Early Career Scientists

GeoTalk: Alena Ebinghaus, Early Career Scientist Representative

GeoTalk: Alena Ebinghaus, Early Career Scientist Representative

In addition to the usual GeoTalk interviews, were we highlight the work and achievements of early career scientists, this month we’ll also introduce one of the (outgoing) Division early career scientist representatives (ECS). The representatives are responsible for ensuring that the voice of EGU ECS membership is heard. From organising short courses during the General Assembly, through to running division blogs and attending regular ECS representative meetings, their tasks in this role are varied. Their work 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 Alena Ebinghaus, ECS representative for the Stratigraphy, Sedimentology and Palaeontology (SSP) Division. Alena has been in post for more than 20 months, but her term comes to an end at the 2019 General Assembly. 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?

I was fascinated by geology long before I started studying, and it was volcanoes that got me hooked initially. Being originally from Hagen in Germany, I went to study geology and palaeontology at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn, from which I obtained a Diploma (=MSc) degree in 2010. I continued with a PhD at the University of Aberdeen, in the UK, where I focused my research to inter-lava drainage and plant ecosystems in the Columbia River Flood Basalt Province (USA). I haven’t settled my studies in volcanology after all, but sedimentological and palynological (largely pollen and spores) studies set in a volcanic environment was the perfect balance for me.

I am still based in Aberdeen, and since 2014 employed as a postdoctoral researcher. Now my main research projects are the assessment of sedimentary and plant ecological response patterns to rapid climate change of the past. I look at sedimentary rock records from the Cretaceous–Paleogene  Boltysh meteorite impact crater (Ukraine) and the Palaeocene–Eocene Bighorn Basin (Wyoming). These two locations were witness to rapid warming events and hold geological clues to how the environment responded to these changes.

Alena at the Palouse Falls, Washington State. (Credit: Lucas Rossetti)

Although we touch upon it in the introduction of this post: what does your role as ECS representative involve?

The ECS representative is the anchor point between the early career researchers and later career researchers. Within the SSP community I communicate the matters and interests of the ECS to the SSP division and the wider EGU community, and help to connect the work and engagements of early stage scientists with those of a later career stage. With the help of a small group of other ECS, I coordinate and take care of the SSP social media Facebook and Twitter accounts. I also try to set up social events and help organize short courses during the annual General Assembly (GA). In the particular case of the SSP division, I have coordinated the set-up of the division’s weblog.

Why did you put yourself forward for the role?

I was keen to get involved and integrate with the SSP community and the EGU in order to widen my academic network and to become a more interactive GA participant. The GA is a large conference – I wanted to have the opportunity to meet a lot of people and help organize events rather than being a somewhat passive attendant.

What is your vision for the Stratigraphy, Sedimentology and Palaeontology Division ECS community and what do you hope to achieve in the time you hold the position?

I see the SSP growing further and particularly the ECS community becoming more inter-active with organizing SSP-specific scientific and social events similar to some of the larger divisions within the EGU. The first couple of times I joined the GA I felt rather lost, and was not quite aware of ECS work, nor did I meet other SSP ECS. Bringing the SSP ECS community together and making their engagements more visible so to better approach other ECS is one of main objectives.

What can your ECS Division members expect from the Stratigraphy, Sedimentology and Palaeontology Division in the 2019 General Assembly?

First of all, the SSP division again offers again a great range of scientific sessions, but I am also planning a couple of social get-togethers which shall be particularly interesting for those attending the GA for the first time. As every year, there will be the opportunity to meet the SSP president and to join the division’s meeting which is open to all SSP members. With a group of other academics, I will be convening a short course to discuss the balance of work and personal life in science – a topic addressed to researchers of all career stages within SSP and naturally beyond.

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

For everyone being interested in SSP work, it would be best to either get in touch with myself, via email or Facebook or the SSP president. We will be more than happy to assist and answer any questions.

Interview by Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer

GeoTalk: the climate communication between Earth’s polar regions

GeoTalk: the climate communication between Earth’s polar regions

Geotalk is a regular feature highlighting early career researchers and their work. In this interview, we caught up with Christo Buizert, an assistant professor at Oregon State University in Corvallis, who works to reconstruct and understand climate change events from the past. Christo’s analysis of ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica helped reveal links between climate change events from the last ice age that occurred on opposite ends of the Earth. At this year’s General Assembly, the Climate: Past, Present & Future Division recognized his innovative contributions to palaeoclimatology by presenting him with the 2018 Division Outstanding Early Career Scientists Award.

