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GeoPolicy: Bridging the gap between science and decision makers – a new tool for nuclear emergencies affecting food and agriculture

GeoPolicy: Bridging the gap between science and decision makers – a new tool for nuclear emergencies affecting food and agriculture

Amelia Lee Zhi Yi, the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has developed an online system to assist in improving the response capabilities of authorities in the event of an emergency caused by natural hazards. The Decision Support System for Nuclear Emergencies Affecting Food and Agriculture (DSS4NAFA), provides a clear overview of radioactive contamination of crops and agricultural lands through improved data management and visualisation, it also assists in decision support processes by suggesting management actions to decision makers. In this interview, we have the pleasure to introduce Ms Amelia Lee Zhi Yi, working at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture to speak about DSS4NAFA.

Nuclear Emergency Response (NER) for food and agriculture – why is that important and what does it entail?

In the event of a nuclear or radiological emergency, the response should be swift in the interest of human health. After ensuring the well-being of the population, it is necessary to prioritise the assessment of possible radioactive contamination of crops and agricultural lands to avoid ingestion of radioactivity.

Proper data management, data visualisation and risk communication are essential for efficient response to a nuclear emergency. Factors that should be considered for such response include support for sampling and laboratory analysis, optimal allocation of manpower and analytical instruments, and integrated communication between stakeholders.

To make well-informed decisions on for instance planting and food restrictions, food safety authorities need to have a good understanding of the radiological conditions after a fallout event. This is accomplished through the collection of environmental samples such as soil and plants, and food products that are then analysed using consistent methods in qualified laboratories. Further, these data should be displayed in an intuitive manner so that authorities will be able to interpret the data under stressful, time-bound conditions. Finally, to reduce confusion and clearly communicate decisions made to the public, standardised communication protocols of the decisions made by policymakers need to be implemented.

How can technology assist us in this process? What is DSS4NAFA?

Innovative information technology (IT)-based methods can assist in optimising processes in NER. Some examples include streamlining data transfer using cloud-based platforms paired with mobile technologies, facilitating decision making using advanced visualisation tools, and communicating risk to the public using pre-defined correspondence templates.

The Decision Support System for Nuclear Emergencies Affecting Food and Agriculture (DSS4NAFA), is a cloud-based IT-DSS tool developed by the Soil and Water Management & Crop Nutrition Laboratory, under the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. While it was originally developed as a system for nuclear emergency response management and communication, its ability to discern data quality, to provide user-friendly spatio-temporal visualisations for decision makers, and ease in creation of communication materials makes it a good candidate tool for usage in natural hazard risk mitigation.

The beta version of DSS4NAFA is planned to be released in August 2018 for testing by volunteer member states.

General overview of how DSS4NAFA works. After a nuclear or radiological fallout event affecting food and agriculture, the system assists decision makers by allocating samplers and laboratories according to proximity, allows for data to be input into a mobile device and sent to a cloud server immediately, and visualises data for intuitive decision making (Source FAO-IAEA).

How does DSS4NAFA support public authorities in emergencies?

DSS4NAFA contains modules which provide logistical support to decision makers in defining sampling location, sampler allocation and laboratory allocation. It also functions as a powerful visual interpretation tool that brings together multi-dimensional data usually handled to make decisions on planting and food restrictions in a nuclear emergency response situation.  Some of the functionalities of the modules are as below:

Data management:

  • Standardised data input with pre-determined data entry fields and format
  • Data housed within one server to ensure ease of data analysis
  • All data collected in the field using mobile devices and are sent directly to the server

Data visualisation:

  • GIS based visualisation for instinctive understanding of situation on the ground
  • “Logmap” for at-a-glance sampler and laboratory analyses status
  • Comprehensive information, such as current and historical decision actions, intuitively displayed on the Food Restriction Dashboard

Logistics and decision support:

  • Sampling assignments proposed based on crop calendar and land use type
  • Food and planting restrictions suggested based on the movable levels set by authorities
  • Public communication module

 

The Food Restriction Dashboard is a platform in DSS4NAFA whereby radioactivity information is collated considering the spatial distribution and time resolution of the accident, and suggests food and planting restrictions based on the level of risk and the specified tolerance levels (Source FAO-IAEA).

