noted.

The summer school succeeded in creating a stimulating setting for interdisciplinary collaboration, knowledge sharing and network-building. During the week, participants discussed emerging themes pertinent to the future of resourcing and consumption of Earth materials, such as: what drives societal attitudes toward the extraction industry? How can communities have their say in if and how resources near to them are developed? What are the barriers to a circular economy in the resources sector? How can Earth materials be resources in an ethical and responsible way?

Participants took the lead in deliberating these big questions. They were aided by guidance from expert mentors, as well as plenary talks and discussions. The conversations naturally spilled from the workshops into the social events, which included a fieldtrip to Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland, the site of an ancient lead, zinc and silver mine, and now a spectacular glacial valley.

And Summer put on a fine performance for the week, allowing the participants to move outside and seek inspiration amongst the fresh air, daisies and curious ducks.

ReSToRE painting by summer school participant and artist, Meenakshi Poti (joint PhD student at Université Libre de Bruxelles and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium).

“Deposits of the metals that we need are irregularly distributed across the globe, and their value must be assessed with respect to sustainable development, alleviation of poverty and empowering of communities,” said International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) Councillor, Edmund Nickless, at the opening session of the summer school.

“This course is asking the right questions at the right time and the mix of social scientists and geoscientists and environmental scientists together is a triangle we really need,” added Ozlem Adiyaman Lopes from UNESCO’s Earth and Ecological Sciences division, who was able to join the summer school for several days.

Amongst participants and expert mentors 33 different nationalities were represented, including from Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Congo (DR), Croatia, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Lithuania, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Turkey, UK, USA, and Zimbabwe. What an incredible forum!

Some reflections on the way ahead

Some key themes emerged from the conversations amongst the participants, expert mentors and organisers during the week. Firstly, the different actors necessary for resourcing a sustainable future cannot be considered in isolation. Consumer demand, business practices, environmental and societal impacts, community involvement in decision-making and development are all intrinsically interlinked in a non-linear chain which interweaves resource supply use and reuse.

Future resource development in line with global sustainability goals will require interplay between the technical and non-technical worlds, bridging policy, industry, practitioners and academia, and uniting geoscience and engineering, and social and political science, as well as local communities.

Summer school participants admiring the Irish landscape during the ReSToRE fieldtrip, Sally Gap, Co. Wicklow.

The circular economy, which aims to extract the most value out of resources and materials whilst in use, can act as a useful model for the resource sector: wherever one is placed along the supply chain from producer to consumer, we should all be supporting ways of producing resources cleanly and efficiently, with reduced, managed and – where possible – reused waste. And the management of mining waste has had increased profile in the past few years, with several tragic and preventable collapses of tailings dams which have had major societal and environmental consequences.

Our role

As reporters of the ReSToRE summer school, our role was to take note of the event and support the delivery of key outcomes. This meant that we were very busy capturing thoughts from participants, organisers, speakers and mentors through interviews, soaking in the atmosphere at the various social events and workshops, and carving out occasional moments to sit down by the lake at UCD and reflect on the week and how it was going. We relied on a trusted voice recorder and notebook, and quickly became acutely acquainted with the opening hours of cafés around campus. The participants’ WhatsApp group also proved incredibly useful for gaging how participants were feeling, as well as asking people to gather round for a photo, check a nationality or give advice on the best sights in Dublin, or pubs showing the Women’s World Cup.

More importantly, the summer school provided opportunity to create a diverse, international network of like-minded individuals working in the interdisciplinary sphere, as well as enabling everyone involved, including participants, mentors, organisers and ourselves to learn, reflect, and to create potential new avenues for research and collaboration.

One of the highlights has to be the mix of nationalities and cultures represented, as well as a general spirit of openness to new ideas and perspectives. Although the week was intense and the workshop participants were tasked with preparing presentations of their findings for the final day, the support and lack of competition amongst participants was palpable, and paved the way for creativity to emerge. Together, they created a safe space in which to be open, reflective, responsive and curious, and to bravely tackle some very complex questions.

We hope to continue these conversations at the interface of societal issues and geoscience at future conferences, such as the EGU General Assembly 2020. We hope you are inspired to join in. See you there!

By Anthea Lacchia (Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences at University College Dublin) and Jen Roberts (University of Strathclyde)

Find out more

A suite of summer school resources, including live-streamed videos of the presentations and discussions by experts in the field and blogs from the delegates, can be found on the ReSTORE webpage: https://www.icrag-centre.org/restore/

iCRAG, the International Union of Geological Sciences and Geological Survey Ireland were the organising sponsors of ReSToRE, which was run under the patronage of UNESCO.

Sponsorship also came from BHP, Boliden, Rio Tinto, Teck, with additional support received from Irish Research Council and UCD College of Business.

