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April GeoRoundUp: the best of the Earth sciences from the 2019 General Assembly

April GeoRoundUp: the best of the Earth sciences from the 2019 General Assembly

The EGU General Assembly 2019 took place in Vienna last month, drawing more than 16,000 participants from 113 countries. This month’s GeoRoundUp will focus on some of the unique and interesting stories that came out of research presented at the Assembly!

Major Stories

Glacial disappearing act in the European Alps

New research from a team of scientists estimated the future of all glaciers within the European Alps, and the results aren’t that hopeful. After running new simulations and analysing observational data, the researchers predict that, if we limit global warming below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, by 2100 glacier volume in the Alps would be roughly two-thirds less than levels seen today.

Furthermore, according to the new research, if we fail to put global warming in check, more than 90 percent of Europe’s glacier volume in the Alps will disappear by the end of the century. “In this pessimistic case, the Alps will be mostly ice free by 2100, with only isolated ice patches remaining at high elevation, representing 5 percent or less of the present-day ice volume,” says Matthias Huss, a researcher at ETH Zurich and co-author of the study.

Evolution of total glacier volume in the European Alps between 2003 and 2100. Credit: Zekollari et al., 2019, The Cryosphere.

The data also suggests that from now until 2050, about 50 percent of the present glacier volume will melt, regardless of how much greenhouse gas emissions we produce in the coming years. This is because glaciers are slow to respond to changes in climate conditions, and still reflect colder climates from the past. In addition to presenting their research at the EGU General Assembly, the team also published the results in The Cryosphere.

The search for the oldest ice announces their drill site

Ice-core extraction near Concordia station (Credit: Thibaut Vergoz, French Polar Institute, CNRS)

After three years of careful consideration, a collection of European ice and climate researchers have pinpointed the spot where they would most likely uncover the oldest ice core possible, one that dates back to 1.5 million years from today.

The consortium of researchers, also known as the Beyond-EPICA project, hopes to pull out a sample of ice containing a seamless record of Earth’s climate history. Such ice samples contain trapped air bubbles, some sealed off thousands to millions of years ago, thus providing undisturbed snapshots into Earth’s ancient atmospheres. Using this climate data, researchers can make predictions on how Earth’s will warm in the future.

At the General Assembly, the scientists formally announced that the drilling operation will be conducted 40 kilometres southwest from the Dome Concordia Station, which is run jointly by France and Italy. The team plans to collect a three km-long ice core from the site, nicknamed ‘Little Dome C,’ over the course of five years, then will spend at least an additional year examining the ice.

Map of Antarctica showing the areas surveyed by BE-OI and the selected drill site (Credit: British Antarctic Survey (BAS))

 

What you might have missed

Predicting the largest quakes on Earth

Scientists have long discussed how intense quakes can be on Earth, with some studies suggesting that Earth’s tectonic features cannot generate earthquakes larger than magnitude 10. However, new research conducted by Álvaro González Center from Mathematical Research in Barcelona, Spain estimates that subduction zones, regions where one tectonic plate is pushed under another, subsequently sinking into the mantle, have the potential to release 10.4 magnitude earthquakes. González’ analysis suggests that such events happen on average every 2,000 years.

“Such events would produce especially large tsunamis and long lasting shaking which would effect distant locations,” Gonzalez said to the Agence France-Presse.

His findings also propose that large asteroid impacts, such as the dinosaur-killing Chicxulub event 66 million years ago, may trigger even larger magnitude shaking. According to data analysis, shaking events reaching magnitude 10.5 or more likely happen on average once every 10 million years.

Where deadly heat will hit the hardest

Heatwaves and heat-related hazards are expected to be more prevalent and more severe as the Earth warms, and a team of researchers looked into which regions of the world will be the most vulnerable.

The scientists specifically analysed human exposure to ‘deadly heat,’ where temperatures as so high that humans aren’t able to cool down anymore. By examining data projections for future population growth and annual days of deadly heat, the researchers assessed which areas will be hit the hardest. They found that, if global warming isn’t limited to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, there will be a few ‘hots spots,’ where large populations are predicted to experience frequent days of deadly heat annually.

Dhaka, Bangladesh, is expected to experience significant exposure to deadly heat in the future, according to research presented at the EGU 2019 meeting. Credit: mariusz kluzniak via Flickr

The research results suggest that future deadly heat will most significantly impact the entire South Asia and South-East Asia region, Western Africa and the Caribbean. Sub-Saharan Africa in particular will experience big increases in deadly heat exposure, due to climate change and population growth.