What feedback did you get from real users during the design/development of the DSS?

The development of DSS4NAFA was highly iterative and findings from the process were invaluable. Some lessons learned during its development include the necessity for stakeholder involvement during the design process, the usage of a “one-house approach” for centralised data, and the importance of building a tool that is flexible enough to be used during emergency response and routine monitoring operations.

The system has generated a lot of interest when shown during several IAEA workshops and conferences such as at EGU, indicating the need for this type of system.

What do you think will be the main challenges in the application of the DSS4NAFA?

Two challenges are foreseen in the deployment of DSS4NAFA. The first is to explain the benefits of the system to countries with pre-existing Nuclear Emergency Response systems. We are confident that we can succeed as DSS4NAFA is modular, thus Member States can select and implement the components that suit their needs best.

Secondly, there could be some learning associated with the implementation of DSS4NAFA. To facilitate this process for governmental data analysts, user experience will be one of the major focus for improvement during the beta testing phase. We strive to develop DSS4NAFA such that the system will be intuitive for use to its fullest potential, even with minimal prior training.

The development of DSS4NAFA is part of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division Mandate in Preparedness and Response to Nuclear and Radiological Emergencies Affecting Food and Agriculture to promote the management of intra- and interagency emergency preparedness and response to nuclear accidents and radiological events affecting food and agriculture, including in the application of agricultural countermeasures.

by Jonathan Rizzi, Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research

Jonathan Rizzi is the incoming ECS representative for the EGU’s Natural Hazard division. He has a bachelor in GIS and Remote Sensing and a master and a PhD in Environmental Sciences. He is a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research and has worked in the field of climate change and risk assessment for the last several years.

Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on the EGU Natural Hazards (NH) Division blog. Read the original post here.

A young participant’s experience at the 2018 General Assembly: So much to discover!

A young participant’s experience at the 2018 General Assembly: So much to discover!

Today we welcome probably one of the youngest participants who attended the 2018 General Assembly, Pariphat Promduangsri, a 16-year-old science baccalaureate student at Auguste Renoir high school in Cagnes-sur-mer, France, as our guest blogger. With a deep interest in the natural world and in taking care of the environment, Pariphat was a keen participant at the conference. She gave both oral and poster presentations in sessions on Geoscience Games and on Geoethics. She enjoyed particularly the sessions on education and geoscience.

The 2018 EGU conference in April was my first time attending the General Assembly; it was the biggest gathering that I have ever been to, and I think that I was most likely one of the youngest participants ever at the EGU General Assembly.  Last year, my sister, Pimnutcha, went to the 2017 General Assembly with our stepfather, David Crookall.  When she got home, she told me how exciting and interesting the conference was.  She also wrote a blog post for GeoLog about her experience.

This year, it was my chance to attend this conference.  However, the dates were still in the school term time, so I asked my high school teachers and director if they would let me be absent from school.  They agreed, and told me that it would be a great opportunity to learn many things.

My stepfather and I arrived in Vienna on the Saturday before the conference; it was not as cold as I thought it would be.  On Sunday, we went to a pre-conference workshop titled ‘Communicating your research to teachers, schools and the public – interactively’ organized by Eileen van der Flier-Keller and Chris King. It was very interesting.  They helped us to think more clearly about aspects of teaching geoscience and how pupils can learn more effectively.

So began an enriching and wonderful week.  We attended many oral and poster sessions.

During the conference, I had the opportunity to participate in two different sessions, giving two presentations in each – one oral and three poster presentations in all.

David and I doing the oral presentation (Credit: Pariphat and David Crookall)

The first session that I attended was Games for geoscience (EOS17), convened by Christopher Skinner, Sam Illingworth and Rolf Hut.  Here I did one oral presentation and one ready-to-play poster.  This session was the very first one on the topic of geoscience games at the General Assembly, and I was lucky to be part of this momentous event.  Our oral presentation was called ‘Learning from geoscience games through debriefing’.  I did the introduction and some passages in the middle, with the rest done by David.  The main idea of our presentation was to emphasize how we may learn more effectively from games by debriefing properly; it is during the debriefing that the real learning starts. As David says, “the learning starts when the game stops”.

