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

October 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

In October, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a landmark report and summary statement that detailed the severe consequences for our environment and society if global warming continues unabated. The special report, also known as the SR15, was compiled by 91 authors from 40 countries, and cites more than 6,000 peer-reviewed studies.

“There’s no doubt that this dense, science-heavy, 33-page summary is the most significant warning about the impact of climate change in 20 years,” said Matt McGrath an environment correspondent for BBC News.

The  EGU announced its support of the IPCC report in a statement published last month. In this address, EGU President Jonathan Bamber said: “EGU concurs with, and supports, the findings of the SR15 that action to curb the most dangerous consequences of human-induced climate change is urgent, of the utmost importance and the window of opportunity extremely limited.”

The IPCC was first commissioned to produce this report by the UN Convention on Climate Change following the Paris agreement, where world leaders pledged to limit global warming to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels and “pursue efforts” towards 1.5ºC. The goal of the report was to better understand what it would take for the world to successfully meet this 1.5ºC target and what the consequences would be if we are unable to reach this goal.

The report illustrates the two different outcomes that would arise from limiting global warming to 1.5ºC or allowing temperatures to rise to 2ºC.

While a half-degree doesn’t come across like a pronounced difference, the report explains that additional warming by this degree could endanger tens of millions more people across the world with life-threatening heat waves, water shortages, and coastal flooding from sea level rise. This kind of warming would also increase the chances that coral reefs and Arctic sea ice in the summer would disappear. These are just a few of the impacts detailed in the report. Recently, Carbon Brief has also produced an interactive graphic that does a deep dive into how climate change at 1.5ºC, 2ºC and beyond will impact different regions and communities around the world.

It should be noted that while limiting warming to 1.5ºC is the better of the two pathways, it still isn’t optimal. For example, under this warming threshold, the authors of the report project that global  sea levels would still rise, coral reefs would decline by 70-90%, and more than 350 million additional people would be exposed to severe drought.

Furthermore, the report goes on to explain what action (and just how much of it) would be necessary to limit warming to 1.5ºC. An article from the Guardian perhaps put it best: “there’s one simple critical takeaway point: we need to cut carbon pollution as much as possible, as fast as possible.

The report authors emphasise that limiting warming would require a massive international movement to reduce emissions and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; and additionally this effort would need to happen within the next few years to avoid the most severe outcomes. They warn that if greenhouse emissions are still released at their current rate, the Earth’s temperature may reach 1.5ºC some time between 2030 and 2052, and reach more than 3ºC by 2100. Even more so, they concluded that the greenhouse gas reduction actions currently pledged by various countries around the world are still not enough to limit warming to 1.5ºC.

Measures to reach this temperature target include reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and reach a ‘net-zero’ by 2050. and making dramatic investments in renewable energy. They conclude that 70-35% of the world’s electricity should be generated by renewables like wind and solar power by 2050. By that same time, the coal industry would need to be phased out almost entirely.

Moreover, the authors say that we would need to expand forests and develop technology to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The report notes that climate action needs to be taken on an individual level as well, such as reducing the amount of meat we eat and time we spend on flying airplanes.

The authors report that we have the technology and means to limit warming by 1.5ºC, but they warn that the current political climate could make reaching this goal less likely.

“Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III, in an IPCC press release.

Still have questions about the recent report? The IPCC has released a comprehensive FAQ and Carbon Brief has published an in-depth Q&A that addresses questions such as why the panel released the report, why adaptation is important, what the reaction has been, and what’s next.

What you might have missed

BepiColombo approaching Mercury. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab; Mercury: NASA/JPL

Last month the science media was also abuzz with a series of space agency news. On 20 October, the European-Japanese mission BepiColombo successfully launched from French Guiana, starting its seven-year long journey to Mercury, the smallest and least explored terrestrial planet in the Solar System. The probe is poised to be the third mission to travel to Mercury.

Once it arrives in 2025, the spacecraft will actually separate into two satellites, which will orbit the planet for at least one year. One satellite will investigate Mercury’s magnetic field while the other will take a series of measurements, including collecting data on the planet’s terrain, topography, and surface structure and composition. The researchers involved with the mission hope to learn more about Mercury’s origins and better understand the evolution of our solar system.

While one mission has started its journey, another’s has come to an end. Last month NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope has officially been retired after running out of fuel. Over its 9-year life span, the telescope has spotted more than 2,600 planets outside our solar system, many of which are possibly capable of sustaining life.

“As NASA’s first planet-hunting mission, Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm. Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars.”

However, even though Kepler’s planet-scoping days are over, NASA’s new space observatory, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, which launched in April 2018, will continue the search for habitable worlds.

NASA’s Kepler space telescope, shown in this artist’s concept, revealed that there are more planets than stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Image credit: NASA

Links we liked

The EGU story

Earlier in October, we announced the winners of the 2019 EGU awards and medals: 45 individuals who have made significant contributions to the Earth, planetary and space sciences and who will be honoured at the 2019 EGU General Assembly next April. We have also announced the winners of the Outstanding Student Poster and PICO (OSPP) Awards corresponding to the 2018 General Assembly, which you can find on our website. Congratulations to all!

This month, we also opened the call for abstracts for the EGU 2019 General Assembly. If you are interested in presenting your work in Vienna in April, make sure you submit your abstract by 10 January 2019, 13:00 CET. If you would like to apply for a Roland Schlich travel grant to attend the meeting, please submit your abstract no later than 1 December 2018. You can find more information on the EGU website.

Interested in science and art? After successfully hosting a cartoonist and a poet in residence at last year’s annual meeting, we are now opening a call for artists to apply for a residency at the EGU 2019 General Assembly. The deadline for applications is 1 December. You can find more information about the opportunity online here.

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.

Try something different at EGU 2019– choose a PICO session!

Try something different at EGU 2019– choose a PICO session!

Some of the sessions scheduled for the upcoming EGU General Assembly are PICO only sessions. This means that, rather than being oral or poster format, they involve Presenting Interactive COntent (PICO). The aim of these presentations is to highlight the essence of a particular research area – just enough to get the audience excited about a topic without overloading them with information.

What’s great about this format is that it combines the best of oral and poster presentations. It allows researchers to stand up and be recognised for great research while giving an oral contribution as well as discussing their work in detail and networking with other participants.

PICO sessions start with a series of 2-minute long presentations – one from each author. They can be a Power Point, a movie, an animation, or simply a PDF showing your research on a display. After the 2 minute talks, the audience can explore each presentation on touch screens, where authors are also available to answer questions and discuss their research in more detail.

Presenting a PICO for the first time can be daunting, so we’ve prepared a guide which talks you through the format step-by-step. It’s packed with practical tips on the best layout for your PICO, how to capture the audience’s attention in just two minutes and how to get the most out of the discussion at the interactive screen.

And don’t forget, as of the 2016 General Assembly, PICO presentations are part of the Outstanding Student Poster and PICO (OSPP) Awards. To be considered for the OSPP award, you must be the first author and personally present the PICO at the conference:

  • being a current undergraduate (e.g., BSc) or postgraduate (e.g., MSc, PhD) student;
  • being a recent undergraduate or postgraduate student (conferral of degree after 1 January of the year preceding the conference) who are presenting their thesis work.

Entering couldn’t be easier! Make sure you nominate yourself when you submit your abstract on-line. You’ll receive a letter, known as ‘Letter of Schedule’, confirming your presentation has been accepted, which will also include a link by which to register for the award. Before the conference, make sure you include the OSPP label (which you can find here) to your PICO presentation header so that the judges of the OSPP award now to evaluate your presentation.

To learn more about PICO presentations see the General Assembly website or download the How to make a PICO guide. For a first-hand account of what it’s like to take part in a PICO session, take a look at this post by early career scientists in the Seismology Division too. Finally, you can also check out the short introductory video below:

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.

EGU2019: Financial support to attend the General Assembly

EGU2019: Financial support to attend the General Assembly

The EGU is committed to promoting the participation of both early career scientists and established researchers from low and middle-income countries who wish to present their work at the EGU General Assembly. In order to encourage participation of scientists from both these groups, a limited amount of the overall budget of the EGU General Assembly is reserved to provide financial support to those who wish to attend the meeting.

In honour of Roland Schlich, who was instrumental in the formation of EGU, the travel awards will, from now on, be known as the Roland Schlich travel support scheme. Roland passed away in 2016 and was executive secretary (2002–2004), treasurer (2005–2015), as well as one of the founders of the Union.

From 2005 to 2018, the total amount awarded grew from about €50k to €110k, with 291 awards being allocated in 2018 to support attendance to the 2018 General Assembly, representing a 31% application success rate. For the 2019 General Assembly, the EGU has allocated €120k to financially support scientists who wish to attend the meeting. About 80-90% of the funds are reserved to assist early career scientists in attending the conference, whilst the remaining funds will be allocated to established scientists.

Financial support includes a waiver of the registration fee and a refund of the Abstract Processing Charge (relating to the abstract for which support was requested). Additionally, the grant may include support for travel expenditures, at the discretion of the Support Selection Committee, to a maximum of €300.

Eligibility

The EGU currently runs two different Roland Schlich travel support schemes: Early Career Scientist’s Travel Support (ECSTS) and Established Scientist’s Travel Support (ESTS); you will be able to find more details about each of these awards on the Support & Distinction section on the EGU 2019 website. You will also find details on who is eligible for the awards on the website.

Scientists who wish to apply for financial support should submit an abstract, on which they are the contact author, as well as the first and presenting author, by 1 December 2018. Late applications, or applications where the scientist is not the main author, will not be considered.

The EGU Support Selection Committee will make its decision to support individual contributions by 20 December 2018. All applicants will be informed after the decision via email in late December or January. Only the granted amount mentioned in the financial support email will be paid out to the supported contact author.

Please note that, as of 2017, a participant can receive a maximum of two ECSTS and two ESTS during their career. In other words, applicants who have received two travel supports in a category in the past are not eligible to apply for that category again.

How to apply

The abstract submission page (click for larger). If you wish to apply for financial support, please select the relevant support box.

To submit the abstract of your oral or poster presentation, please enter the call-for-abstracts page on the EGU 2019 website, select the part of the programme you would like to submit an abstract to, and study the respective session list. Each session shows the link to Abstract Submission that you should use. More information on how to submit an abstract is available from the EGU 2019 website.

Applying for financial support is easier than ever! As soon as you make your choice of session you will be prompted to select whether you wish to apply for financial support. If you do, be sure you tick the appropriate box when submitting your abstract. Bear in mind that, even if you are applying for support, you will still need to pay the Abstract Processing Charge. A screenshot of the abstract submission process is shown above.

Evaluation Criteria

As of 2015 there is an improved selection process for the allocation of the awards. Abstracts are evaluated on the basis of the criteria outlined below. Please note that the weight of each criterion has been updated as of this year:

Weight
How well does this contribution fit into the session it is submitted to? 15%
Is the abstract clearly structured and scientifically sound? 35%
Are there conclusions and are they supported by data or analysis? 35%
How well is the abstract written (grammar, orthography)? 15%

 

If you have any questions about applying for financial support for the 2019 General Assembly, please contact Olivia Trani (EGU Communications Officer).

Geosciences Column: How climate change put a damper on the Maya civilisation

Geosciences Column: How climate change put a damper on the Maya civilisation

More than 4,000 years ago, when the Great Pyramid of Giza and Stonehenge were being built, the Maya civilisation emerged in Central America. The indigenous group prospered for thousands of years until its fall in the 13th century (potentially due to severe drought). However, thousands of years before this collapse, severely soggy conditions lasting for many centuries likely inhibited the civilisation’s development, according to a recent study published in EGU’s open access journal Climate of the Past.

During their most productive era, often referred to as the Classic period (300-800 CE), Maya communities had established a complex civilisation, with a network of highly populated cities, large-scale infrastructure, a thriving agricultural system and an advanced understanding in mathematics and astronomy. However, in their early days, dating back to at least 2600 BCE, the Maya people were largely mobile hunter-gatherers, hunting, fishing and foraging across the lowlands.

Around 1000 BCE, some Maya communities had started to transition away from their nomadic lifestyles, and instead were moving towards establishing more sedentary societies, building small villages and relying more heavily on cultivating crops for their sustenance. However, experts suggest that agricultural practices didn’t gain momentum until 400 BCE, raising the question as to why Maya development was delayed for so many centuries.

By analysing two new palaeo-precipitation records, Kees Nooren, lead author of the study and a researcher at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and his colleagues were able to gain insight into the environmental conditions during this pivotal time, and the impact that climate change could have had on the Maya society.

To determine the regional climate conditions during this period of time, the authors examined a beach ridge plain in the Mexican state of Tabasco, off the Gulf of Mexico, which contains a long-term record of ridge elevation changes for much of the late Holocene. Since precipitation has a large influence on the elevation of this beach ridge, this record is a good indicator of how much rainfall and flooding may have occurred during Maya settlement.

A large part of the central Maya lowlands (outlined with a black dashed line) is drained by the Usumacinta (Us.) River (a). During the Pre-Classic period this river was the main supplier of sand contributing to the formation of the extensive beach ridge plain at the Gulf of Mexico coast (b). Periods of low rainfall result in low river discharges and are associated with relatively elevated beach ridges. Taken from Nooren, K et al., 2018

Additionally, the researchers also assessed core samples taken from Lake Tuspan, a shallow body of water in northern Guatemala that is situated within the Central Maya Lowlands. Because the lake receives its water almost exclusively from a small section of the region (770 square kilometres), its sediment layers provide a good record of rainfall on a very local scale.

The image on p. 74 of the Dresden Codex depicts a torrential downpour probably associated with a destructive flood (Thompson, 1972). Taken from Nooren, K et al., 2018

The research team’s analysis suggested that, starting around 1000-850 BCE, the region shifted from a relatively dry climate, to a wetter environment. Such conditions would have made a farming in this region more difficult and less appealing compared to foraging and hunting. The researchers suggest that this change in climate could be one of the reasons why Maya agricultural development was at a standstill for such a long time.

The researchers also propose that this long-term climate trend could have been brought on by a shift of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), a region near the equator where northeast and southeast winds intermingle and where most of the Earth’s rain makes landfall. The position of this zone can move naturally in response to Earth’s changes in insolation, and a northerly shift of the ITCZ could help account for some of the morphological changes the authors observed in the precipitation records.

After more than 450 years of excessive rainfall and large floods, the records then suggest that the region experienced drier conditions once again. By this time period, the Maya populations began to rapidly intensify their farming efforts and develop major cities, further suggesting that the wet conditions may have helped delay such efforts.

This is not the first time the Nooren and his colleagues have found evidence of major environmental influence on the Maya civilisation. For example, earlier research led by Nooren suggests that, in the 6th century, the El Chichón volcano in southern Mexico released massive amounts of sulfur into the stratosphere, triggering global climate change that likely contributed to a ‘dark age’ in Maya history for several decades. During this time, often referred to as the “Maya Hiatus,’ Maya societies experienced stagnation, increased warfare and political unrest. The research results were presented at the 2016 General Assembly and later published in Geology.

The results of these studies highlight how changes in our climate have greatly influenced communities and at times even shaped the course of societal history, both for better and for worse.

By Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer

References

Ebert, C. et al.: Regional response to drought during the formation and decline of Preclassic Maya societies. Quaternary Science Reviews 173:211-235, 2017

Nooren, K., Hoek, W. Z., Dermody, B. J., Galop, D., Metcalfe, S., Islebe, G., and Middelkoop, H.: Climate impact on the development of Pre-Classic Maya civilization. Clim. Past, 14, 1253-1273, 2018

Nooren, K.: Holocene evolution of the Tabasco delta – Mexico : impact of climate, volcanism and humans. Utrecht University Repository (Dissertation). 2017

Nooren, K. et al.: Explosive eruption of El Chichón volcano (Mexico) disrupted 6th century Maya civilization and contributed to global cooling, Geology, 45, 175-178, 2016

Press conference: Volcanoes, climate changes and droughts: civilisational resilience and collapse. European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2016

Caltech Climate Dynamics Group, Why does the ITCZ shift and how? 2016