Christo, thank you for talking to us today! Could you introduce yourself and tell us about your career path so far?

Thanks for having me on GeoTalk! I’m a palaeoclimate scientist working on polar ice cores (long sticks of ancient ice drilled in Greenland and Antarctica), combining data, modeling and fieldwork. My background is in physics, and I did a MSc thesis project on quantum electronics. As you can see, I ended up in quite a different field. After teaching high school for a year in my home country the Netherlands, I pursued a PhD at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, working on ice cores. I must say, doing a PhD is a lot easier than teaching high school! I have gained a lot of respect for teachers.

After obtaining my PhD I moved to the US for reasons of both work and love (not necessarily in that order). I got a NOAA Climate & Global Change Postdoctoral Fellowship at Oregon State University (OSU). OSU has a great palaeoclimate research group and Oregon is one of the prettiest places on Earth, so the decision to stick around was an easy one.

What inspired you to pursue palaeoclimatology after getting your MSc degree in quantum electronics?

I wish I had a better answer to this question, but the truth is that I was drawn by the possibility of doing fieldwork in Greenland, mainly.

At the General Assembly, you received a Division Outstanding Early Career Scientist Award for your work on understanding the bi-polar phasing of climate change. For those of us who aren’t familiar, could you elaborate on this particular field of study?

The final drill run of the WAIS Divide ice core, with ice from 3,405 m (11,171 ft) depth that has been buried for 68,000 years. (Credit: Kristina Slawny/University of Bern)

During the last ice age (120,000 to 12,000 years ago), the world experienced some of the most extreme and abrupt climate events that we know of, the so-called Dansgaard-Oeschger (D-O) events. About 25 of these D-O events happened in the ice age, and during each of them Greenland warmed by 8 to 15oC within a few decades. Each of the warm phases (called interstadials) lasted several hundreds to thousands of years. Greenland ice cores provide clear evidence for these events.

The abrupt D-O events are thought to be linked to changes in ocean circulation. Heat is transported to the Atlantic Ocean by the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere. The AMOC keeps the Nordic Seas free of sea ice and effectively warms Greenland, particularly during the winter months. However, the strength of this heat circulation went through abrupt changes during the last ice age. Marine sediment data and model studies show that changes to the AMOC strength caused the extreme temperature swings associated with the D-O events.

During weak phases of the AMOC, less heat and salt are brought to the North Atlantic, leading to expansive (winter) sea ice cover and cold conditions in Greenland. These are the D-O cycle’s cold phases, the so-called stadials. And vice versa, during the AMOC’s strong phases, the ocean transports more heat northwards, reducing sea ice cover and warming Greenland. These are the warm (interstadial) phases of the D-O cycle.

When the AMOC is strong, it warms the northern hemisphere at the expense of the southern hemisphere. This inter-hemispheric heat exchange is sometimes referred to as ‘heat piracy,’ since the North Atlantic is ‘stealing’ heat from the southern hemisphere. So when Greenland is warm, we see Antarctica cool, and when Greenland is cold, Antarctica is warming. These opposite hemispheric temperature patterns are called the bipolar seesaw, after the playground toy. Using a new ice core from the West Antarctica Ice Sheet (the WAIS Divide ice core), we were able to study the relative timing of the bipolar seesaw at a precision of a few decades – which is extremely precise by the standards of palaeoclimate research.

An infographic explaining the opposite hemispheric temperature patterns, also known as the bipolar seesaw (Illustration by David Reinert/Oregon State University).

We found that the temperature response to the northern hemisphere’s abrupt D-O events was delayed by about two centuries at WAIS Divide. This finding shows that the effects of these D-O events start in the north, and then are transmitted to the southern high-latitudes via changes in the ocean circulation. If the atmosphere were responsible, transmission would have been much faster (typically within a year or so). State-of-the-art climate models actually fail to simulate this 200-year delay in the Antarctic response, suggesting they are missing (or overly simplifying) some of the relevant physics of how temperature anomalies are propagated and mixed in the global ocean. The timescale of two centuries is unmistakably the signature of the ocean, in my view, and so it is an interesting target for testing models.

At the meeting you also gave a talk about the climatic connections between the northern and southern hemispheres during the last ice age. Could you tell us a little more about your findings and their implications? 