For our poster, ‘Global warming causes and consequences: A poster game+debriefing,’ people were invited to play our GWCC game.  We asked people to participate by drawing lines linking global warming to its causes and effects.  I had a great time talking with some dozen people who came to visit and play.

Left: David and I in front of the poster. Right: Explaining to Marie Piazza how to play the GWCC game. (Credit: Pariphat and David Crookall)

The Geoscience Games Night was organized by the conveners of Games for Geoscience.  Many people brought games of all kinds to share and play, and even more people came to play.  The atmosphere was one of enjoyment, socializing and learning.  I played a game about the water cycle, based on the well-known board game Snakes and Ladders.  It was an exciting time.  At the end of the session, Sam Illingworth came to tell me that earlier in the day I did a great job for the oral presentation.  I felt really happy about his compliment.

Pictures of me playing games in the Geoscience Games Night session. (Credit: Pariphat and David Crookall)

The second session was titled Geoethics: Ethical, social and cultural implications of geoscience knowledge, education, communication, research and practice (EOS4), convened by Silvia Peppoloni, Nic Bilham, Giuseppe Di Capua, Martin Bohle, and Eduardo Marone.  In this session, we presented two interactive posters.  One was called ‘Learning geoethics: A ready-to-play poster’.  This was a game where people are invited to work together in a small group.  The game is in five steps:

  1. Individuals are given a hand of 12 cards each representing an environmental value. Here are four examples of values cards:
    • Water (including waterways, seas) should have similar rights as humans, implying protection by law.
    • Water quality must be protected and guaranteed by all people living in the same watershed. Water polluters should be punished.
    • All people with community responsibility (politicians, mayors, directors, managers, etc) must pass tests for basic geosciences (esp climate science) and geoethics.
    • Families and schools have an ethical and legal obligation to promote respect for others, for the environment, for health, for well-being and for equitable prosperity.
  2. Individually, they then select six of the 12 cards based on importance, urgency, etc.;
  3. Then, in small groups of three participants, they discuss their individually-selected choices from step 2.  Collectively, they achieve consensus and choose only six cards for the group;
  4. The group then continues to reach a consensus in a rank ordering of the six cards;
  5. Debriefing about (a) the values and (b) the group process using consensus.

 

The second poster was titled ‘Geo-edu-ethics: Learning ethics for the Earth’.  In this interactive poster, we asked participants to contribute their ideas for geoethics in education, or as we call it, geo-edu-ethics.  We received excellent feedback from viewers and contributors to this poster.

Participants contributing their ideas to our poster. (Credit: Pariphat and David Crookall)

We must make geoethics a central part of education because it is crucial for future generations.  Indeed our Geo-edu-ethics poster stated, “we need people to learn, and grow up learning, about what is right and wrong in regard to each aspect of our personal earth citizen lives.  That needs nothing short of a recast in educational practice for all educational communities (schools, universities, ministries, NGOs) across the globe.  It is doable, but it is urgent”.

Also, we must all realize that “education is inconceivable without ethics.  Geo-education is impossible without geoethics… Geo-conferences (including the EGU) include ever greater numbers of sessions related to experiential learning.  Experiential learning is at the heart of much in the geo-sciences.  An already large number of simulation/games exist on a wide variety of topics in geoethics,” (extract from Learning Geoethics poster).

This explains why a conference like the General Assembly is so important.  We can learn from the enriching experience provided by the conference itself, and also learn about opportunities for experiences in the field.

During the week, I went to many different sessions; I met many new people, all of whom who were friendly and down-to-earth (so to speak!).  It was a pleasure to be part of the General Assembly and it is also a good opening to the professional world.  The EGU allowed me to discover many great things about several fields in the geosciences and about the Earth.  It was indeed an exciting time!

I would like to thank Silvia Peppoloni, Giuseppe Di Capua and their fellow co-conveners from the International Association for Promoting Geoethics and the Geological Society of London; I admire the work that they are doing.  I enjoyed the evening meal with everybody at the Augustinerkeller Bitzinger in the beautiful city night of Vienna.  I also wish to thank Christopher Skinner, Rolf Hut and Sam Illingworth, co-conveners of the Games for Geoscience session.  They gave a wonderful opportunity to be part of their sessions and to learn more.