About the authors

Anthea Lacchia

Anthea grew up in northern Italy, in a town at the foot of the Alps. Having studied Classics in high school in Italy, she moved to Ireland and obtained a BA in Geology from Trinity College Dublin.  During her undergraduate studies, she developed a keen interest in thinking about the lives of ancient animals preserved in rocks – fossils – which led her to pursue a PhD in palaeontology, specifically looking at extinct relatives of squid and cuttlefish called ammonoids. She spent many seasons of fieldwork perusing the rocks of Co. Clare, in western Ireland. In parallel with her research, she gained experience both in science writing and newspaper editing. Following completion of her PhD, she spent a year working as a press officer for Springer Nature in London. She then returned to Ireland to start postdoctoral research in iCRAG, the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences, in University College Dublin, where she is studying public perception and understanding of geosciences, with a focus on the geology and communities of Co. Clare. Her postdoc allows her to combine her passion for geology with that for science communication and public engagement. Anthea also works as a freelance science writer. Anthea took part in the ReSToRE Summer School as a reporter.

Jen Roberts

Jen is a Chancellor’s Fellow in Energy at the University of Strathclyde. Her research is interdisciplinary and applied, and addresses the social and environmental risk of geological resources – often relating to energy. Jen uses her technical background in geology to tackle questions relevant across geoscience, environmental science, environmental psychology, environmental engineering and political science. These questions relate to the perception, assessment and communication of risks relating to low-carbon energy technologies, which, for many, the subsurface plays a vital role. Ultimately her work aims to inform how the necessary transition to a net zero carbon future can be implemented in a way that is acceptable to society and to the environment. Jen took part in the ReSToRE Summer School as a reporter.

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.

Help shape the conference programme: Union Symposia and Great Debates at the 2020 General Assembly

Help shape the conference programme: Union Symposia and Great Debates 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 programme? This year, why not propose a Union Symposia or Great Debate?

Each year at the General Assembly, the conference features a limited number of Union Symposia (US) and Great Debates (GDB), which can be proposed by anyone in the scientific community. These high-profile, union-wide events are intended to be cutting-edge, current, and of interest to a broad range of the Earth, planetary and space sciences. The deadline to submit your proposal is fast approaching (15 August 2019), so here’s a quick overview of what these special sessions involve and what to consider when proposing session ideas.

Union Symposia (US)

A US session is organised as a lecture series focusing on an important theme, topic, question or event. Past sessions have covered topics on how scientists can stand up for science and promoting/supporting equality in the geosciences to the 250th anniversary of  Alexander von Humboldt and the International Year of Soil.

A US consists of two time blocks separated by a break. Each time block has three lectures of 30 minutes each (so the US has a total of six lectures). In addition, each time block can have 15 minutes for introduction or discussion.

Great Debates (GDB)

The format of a GDB session is typically a panel discussion lasting 1 hour and 45 minutes featuring 3-5 panel members and a moderator. The aim of the session is to delve into a particular question or debate topic relevant to the geosciences in a lively, interactive and entertaining way. Past debates have facilitated discussions on many different timely themes, including Plan S and Open Science, early career scientist mental wellbeing, low-risk geo-engineering, and the role of scientists in policy.

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

Proposing a US or GDB

Submitting a proposal for a US or GDB involves many of the same steps you would need to take when submitting a session to other programme groups, however there are some additional guidelines and important notes to keep in mind:

1) The EGU strongly encourages diversity in career stage, gender, and country of work or origin for US and GDB speakers and conveners.

2) The EGU recommends a maximum of three (co-)convenerships at its General Assembly. One additional (co-)convenership for US and GDB is allowed (i.e. a maximum of four).

3) Proposals of US and GBD need to include the following extra information in the proposal form (this information is confidential to the programme committee):

    • a justification of the union-wide character of the proposed session;
    • a list of preliminary speakers;
    • an indication of whether the proposal should be included in another programme group as a regular session if the proposal is turned down for US or GBD.
    • whether the proposers have a contact person in the programme committee or the EGU office.

4) Speakers in Union Symposia (US) are solicited. They need to submit an abstract using a password provided by the US convener by the abstract deadline of the General Assembly.

5) As a guideline, US and GDB speakers, conveners, and moderators do not receive discounted abstract processing charges, registration fees, or travel reimbursement.

6) Limited financial support is, however, available in special cases. The EGU will consider support requests for speakers (up to 2) who bring something extra to our participants, who are not space or geoscientists, who would otherwise not attend the EGU’s General Assembly, and who do not have funds to cover their expenses.

7) Financial support requests are subject to approval by the treasurer, executive secretary, and programme committee chair and form part of the evaluation of US and GDB proposals. We consider requests for day-pass registration and support for accommodation and/or travel. As a guideline, travel support should not exceed €350 for travel within Europe and €1,000 from outside Europe, respectively. Accommodation should not exceed €120 per night, and up to 2 nights can be granted if justifiable.

Each submitted proposal is evaluated by the EGU’s Programme Committee before the deadline of the general call-for-sessions. Rejected proposals can then be considered for resubmission as a regular session.

Wondering whether your session would fit as a US or GDB? Just ask Programme Committee Chair Susanne Buiter (programme.committee@egu.eu). 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.

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.