A volcanic ash layer in an Antarctic ice core. Volcanic markers like these were used in the new study to synchronize ice cores from across Antarctica. (Credit: Heidi Roop/Oregon State University)

I presented some recently published work that elaborates on this 200-year delay mentioned earlier. Together with European colleagues, we synchronized five Antarctic ice cores using volcanic eruptions as time markers. This makes it possible to study the timing of the seesaw across the entire Antarctic continent with the same great precision as at WAIS Divide. It turns out that the 200-year delayed oceanic response to the northern hemisphere’s abrupt climate change is visible all over Antarctica, not just in West Antarctica.

But the exciting thing is that by looking at the spatial picture, we detect a second mode of climatic teleconnection, superimposed on the bipolar seesaw we talked about earlier. This second mode has zero-time lag behind the northern hemisphere, suggesting that this mode is an atmospheric teleconnection pattern. In my talk I used postcards and text messages as an analogy for these two modes. The oceanic mode is like a postcard, that takes a long time to arrive in Antarctica (200 years). The atmospheric mode is like a text message that arrives right away.

The atmospheric circulation change (the “text message”) causes a particular temperature pattern over Antarctica, with cooling in some places and warming in others. Think of this as the “fingerprint” of the atmospheric circulation. We then compared the ice-core fingerprint to the fingerprints of several wind patterns seen in modern observations. We found that the so-called Southern Annular Mode, a natural mode describing the variability of the westerly winds circling Antarctica, is the best modern analog for what we see in the ice cores.

An infographic explaining how Earth’s polar regions communicate with each other (Illustration by Oliver Day/Oregon State University)

Another piece of the puzzle is that atmospheric moisture pathways to Antarctica change simultaneously with the atmospheric mode. All this supports the idea that the southern hemisphere’s westerly winds respond immediately to abrupt climate change in the North Atlantic. When D-O warming happens in Greenland the SH westerlies shift to the north, and vice versa, during D-O cooling they shift to the south.

This had been predicted in models, and some limited evidence was available from the WAIS Divide ice core, but the new results provide the strongest observational evidence for this effect. This movement of the westerlies has important consequences for sea ice, ocean circulation, and perhaps even CO2 levels and ice sheet stability. So it really urges us to look at these D-O cycle in a global perspective.

You’ve enjoyed success as a researcher, not least your 2018 EGU Award. As an early career scientist, do you have any words of advice for graduate students who are hoping to pursue a career as a scientist in the Earth sciences?

I’m sure there are many different routes to becoming a successful researcher. Developing your own ideas and insights is key, and the secret to having good ideas is having many ideas, because most of them end up being wrong! So be creative and go out on a limb. I am lucky to have had supervisors who gave me a lot of freedom to explore my own ideas. I would also encourage everybody to develop skills in programming and numerical data analysis, for example in Matlab or python.

Christo Buizert (right) and Didier Roche, President of the Climate: Past, Present & Future Division, (left) at the EGU 2018 General Assembly (Credit: EGU/Foto Pflugel).

Frustrating and unfair as it may be, luck plays an important role in getting your research career started. My main PhD project did not work out, but I had a very productive postdoc that grew out of a side project. I ended up in the right place at the right time, because the WAIS Divide ice core had just been drilled, and I got the privilege to work with some of the best ice core data ever measured.

Research is fundamentally a collaborative enterprise, and so developing a good network of collaborators is maybe the most important thing you can do for yourself. Be generous and helpful to your colleagues, and it will be rewarded.

A career in science sometimes feels like a game of musical chairs, with fewer and fewer positions available as you go along. But if you can hang in there it’s definitely worth it; we have the privilege of thinking about interesting problems, traveling to beautiful places, all while interacting with a global network of fantastic colleagues. Could it get much better?

Interview by Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer

Mentoring programme at EGU 2019

Mentoring programme at EGU 2019

With more than 15,000 participants, 4,700 oral presentations, 11,000 posters and 1,400 PICO presentations, all under one roof, the EGU General Assembly can be an overwhelming experience. There is a network of corridors to navigate, as well as a wide range of workshops, splinter and townhall meetings to choose from. With that in mind, we’ve put in place some initiatives to make the experience of those joining us in Vienna for the 1st time a rewarding one.

Especially designed with novice conference attendees, students, and early career scientists in mind, our mentoring programme aims to facilitate new connections that may lead to long-term professional relationships within the Earth, planetary and space science communities. Mentees are matched with a senior scientist (mentor) to help them navigate the conference, network with conference attendees, and exchange feedback and ideas on professional activities and career development.

The EGU will match mentors and mentees prior to the conference, and is also organising meeting opportunities for those taking part in the mentoring programme.