I also thank my high school teachers for letting me be learn outside school and in a professional setting.

I hope to see more pupils at the EGU! Please join me on LinkedIn.

by Pariphat Promduangsri

Pariphat Promduangsri is a 16-year-old science baccalaureate student at Auguste Renoir high school in Cagnes-sur-mer, France. Her native country is Thailand. She has lived in France for over four years. She speaks English, French, Italian and Thai. When she is not studying or climbing mountains (she has already done most of the Tour du Mont Blanc), she likes playing the piano. Later she will probably persue a career taking care of the environment and the Earth.

 

Give us the foundation to build our transferrable skills!

Give us the foundation to build our transferrable skills!

The EGU Early Career Scientists’ (ECS) Great Debates offer early career scientists at the EGU General Assembly the chance to network and voice their opinions on important topics in the format of round-table discussions. At the end of the debate, each table delivers a statement that summarises the discussion and recommendations. By publishing the results, we hope to highlight some of the needs of the EGU ECS community and how these matters should be addressed.

At this year’s ECS Great Debate, the topic was transferrable skills in science. The main question was “should early career scientists use time developing transferrable skills?” You may say this is a simple question to answer. Indeed, all the resulting statements indicated that the EGU ECS answer is YES. However, the simple statements hide a much more complex situation; a situation that varies considerably for each individual researcher. Different countries have different standards, different universities set different curricula, and different supervisors have different priorities. Some early career scientists are lucky to have many opportunities to develop transferrable skills, whereas others strive to gain these skills.

Groups defined transferrable skills as ones that could be used in other scientific disciplines and not least, in industry. Indeed, many scientific skills are transferrable. For example, data analysis and statistics were noted as valuable tools across various scientific fields and industry careers. Some groups gave extensive lists of transferrable expertise, and most were not strictly science-based. These included writing, presenting, social media, teaching, team working, project management, networking and critical thinking, to name a few. However, developing these skills do not traditionally fall into the curricula of the geosciences.

Early career scientists having round-table discussions on the importance of developing transferrable skills. (Credit: Olivia Trani)

It was evident that ECS in the EGU consider transferrable skills as extremely important to their careers and their science. They furthermore suggest that researchers should be given time and appropriate credit to develop these skills.

At the same time, many of the ECS debate participants believe in striking a balance between establishing these skills and the scientific skills that their PhDs and publications depend on.

Below you will find a list of the summary statements from the ECS that were present at the Great Debate. These reports, based on the discussions from more than 100 early career scientists, show solid support for transferrable skill training. These results are a clear indication that EGU must continue to work towards offering short courses at the General Assembly on a variety of transferrable skills. Additionally, these statements can help ECS persuade their universities to invest in opportunities to develop these skills if they do not already do so. It is clear that the EGU early career scientist community believes these skills not only help ECS develop their careers, but that they also benefit science and society!

Here are the table’s conclusions:

“Instead of currently developing random skills ourselves, on an ad-hoc basis, we need an environment to support more organized, collaborative, efficient, and recognized skill sets”

“We need transferrable skills to communicate knowledge and help society, therefore learn them, when you need them or want them, others will thank you”

“We should focus on developing these [transferrable] skills but we need to manage our time in order to go deeper into [our] own science”

“Yes, because whether you decide to stay in academia or in industry, these skills will help you be better in your field, help you work on interdisciplinary topics and communicate your work, thus increasing your success. The pros outweigh the cons!”

“Yes, to be a good scientist, researcher, or general human being, it takes more than one skill or field. It takes being open and brave to pursue new experiences to change both yourself and those around you.”

“Scientific careers are not just about getting specific knowledge in your field specialty but being able to adapt yourself to different disciplines.”

“Yes, because you get more job opportunities, it gives you flexibility, it’s fun, it makes you happy, it helps define you and strengthens your personality.”

“Yes, it is important for improving our possibilities after a PhD. We should take these opportunities as early career scientists [and] have more chances to learn these skills.”

