Outside entrance to the new EGU Executive Office building (Credit: B. Ferreira/EGU)
The EGU is hiring for two job vacancies at its Executive Office in Munich, Germany. The deadline for applications is fast approaching (14 July 2019) so send your submission soon!
Chief Strategy & Finance Officer
The EGU has recently launched a new strategy to set a direction for the Union and to guide the work of its Council, committees and staff until 2025. This is an exciting time in the development of the EGU and we have created a new position of Chief Strategy & Finance Officer to lead the development and implementation of the Union’s strategic plan and vision, with particular responsibility for the financial security of the Union going forward. This role will be part of the EGU leadership team and will report directly to the EGU Executive Board.
Head of Media, Communications & Outreach
We are also seeking to appoint a Head of Media, Communications & Outreach to manage EGU press and communication activities and lead the media, communications and outreach team. This position will replace the current Media and Communications Manager role. Responsibilities include managing press releases and other news, organising press conferences and running the press centre at the EGU General Assembly, as well as overseeing all aspects of EGU communications and developing a forward-looking vision for communicating the work of the EGU.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Matthias Kaiser, a professor at Bergen University and, at the time of the interview, Director of the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities. He is part of an expert team that has given scientific advice to Norwegian policymakers, highlighting the issues that should be considered when dealing with the U-864 submarine wreckage and its cargo, 67 tonnes of mercury.
Firstly, can you tell us a bit about the history of the submarine – why was it was carrying so much mercury in the first place?
It was during the late phase of World War II, the Nazis believed that the Japanese were at risk of losing and decided to help them by sending over materials for weapon production. One particular submarine that they sent from Europe to Japan had a load of 67 tonnes of mercury.
Map of Fedje where the sunken U-864 submarine is located. Map created December 7 2006, by ‘NormanEinstein’.
When the submarine left Norway, it was hit by a torpedo from an English submarine and sunk immediately down to the continental shelf [to a depth of 150m] just outside of Bergen, in a place called Fedje. The submarine was located in the early 2000s and after negotiations between Germany and Norway, Norway decided that they would take possession and organise what to do with it. Since then, discussions have started regarding what should be done with the submarine and particularly, what should be done with the mercury on it. To lift it up, out of the water or to cover it up – with basically mud and stones.
What did the Parliament decide and what information did they base their decision on?
There has been a little bit of a public debate and there has been, as there is very often is, conflicting scientific views in the newspapers. There was also an official assessment undertaken by the [Norwegian Coastal Administration] at the request of the Ministry which, again, acts on behalf of the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget). They recommended that the submarine be covered up. One of the reasons for this was that their risk assessment showed there was no strong risk associated with it. And the other reason for the decision was that that it would only cost a third of the money compared to the alternative.
For many reasons, it took a long time to get through the bureaucratic processes and then there was some assessment made on how it could be covered up. Last year, the Parliament put it into their budget. At that point, the coastal community (Fedje) contacted us at Bergen University and asked for help because they said “What has been done here is not good”.
So, we formed an expert team of three people. One chemist, one environmental toxicologist and me, because I have done something on risk assessment and worked on the precautionary principle. We went to the Parliament – first, to the group from the western coast of Norway, and we said,
“Hey folks, you’re about to make some decisions on this, but we want to tell you that the scientific basis that has been presented to you is insufficient” and we gave them some of our reasons and worries.
This led to another hearing in parliament with a larger committee. They were also convinced and sent a message back to the ministry saying, “Hey! Take that out of the budget and do a new assessment”.
Then, we had a meeting with the minister and the ministry which was problematic because they wanted to be finished with it after so many years. We recommended an independent study but they didn’t quite follow-up on it, instead giving it back to the Coastal Administration who then had a competition, a call, for consultants to come up with new information about technical possibilities – this all had to be done within 5-6 weeks.
Later, we met with the consultancy who was selected. They came back with a report saying that yes, the initial assessment was incomplete but they wouldn’t be able to do it better in such a short period of time. Otherwise, they said that they didn’t know much more except that the possibility of [removing the submarine] is much easier than previously thought.
We also had a meeting with a company who do such things and they convinced us that it would be the same price [as burying the submarine] and that there’s virtually no risk.
Right now, we are still in the process. An Op-Ed I wrote is about to be published and I will probably do a television interview. And after the summer, there’s going to be a new debate in Parliament.
Can you explain what the worst-case scenario would be?
The worst-case scenario would assumedly be if they cover [the submarine] up and that leads to a very quick leakage. There is potential for this to happen because there are torpedoes onboard the submarine which might be impacted by the coverup. That would affect all of the marine life, not only in this region but also in all of the North Atlantic, especially when it comes to the fish stocks. Because it’s a very sensitive area for some important fish stocks such as the cod, herring and mackerel. The ecology would be very much destroyed.
Secondly, it may have an impact on people’s health. The water would not be very safe anymore and it be a long-term effect. There was an event in Minamata, Japan that was tragic and actually involved less mercury. It led to the Minamata Convention on Mercury for which Norway was a signatory and said they would do everything possible to avoid this kind of leakage.
Illustration of U-864, showing the slope of the seabed where the wreckage is situated. Credit: Norwegian Coastal Administration
What do you think is going to happen?