In addition, mentoring pairs are encouraged to meet regularly throughout the week, and again at the end of the week, to make the most of the experience, as well as introduce each other to 3 to 5 fellow colleagues to facilitate the growth of each other’s network.

“Mentoring is an indispensable requirement for growth. Through the mentoring programme I was introduced to Dr Niels Hovius who was a generous mentor during EGU’17. His guidance during the conference enabled my interactions with prominent scientists and to navigate the conference to my maximum potential. I am grateful for this programme and hope it be fruitful for students in this coming year.”

Rheane da Silva (National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, India), mentee

Mentoring an EGU novice student was the highlight of my 2017 General Assembly week. To see our elaborate and overwhelmingly large meeting through the eyes of a rookie makes you actively aware of many aspects that you have always taken for granted. To see the excitement in the eyes of a rookie when you take them deep into our organization and show them paths they had not expected to be open to them makes you appreciate all the General Assembly has to offer.

Niels Hovius (GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Germany), mentor

We anticipate the programme to be a rewarding experience for both mentees and mentors, so we encourage you to sign up by following the link to a short registration form. The details given in the questionnaire will enable us to match suitable pairs of mentors and mentees. The deadline for submissions is 31 January 2019.

You’ll find more details about the mentoring programme (including the requirements of the scheme) over on our website.

EGU 2019 will take place from 7 to 12 April 2019 in Vienna, Austria. For more information on the General Assembly, see the EGU 2019 website and follow us on Twitter (#EGU19 is the official conference hashtag) and Facebook.

Job opportunity at the EGU General Assembly: press assistant

Job opportunity at the EGU General Assembly: press assistant

We have two vacancies for science-communication or science-journalism students in Europe to work at the press centre of the 2019 General Assembly, which is taking place in Vienna, Austria, from 7–12 April. Applications from geoscience students with experience in science communication are also very welcome.

This is a paid opportunity for budding science communicators to gain experience in the workings of a press office at a major scientific conference, and to interact with journalists. The students will join the team assisting the EGU Media and Communications Manager Bárbara Ferreira and the journalists at the press centre, and are expected to help run press conferences. Other tasks include reporting on the events at the Assembly through photographs and video (including producing a highlights video of the conference), and/or writing blog posts.

The position is open to university students (final-year undergraduates or postgraduates) in science communication/journalism or to students in the Earth, planetary or space sciences with experience in science outreach. Applicants must have experience in photo and video reporting, or science writing, have an expert command of English, and be competent working with computers and the internet.

Further information

  • Only students with a student ID card and an EU (including UK but except Croatia) or Swiss passport are allowed to work at the EGU General Assembly.
  • People who are presenting an abstract at the EGU General Assembly are not eligible to apply.
  • Tax regulations in your home country could obligate you to pay income taxes on the amount earned at the EGU General Assembly (including travel money). The respective taxation is your responsibility.
  • If you have other income in Austria in 2019, you will be forced to pay income taxes in Austria should the sum of all income, including the amount earned at the EGU General Assembly (including travel money), exceed €11,000 gross.

Work hours and payment

Press assistants will need to be in Vienna from Sunday 7 April in the early afternoon until late on Friday 12 April. They should expect to work between 50 and 55 hours and will receive a wage of €9/hour, in addition to a €150 allowance for those who don’t reside in Vienna (the city of your university is considered your current place of residence). Student press assistants also receive additional support towards travel expenses and complimentary breakfast and lunch at the press centre from Monday to Friday.

Applications must include

  • Cover letter and CV (one page each) summarising relevant experience
  • Two samples of recent science communication work such as photo features, videos or written articles (published or unpublished, aimed at a general audience; links to an online portfolio are welcomed).

Application documents (in English) should be submitted by email in a single file to Bárbara Ferreira at Bárbara can also be contacted for informal enquiries by email or phone (+49-89-2180-6703). The deadline for applications is 10 December 2018.

If your application is successful, you will be asked to fill in a form to submit some information about yourself (including a copy of your passport and student ID card) to our conference organiser Copernicus.

The European Geosciences Union (EGU, is Europe’s premier geosciences organisation, dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in the Earth, planetary, and space sciences for the benefit of humanity, worldwide. The EGU organises a General Assembly that attracts over 14,000 scientists each year, as well as reporters. The meeting’s sessions cover a wide range of topics, including volcanology, planetary exploration, the Earth’s internal structure and atmosphere, climate, as well as energy and resources.