GeoLog

#EGU18

GeoTalk: Research reflections and lessons learned from Pinhas Alpert

GeoTalk: Research reflections and lessons learned from Pinhas Alpert

GeoTalk interviews usually feature the work of early career researchers, but this month we deviate from the standard format to speak to Pinhas Alpert, professor in geophysics and planetary sciences at Tel Aviv University and recipient of the 2018 Vilhelm Bjerknes Medal. Alpert was awarded for his outstanding contributions to atmospheric dynamics and aerosol science. Here we talk to him about his career, research, and life lessons he has learned as a scientist.  

Thank you for talking to us today! Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little more about your career path?

I was born in Jerusalem, Israel on 28 Sept 1949. I received my BSc (Physics, Math & Computers) and MSc (Physics) as well as my Phd (Meteorology) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1980; supervised by late Prof. Yehuda Neumann, Head of the Department of Meteorology).

Then I did my post-doc studies at Harvard University (US) with Professor Richard Lindzen (1980-1982) and got a position at Tel Aviv University in 1982.

I served as the Head of the Porter School of Environmental Studies, Tel-Aviv University, Israel, from 2008 to 2013, following three years as Head of the Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences also at Tel Aviv University.

My research focuses on atmospheric dynamics, climate, numerical methods, limited area modeling, aerosol dynamics and climate change. As part of my PhD, I built an atmospheric model, which is used in Belgium (LLN) and Finland (UH) for research.

I’ve published three books, and I am the co-author of more than 347 articles (240 peer-reviewed; 107 in books).

Some more recent work includes developing with my colleagues a novel way for monitoring rainfall using cellular network data. From this method we were able to create a new kind of advanced flood warning system.

I also developed a novel Factor Separation Method in numerical simulations. This methodology allows researchers to calculate atmospheric synergies, and has been adapted by many groups worldwide.

I established and head the Israel Space Agency Middle East Interactive Data Archive (ISA-MEIDA). Currently it is called the Israeli Atmospheric and Climatic Data Center (IACDC), which provides easy access to geophysical data from Israel and across the globe. I served as co-director of the GLOWA-Jordan River BMBF/MOS project to study the water vulnerability in the E. Mediterranean and also served as the Israel representative to the IPCC Third Assessment Report Working Group 1.

In addition to my research projects and positions I have supervised 42 Master students and 23 Doctoral students; some of them have become professors themselves in universities in Israel and abroad.

My current group consists of nine students as well as four post-docs and researchers.

I married my wife Rachel (RN) in 1971 and we have eight children and sweet grandchildren (not to count).

This year you received the 2018 Vilhelm Bjerknes Medal for your outstanding contributions to atmospheric dynamics and aerosol science, most notably your involvement with the Factor Separation Method and novel monitoring systems.

For those readers who may not be so familiar with your work, could you give us a quick summary of your research contributions and why it’s important?

“Remember to do the research that you love the most.” (Credit: Pinhas Alpert)

The Factor Separation Method, first introduced in 1993, allowed scientists to compute the separation of synergies (or interactions or non-linear processes) among several factors for the first time in a quantitative approach.

This allowed researchers to compare for the first time different factors which contribute to some important processes like: heavy rainfall, floods, cyclone deepening, and model errors. The methods have now been applied in many areas of research, including environmental studies, paleoclimatology, limnology, regional climate change, rainfall analysis, cloud modelling, pollution, crop growth, and forecasting.

As to our novel method for monitoring atmospheric moisture: science today does not really know well enough how rainfall or moisture are distributed in the atmosphere.

This is true for all the world but it is particularly so over semi-arid or mountainous regions. For instance over Israel, a semi-arid region, we have about 100 rain gauges, while data from three cellular companies provide us with about 7000 cellular links from which we can calculate distribution of rain in real-time. Many severe flood events particularly over the semi-arid area of S. Israel have not been monitored at all by the classical approached including rain gauges and radar.

My colleagues and I developed a way to monitor such atmospheric conditions that taps into cellular communication networks (the network that lets us use our mobile phones for example). These networks are highly sensitive to the effects of weather phenomena and are widely spread across the world. By using data recorded by cellular communication providers, we found that these networks can provide important information on dangerous weather conditions.