“All scientists should be required to take time to develop useful skills for professional and personal development. These developments should not be exclusive to certain groups, should be obligatory with freedom to choose topics, should be offered to supervisors and managers, should include more courses at conferences and there should be more money for travel funding.”

“We need to find a good balance during PhD between doing science and attending courses about transferrable skills.”

“Yes, but plan which relevant transferrable skills you need to develop in the short term in relation to your project, and then update your long-term plan.”

“Transferrable skills will always be useful in your current and future situation. They should be learnt at university. It should be acceptable to spend time learning these skills in courses in tandem with your research.”

By Mathew Stiller-Reeve, co-founder of ClimateSnack and researcher at Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Norway

Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post that expresses the opinion of its author and those who participated at the Great Debate during the General Assembly, whose views may differ from those of the European Geosciences Union. We hope the post can serve to generate discussion and a civilised debate amongst our readers.

GeoTalk: A new view on how ocean currents move

GeoTalk: A new view on how ocean currents move

Geotalk is a regular feature highlighting early career researchers and their work. In this interview we speak to Jan Zika, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. This year he was recognized for his contributions to ocean dynamics research as the winner of the 2018 Ocean Sciences Division Outstanding Early Career Scientists Award.

First, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little more about your career path so far?

My pleasure. I was actually pretty set on the geosciences as a kid. I think all my projects in my last year of primary school were about natural disasters of some form or another – volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. My teachers must have thought I was going to grow up to be a villain in a James Bond film.

I grew up in Tasmania, where there aren’t exactly natural disasters, but nature was very present in my everyday life and that sustained my interest into adulthood. When I was ready for university, meteorologists, geologists, and other researchers advised me to do the hard stuff first. So in my undergraduate degree I focused on mathematics and physics. I was good at it, but I kind of forgot why I was there at some point.

Things changed for me when I interned at a marine science laboratory in Hobart operated by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). I’d walked past the building so many times growing up but never thought I’d get to work inside. Bizarrely, I worked on a project related to the Mediterranean Sea. It was just so uplifting being able to put all these skills I had learnt in class, like vector calculus and thermodynamics, into practice.

From then on I was properly hooked on oceanography and the geosciences. I got into a PhD program through the CSIRO, which felt like being drafted to the Premier League. After completing the doctorate, I took a job as a research fellow in Grenoble, France. Not an obvious place to study the ocean I know, but there was a great little team there. After a couple of years, I moved to the UK, first to the University of Southampton then Imperial College London.

After seven years as a research fellow in Europe I returned home to Australia to become, of all things, a mathematics lecturer at the University of New South Wales. My research is still related to oceans and climate, but day-to-day I am teaching maths. At least now when I teach vector calculus I can pepper the lectures with the sorts of applications to the natural world that have inspired me throughout my whole career.

This year you were awarded an Outstanding Early Career Scientists Award in the Ocean Sciences Division at the 2018 General Assembly for you work on understanding the ocean’s thermohaline circulation and its role in Earth’s climate. Could you tell us more about your research in this field and its importance?

I’d love to. In many fields of science just changing the way you look at a problem can have a big effect. Usually this involves drawing different kind of diagrams. These diagrams may seem abstract at first, but eventually they make things easier to understand. Some diagrams we are all familiar with in one way or another, such as the periodic table, Bohr’s model of the atom, and the economists’ cost-benefit curve. These were all, at some stage, new and innovative ways of presenting something fundamentally complex. I am not saying I did anything like make a model for the atom, but I was inspired by the work of 19th century physicists who made simple diagrams to describe thermodynamic systems (like engines and refrigerators, for example). I wanted to apply these types of ideas to the ocean.

Working closely with colleagues in Australia and Sweden, I came up with a way to make a new diagram for the ocean’s thermohaline circulation. This is the circulation that, in part, makes Europe relatively warm, and plays a big role in regulating Earth’s climate. The new diagram we developed helped us to understand the physical processes controlling the thermohaline circulation and opened the door to all sorts of new methods for understanding the ocean’s role in climate.