The researchers also found that a minority of large cities in very poor countries will be the most affected by future heat conditions. “There is a big inequality of who takes the toll of deadly heat,” said Steffen Lohrey, a PhD student at the Technical University Berlin who presented the findings at the EGU meeting.

Europe and the Mediterranean at risk of malaria due to climate change

While malaria was eradicated in Europe and the Mediterranean in the 20th century, there have been an increasing number of new cases in this region of the world, primarily due to international travel and immigration. New research presented at the General Assembly by Elke Hertig, a professor at the University of Augsburg, Germany, suggests that Europe’s future climate may further increase the risk of local malaria recurrence and expansion.

Malaria is transmitted to humans by Anopheles mosquitos and these disease-carrying insects are very sensitive to temperature and precipitation conditions. In particular, these mosquitos thrive in areas with warm spring temperatures and high precipitation in the summer and autumn.

Using climate models, Hertig found that the malaria-carrying mosquito population will likely spread northward as Europe’s climate changes, reaching much of northern Europe by the end of the century. Alternatively, her models suggest that mosquito populations will decline in the Mediterranean regions, mainly due to decreases in summer and autumn rainfall.

A statistical analysis also revealed that, by the end of the century, disease transmission from mosquitoes will be the most effective in southern and south-eastern European regions, including parts of Spain, southern France, Italy, Greece, and the Balkan countries.

Other noteworthy stories

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.

First evidence of microplastics on mountain glaciers

First evidence of microplastics on mountain glaciers

We tend to think of glaciers as spotless pristine settings. But “if plastic is everywhere, why not on the surface of glaciers?” This occurred to Roberto Sergio Azzoni, a professor of environmental science and policy at the University of Milan in Italy, who decided to find the answer to this question for himself. At the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna, Azzoni and his team presented the first evidence ever of microplastic contamination on alpine glaciers.

The study was conducted on Forni Glacier, one of the largest valley glaciers in the Italian Alps. The beautiful ice sculpted valley, home to World War I historical sites and a  popular hiking route, attracts hundreds of trekkers and alpinists every year. Assuming on-site human activity could be a source of pollution, the team decided to collect the first sediment samples there.

It turns out they were right: the results showed that the samples contained on average about 75 particles of microplastic per kilogram of sediment. This level of contamination is comparable to what is observed in marine and coastal areas in Europe. Extrapolation of this data suggests that there may be between 131 and 162 million plastic particles present on the surface of Forni Glacier, fibers and fragments combined.

The precise origin of the particles is hard to define. Likely, some of the pollution had been carried by air masses from densely urbanized areas surrounding the Alps. However, researchers think most of the plastic has a local origin, since the most common polymer found in the samples was polyester, a component used in technical clothing and equipment for hikers.

For that very reason, in order to avoid contaminating the supraglacial sediment samples during the field campaign, research participants wore only 100% cotton clothes and wooden clogs, a challenging outfit for hiking a glacier.

In order to avoid contaminating the supraglacial sediment samples researchers had to wear 100% cotton clothes and wooden clogs. (Credit: Roberto Sergio Azzoni)

Now, the team plans a follow-up study that will classify the plastic particles more precisely and help determine the origin of the pollutants.

This current study also opens the door to new research on how microplastic contaminants on the surface of alpine glaciers disperse when the ice melts. Although Forni Glacier does not feed drinking water sources down valley, in other locations fibers and fragments could enter the trophic chain and impact ecosystems.

Azzoni notes that hopefully this preliminary study will increase public interest on the topic and raise awareness of the fragility of glaciers. Human activity is producing long-lasting changes to the Earth’s surface that will affect many generations to come, now we can confirm that mountain glaciers are not an exception.

By Maria Rubal Thomsen, EGU Press Assistant

EGU 2019: Follow the conference action live!

EGU 2019: Follow the conference action live!

Earlier this month we shared a post on how you can keep up to date with all the science being presented at the General Assembly via our social media channels. This week we share with you how you can tune into the conference action, live!