I would like to be an optimist. In my life, I always hope that the better argument will survive and convince. On the other hand, looking back on my experience, I know that this is very often not the case. So, I don’t really know. Particularly, my hopes are with the Parliament, not with the administration so much. I think the Parliamentarians may be more open.
Final question, what is your advice to scientists who would like to engage with policy and who have never done it before?
The first thing that you need to do, and this is not only for natural scientists but all scientists who go into academia, is to improve your dialogical skills. Talk to people who disagree with you and who have very different views than you. This starts maybe at the University or maybe with your local community.
You can start this as a young scientist. For example, there will often be community hearings on environmental issues or construction plans – go and attend these meetings and try to ask intelligent questions.
Don’t talk down to people! Don’t talk as if you’re the only expert, because other people know other things. Listen, but present what you know. In that sense, start where you have the opportunity to make a difference. And on the local level, every student has, every young scholar has. And if that interests you, if you’re good at talking to people and people like to talking to you, aim higher!
A warm thank you to Matthias Kaiser for providing insights and sharing his experiences.
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
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
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.
Scientists attending the EGU General Assembly 2019 Geoscience Games Night, where scientists could gather, socialise, and play some geoscience-related games. In this blog post, Skinner gives a recap of the EGU Games for Geoscience experience. Credit: Rolf Hut.
At the EGU General Assembly 2019, more than 16,000 scientists came together in Vienna to present their research, discuss the latest advances in their field, and engage in workshops. On the Wednesday evening of the EGU conference, hundreds of researchers also came together to play geoscience-based games!
Games can be great tools for geoscience outreach and education, as they have the ability to simulate different settings and decision-making opportunities that you may not experience in your every day life.
The General Assembly Games for Geoscience session, convened by Chris Skinner from the University of Hull in the UK, allowed researchers to both listen to and share experiences on using games as a means for geoscience education and public engagement. The session was followed by a Geoscience Games Night, where scientists could gather, socialise, and play some games featured in the earlier session. In this blog post, Skinner gives a recap of the EGU Games for Geoscience experience.
Phew, that’s another General Assembly of the European Geoscience Union (EGU) done. What an astonishingly busy week of sharing science, networking, catching up with colleagues from all over the world, and gorging ourselves on käsekrainer. In total there were 16,273 people at the meeting in Vienna, with 683 unique science sessions.
This year we started with our poster session and again it was busy and more interactive than the usual poster session. A poster session involves researchers producing a poster detailing their work and pinning it up on a board. During the day a couple of hours is set aside where they stand next to their poster and people can discuss the work with them. The Games for Geoscience session also involves sharing elements of games too; for example, I had a poster about the Earth Arcade and also had a VR set with Flash Flood! Vol 2. being demoed.
After the posters was the oral session – these are talks where we had six presenters each with a 12-minute talk and a few minutes for questions. The room we were in quickly filled up and latecomers had to stand! The quality of the research was extraordinarily high, showing that when it comes to geoscience, games are a serious business.
Credit: Josh Ahmed and Sam Illingworth
As Sam guided the crowd through the games submitted to the Geoscience Games Night, Liz, Rolf, and myself ran down to basement to set up the area for games, which included Rolf rather abruptly turfing people out of the area! Remarkably we turned this around in less than 15 minutes and soon around 300-400 geoscientists descended for two hours of gaming – we ran out of tables quickly and games were played on the floor! It was incredible.
Credit: Annie Ockelford, Chris Skinner, Rolf Hut, and Sam Illingworth
I was testing a card game I’m developing called Resilience – it has little bit of complexity so isn’t suited for this type of event and needed a lot of explaining – and I am indebted to Hannah Williams for running Flash Flood! Vol 2. demos for two hours solid. Thank you Hannah! At the end of this blog is a list of all the games – if I’ve missed any, let me know and I will add them in!
Credit: Simon Dixon and Sam Illingworth
These sessions were not the full extent of games at the EGU General Assembly 2019 though. Researchers from the Earth Observatory of Singapore were showing their utterly brilliant Earth Girl: Volcanogame, and its inspirational creator Isaac Kerlow presented on the work behind it in the Science and Art session. In another session, Laura Hobbs showed how the best in gaming and the best in museum curatorship were being combined to produce the Virtual Natural History Museum. I’m sure there was even more that I missed completely.
One of the things I hope to achieve through the Games for Geoscience sessions is to close the circle between games and research. I think games are seen as a useful tool for sharing research but I think they can also be used to drive and inspire research, and I was pleased to see a couple of examples of this at the meeting. One of last year’s presenters, Onno Bokhove, who built the awesome Wetropolis shared in a hydrology session how the activity led to a method they used to calculate flood excess volumes to assess the cost effectiveness of Natural Flood Management schemes. Rolf Hut shared a methodology for assessing public and researcher perceptions of ‘jargon’ related to rivers and flooding, a methodology previously used at last year’s session with Zelda: Breath of the Wild – read that research here!
So that’s it for the EGU Games for Geoscience sessions this year. If you came along, thank you so very much. Next year we will be back, bigger and better still, but first we have our eyes on conquering America.
If you are interested in being part of the Geoscience Gaming community, please follow @GeoSciGames on Twitter – we hope to make this into a full international network in the near future.
By Chris Skinner, University of Hull, UK
If available, click on an image to find out more about the games –