Jan’s diagram of ocean circulation in temperature-salinity coordinates from a global climate model (Community Earth System Model Version 1). Contours represent volumetric streamfunction in units of Sverdrups (1Sv = 10^6 m^3 s^-1). Credit: Jan Zika

I started to realize I had stumbled onto something really big when I ran the idea by a Canadian colleague Fred Laliberte, who was a researcher at the University of Toronto at the time. He had been working on a very similar problem in the atmosphere, and my diagram was just the thing he needed to work things out. We ended up getting that work published in the journal Science and we were able to say a thing or two about how windy the world might get as the climate changes. To know my ideas were having an impact well beyond my immediate research area really was special.

And what did you find out? How will climate change affect the world’s wind?  

What we found was that overall the earth’s atmosphere won’t get much more energetic (or may even get less energetic) as the climate warms. This means that although extreme storm events may become more frequent in the future, weak storms may become much less frequent (more calm weather). One can draw an analogy with a spluttering engine: it produces bursts of energy when it splutters but is slower and less effective the rest of the time.

Your research pursuits have taken you to some pretty incredible places. What have been some highlights from your time out in the field?

It has been great to balance the mathematics and theory I do with research in the field. As an oceanographer I have been ‘to sea’ a few times. The most memorable was when I was part of a research project to measure in the Southern Ocean. Our research area was between South America and the Antarctic continent. We set off from the Falkland/Malvinas Islands and made our way around the Scotia Sea dropping by South Georgia on our way back. Those Antarctic islands had the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen. The highlight though was when a gigantic humpback whale spent a few hours playing with us and the ship – spinning under water, breaching and popping up to say hello.

Jan (right) with Brian King (left) from the UK National Oceanography Centre. Pictured here on the James Clarke Ross in the South Atlantic deploying an Argo Float. The instrument measures ocean temperature, salinity and pressure. Credit: Jan Zika

As part of the research, we released a small amount of inert substance (a type of chemical that wouldn’t affect marine life) about a kilometre below the surface of the ocean. This is called a ‘tracer.’ The idea was we would let the ocean currents move and stir the substance like milk poured into coffee. It is really important for us to understand how much things mix in the deep ocean as this affects the thermohaline circulation and how heat and carbon are absorbed into the ocean with global warming.

Once we had released the substance it wasn’t that easy to find where it had gone. What we had to do was float around, drop over an instrument that could trap water at different depths, then bring the water samples to the surface and analyse them in a small lab we had on board. The difficult part was the tracer would become really dilute once it had been mixed by ocean currents, and it was both a really time consuming and costly process to collect and analyse the substance. So we had to exploit sophisticated computer models and pool all our knowledge and best guesses on where the tracer might have gone. We did such a good job tracking it that we were able to continue gathering oodles of valuable data for almost twice as long as had originally been planned. This was testament to the excellent teamwork and ingenuity of our collaborators at sea, in the lab and in front of computers.

Outside of research, you have also been involved with a number of science communication initiatives and outreach activities with young students. What advice would you impart to scientists who would like to engage with public audiences?

That is right, I really enjoy inspiring the next generation and getting non-science folk engaged in what we do. I would say that you want to simplify things but don’t dumb them down. I’ve learnt the hard way that even when speaking to other ‘experts’ it is best to use plain language instead of jargon and go slowly through concepts even if you feel they should be basic. I think working with people from around the world (e.g. in France) who don’t have English as a first language, really helped me with this.

Jan teaching a Geophysical Fluid Dynamics class at the University of New South Wales with the aid of a rotating tank experiment. Credit: Susannah Waters

At the same time I am always surprised at how quickly young students can absorb ideas and throw up questions that even an expert wouldn’t have come up with. The great thing is that your students aren’t wedded to dogma like experienced researchers are, and so are capable of much more creative ideas.

The other day I was helping with a special event to encourage females to enter mathematics. I was inspired by a talk given by the Australian Girl’s Maths Olympiad Team who had just competed in Venice. They said solving Maths Olympiad problems was all about breaking down a big problem into smaller problems they already know how to solve. I ended up changing my own talk as I was inspired by this theme.

I guess what I am suggesting is, if you are organising outreach activities, instead of thinking about how to ‘tell them’ how things work, think about ways to get ideas from them. Include them in the process. Ask them the hard questions. That way everyone will be much more involved. And who knows, it might spark a great idea.

Interview by Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer