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Cities of the future

Cities of the future

Over half the world’s population lives in cities. Many a metropolis rises high above carpets of concrete and tarmac, vibrant, bustling, and prosperous. But this urban environment comes with many a problem. From poor air quality to hazardous temperatures, there are several dangers present in urban environments. Scientists speaking at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna earlier this year have been testing designs that could change cityscapes and tackle the challenges of urban living. The solution, it seems, is making these areas greener.

As well as making cities more aesthetically pleasing, more vegetated urban environments come with a wealth of benefits, including improving wellbeing, absorbing noise and creating new habitats. With horizontal space at a premium, scientists and engineers are looking to city walls to make environments greener, exploring how growing vertical gardens can help address the challenges associated with urban environments.

“We should have much more vegetation than we currently have. That’s the source of a number of problems,” says Fulvio Boano an environmental engineer at Politecnico di Torino, Torino, Italy.

The problems include a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect. Cities are typically warmer than the surrounding countryside. Dense networks of dark roads and pavements absorb more solar radiation than natural vegetation, and high-rise buildings can also interfere with natural cooling effects, like wind. Combined, these urban features make cities warmer than their surroundings. The effect is more pronounced at night, leaving urban areas several degrees warmer than their suburban counterparts, resulting in an urban heat island.

The difference may only be a few degrees, but the impact that this change can have is no small matter, especially when combined with a heatwave. For vulnerable members of the population, including those over the age of 65, deaths due to heat stress are much higher when night-time temperatures exceed 25 °C indoors. Of course, air conditioning can help bring room temperature down, but there may be more sustainable solutions out there. Thomas Nehls, a researcher at Technical University Berlin, Germany, suggests vertical gardens are among them. He presented his recent research at the Assembly in April.

Roof and wall structures are ideal for urban greening, but with much more wall space going, vertical gardens could well be the future. Credit: Ryan Somma

Planting building walls with greenery provides shade, reducing the solar radiation reaching the building and the way plants uptake and lose water also helps remove heat. Between a bare wall and a green one, the difference in temperature can be as much as 16 °C on a hot summer’s day and – over a large area – these vertical gardens could help cities stay cooler. “For indoor night-time heat stress, every single wall especially south, south-west and west oriented walls will reduce the heat stress inside the buildings,” explains Nehls, whose interest in urban greening started with ideas around how to handle rainwater in cities.

“Water needs to get evaporated into urban atmospheres instead of being drained to the sewers and, finally, rivers or surface waters,” asserts Nehls. Vertical gardens slow down water movement, allowing it to be used by plants, and evaporated back into the atmosphere, rather than racing down a gutter. It means the gardens can be watered sustainably too.

Ongoing research at the Department of Land, Environment and Infrastructure Engineering (DIATI) in Torino, Italy, goes one step further – exploring whether vertical gardens can clean up domestic wastewater too.

A tiny vertical garden in testing at the Department of Land, Environment and Infrastructure Engineering at Politecnico di Torino. Credit: Alice Caruso

The average person uses 200-250 litres of water per day, and most of this ends up as wastewater, which usually requires energy to treat and make reusable. But, with vertical gardens, we can do the same with much less energy and fewer resources.

The idea is simple, by covering building walls with layers of plants, you get the many benefits of urban greening, and your very own wastewater treatment facility.

How domestic wastewater purification works. Credit: Alice Caruso

The design is currently being tested on university buildings at Politecnico di Torino, and is capable of cleaning all domestic wastewater except sewage. With roughly 100 litres of this produced daily per person, the technology could be a big step towards meeting water treatment demands. Scaling up the technology is the next challenge, including working out how the vertical wall should be built to meet the needs of a family.

Domestic wastewater provides plants with the water they need and, as it percolates through the system, the water is slowly cleaned and stripped of many ‘undesirables.’ The process removes many common pathogens, present in concentrations orders of magnitude lower than the original wastewater. Microbes in the soil and roots are thought to do most of the work, but exactly how they purify the water is not yet known. Together, the plants and microorganisms remove nutrients and contaminants.

“We need energy to treat water, we need energy to make water drinkable and we need energy to pump it into houses. This kind of application is going to reduce all that,” Boano explains.

There may be other benefits too, “green surfaces in your direct surroundings will keep you calm, reduce blood pressure and other symptoms of stress,” suggests Nehls, emphasising that while the benefits to wellbeing aren’t fully known, there’s a lot of potential.

For the scientists working on the future of our cities, the reasons for making them greener couldn’t be clearer: “[we want] to make the environment more comfortable for people and our children,” says Politecnico di Torino’s Alice Caruso, who presented the work at the Assembly.

By Sara Mynott, EGU Press Assistant

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

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

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

Major story

The world soaks up the sun

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

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

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

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

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

50 years since one small step

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What you might have missed

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

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

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

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

Other noteworthy stories

The EGU story

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

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

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

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

Organise a short course at EGU 2020: follow this simple guide!

Organise a short course at EGU 2020: follow this simple guide!

When it comes to supercharging your scientific skills, broadening your base science communication, or picking up tips on how to boost your career, short courses can be one of the highlights of the General Assembly programme.

But, did you know that any EGU member planning to go to the General Assembly (you!) can propose a short course? You’ve got until 5 September 2019 to complete your proposal. This quick guide will give you some pointers for submitting and organising your own short course at the EGU 2020 General Assembly!

Before you even put pen to paper and plan your workshop, remember that the courses should provide a forum to teach your General Assembly peers something of interest. Ideally, short courses should be designed to be open to all conference participants, though they can also be affiliated with one or more of the meeting’s programme groups.

Planning your short course

As the organiser, you are free to choose the content and set-up of the course. But the content should be of interest to (a subset of) the community that the EGU represents! The decision as to whether your course will be included in the final conference programme is made by the programme committee chair, Susanne Buiter, and the short course programme group chairs: the ECS Union representative Raffaele Albano and Michael Dietze.

To submit your course, you’ll need:

  • a title and a short description
  • the details of the course organiser

You also have the option to co-organise your course with a programme group(s) (meaning it’ll appear in the both the Short Course Programme Group and that of your programme group(s)). You might consider doing this if your workshop is aimed at a specific community, as well as being of broad appeal.

Choosing a time-slot

If your short course submission is approved, you can specify preferences for certain time blocks, days or back-to-back scheduling online in the session tagging tool between 17–26 January 2020. Note that assignments depend on availability. Short courses with more than 85 participants can only be scheduled in the 19:00–20:00 time block. In principle, no short courses are scheduled from 18:00 to 19:00.

In very exceptional cases, short courses can be scheduled during the lunch break (12:45–13:45). Requests with motivation need to be directed to sc@egu.eu.

The logistics

All short course rooms are theatre style and come complete with a microphone, a video projector, a notebook including internet connection, WiFi, and a presenter panel to connect a personal notebook to the projector via a switch (VGA and DHMI including power supply). Technical assistance will also be provided in each short course room.

If you require participants to register in advance of the course, it is your responsibility as the organiser to coordinate this. Be sure to include a registration email address or a Doodle link in the description of the short course, so potential participants know how to sign-up.

Food and drink can liven up any meeting! Should you wish to provide catering throughout your workshop (at your own expense), please get in touch with the General Assembly caterer (Motto Catering) by completing their online order form before 17 April 2020. This online form will be made available by the end of the year.

Dos & Don’ts

  • Do make skills/abilities related to science and research the focus of your workshop
  • Do aim to provide training in skills needed by people working in science
  • Do promote your short course
  • Do make your course interactive or include hands-on activities (if possible)
  • Do let participants know (via the description) if they’ll need to bring along materials (e.g. laptop, tablet, specific software) to participate in the course
  • Do allow time for questions

 

  • Don’t invite too many speakers
  • Don’t engage in commercial activities during the course (e.g. sales)
  • Don’t charge admission fees or course fees – these are strictly prohibited

For a full list of guidelines head over to the EGU 2020 website. If you have questions about submitting a short course request please contact the Programme Group Chairs or the EGU Communications Officer, Olivia Trani.

The EGU General Assembly 2020 takes place in Vienna from 3 to 8 May. 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.