Many of the EGU General Assembly highlights will be streamed live, so if you can’t make it to Vienna this year, you can still watch sessions like the Union Symposia on Promoting and supporting equality of opportunities in geosciences (US4) and Past and future tipping points and large climate transitions in Earth history (US3), the Great Debate on Plan-S: Should scientific publishers be forced to go Open Access? (GDB5) and several of the medal lectures live on the conference website.

To watch a session, simply click on the link that will appear next to its entry on the full webstreaming schedule (available here). Videos will also be available on demand after the Assembly, and if you’d like to watch past year’s sessions, you can do so on EGU TV or the Union’s YouTube channel.

In addition, you’ll be able to stream all the press conferences at the 2019 General Assembly live too. Press conferences are special sessions organised for the press and media participants at the EGU 2019 General Assembly. Limited spots are available upon request for scientists who are bloggers or science writers who may wish to attend press conferences.

Journalists, science writers and bloggers who wish to ask questions remotely during press conferences, can do so using the chat window you’ll find below the web stream for each press conference. During each press conference, a member of the EGU press team will monitor the chat and read your questions out loud. For more information, check the press conferences page on the EGU media website.

The EGU General Assembly will take place from 07 to 12 April 2019 in Vienna, Austria. For the full session programme and more information on the General Assembly, see the EGU 2019 website and follow us on Twitter (#EGU19 is the official conference hashtag) and Facebook.

Blogs and social media at EGU 2019 – tune in to the conference action

Blogs and social media at EGU 2019 – tune in to the conference action

With hundreds of oral presentations, PICO sessions and poster presentations taking place each day, it can be difficult to keep up with everything that is on offer during the General Assembly.

As well as finding highlights of interesting conference papers, lectures and workshops in the daily newsletter at the General Assembly, EGU Today, you can also keep up to date with all the conference activities online.

Blogging

GeoLog will be updated regularly throughout the General Assembly, highlighting some of the meeting’s most interesting sessions, workshops and lectures, as well as featuring interviews with scientists attending the Assembly.

The EGU Division Blogs will report on division specific interesting research and sessions during the Assembly, so you can catch up on any sessions you’ve missed!

Stay tuned to the EGU Blog Network for further coverage of science presented at the conference.

Tweeting

Participants can keep updated with General Assembly goings on by following the EGU Twitter account (@EuroGeosciences) and the conference hashtag (#EGU19). You can also direct questions to the EGU communications staff and other participants using #EGU19, or by tweeting to @EuroGeosciences directly. If you’ve got the Assembly app, you can share snippets of great sessions straight from there!

This year, each of the programme groups also has its own hashtag. If you’re in a Geomorphology (GM) session, say GM2.1, you can tweet about it using #EGU19GM, or if you’re in one of the Short Courses (SC) sessions, use #EGU19SC – just add the acronym of the respective programme group to #EGU19! A full list of conference hashtags is available here, and in the programme book. Conveners are welcome to add their own hashtags into the mix too! Just let everyone know at the start of the session.

Facebook

The EGU communications staff will be advertising General Assembly sessions and will post about research being presented at the Assembly on Facebook. Just type European Geosciences Union into the Facebook search bar to find the EGU official page, and like it to receive the updates.

Instagram

For behind the scenes access to the conference, including organisational snippets, chats with conference attendees and informal coverage of the science presented throughout the week, follow us on Instagram too! Will you be sharing updates about the conference on the social media platform too? Be sure to tag your posts with the conference hashtag #EGU19 and join the conversation!

And more!

While these will be the main media streams during the Assembly, you can also search for European Geosciences Union on LinkedIn and YouTube to keep up with us there!

Social media guidelines

The EGU encourages an open dialogue on social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and blogging platforms during the General Assembly. The default assumption is to allow open discussion of General Assembly oral, PICO, and poster presentations on social media. However, please respect any request from an author to not disseminate the contents of their presentation. So that conference participants can embrace social media while at the same time remaining respectful of presenting authors’ work and protecting their research output, we’ve put together some social media guidelines, which you can find on the EGU 2019 website.

The icons above may be downloaded from the EGU General Assembly website for inclusion on slides or posters to clearly express when an author does or does not want their results posted on any social media networks or blogs.

You can find out more about our social media guidelines and conference rules of conduct online.

The EGU General Assembly will take place from 07 to 12 April 2019 in Vienna, Austria. For the full session programme and more information on the General Assembly, see the EGU 2019 website and follow us on Twitter (#EGU19 is the official conference hashtag) and Facebook.