For example, in one study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society we demonstrated that the technique could be used to monitor dense fog events. This is very important since there are no alternative methods to monitor fog on roads and highways, and furthermore they contribute to hazardous weather in which often hundreds of cars may be involved.

At the 2018 General Assembly, you gave a medal lecture on your personal perspective on the evolution of atmospheric research over time. What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned as a researcher?

My take-away messages were:

It seems impossible to predict which research will become a scientific breakthrough because,

  1. the message from your research came too early. For example, the Italian scientist Amedeo Avogadro first proposed the existence of a constant number of molecules in each kilomole of gas and calculated this number (6.022×1023). However, he was ridiculed for it, and only after he passed away was it accepted by the scientific community. Now every student must learn the Avogadro number in any basic thermodynamics course.
  2. the message was not clear or strong enough: When we are sure about our finding we must be strong in our statements and not too modest. Otherwise, the scientific community assumes that what we claim in our article is only a conjencture.
  3. the message was not given the right exposure. For example, in 1778-9 the French scholar Pierre-Simon Laplace was the first to develop the mathematical terms the Coriolis Force, an important term in physics that explains air acceleration due to Earth’s rotation. However, it was until 60 years later that the French mathematician Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis gave these terms their physical meaning, i.e. that air-parcels in the Northern Hemisphere for instance turn to the right due to the Earth rotation. And, this was the main reason why these terms were called after Coriolis and not after Laplace.

 

Pinhas Alpert receiving the Vilhelm Bjerknes Medal at the EGU Awards Ceremony during the 2018 General Assembly. (Credit: EGU/Foto Pfluegl)

I also discussed whether researchers should invest their time in a concentrated topic, or spread their interests. A common question in atmospheric research, which is particularly bothering early career researchers, is which of these primary three directions should they choose to follow: 1. theoretical approach; 2. analysis of observations and 3. Employ atmospheric models.

One option is to spread your efforts in two or three of these directions. while the more easy approach is often to focus on only one of these three routes. My take-away message during my talk was that, while it certainly more difficult to spread your research to 2-3 of these pathways, it is a very personal decision. There is no right answer that applies to everyone, and your choice depends very much on your personal preference. Remember to do the research that you love the most.

And the other most important take-away message for success is hard work. As Thomas Edison once said in an interview in 1929, “None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.”

Recently, the IPCC released a special report on the consequences of global warming and the benefits of limiting warming to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels. You had mentioned that you served as the Israel representative to the IPCC Third Assessment Report Working Group I. What would you say were some key lessons learned from contributing to an IPCC report? Do you think it is important for researchers to be involved in the policy process?

One of the most amazing things I have learned from my participation there was how much politics and debate are involved there. There are a lot of negotiations between the representatives of the various countries, who sometimes spend hours on the wording of sentences.

Yes, it is very important for researchers to bring the messages from their work to decision makers. However, this should only be done when you are convinced that your results are important for the society. Hence, it is my opinion that early career scientists should focus more on promoting their science and be less involved in the policymaking process. Without a strong scientific backing, it may interfere with your research. Again, here as well, the decision should be strongly based on your personal feelings.

Interview by Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer

EGU announces 2019 awards and medals

EGU announces 2019 awards and medals

From 14th to the 20th October a number of countries across the globe celebrate Earth Science Week, so it is a fitting time to celebrate the exceptional work of Earth, planetary and space scientist around the world.

This week, the EGU announced the 45 recipients of next year’s Union Medals and Awards, Division Medals, and Division Outstanding Early Career Scientists Awards. The aim of the awards is to recognise the efforts of the awardees in furthering our understanding of the Earth, planetary and space sciences. The prizes will be handed out during the EGU 2019 General Assembly in Vienna on 7-12 April. Head over to the EGU website for the full list of awardees.

Sixteen out of the total 45 awards went to early career scientists who are recognised for the excellence of their work at the beginning of their academic career. Twelve of the awards were given at division level but four early career scientists were recognised at Union level, highlighting the quality of the research being carried out by the early stage researcher community within the EGU.

Sixteen out of the 45 awards conferred this year recognised the work of female scientists. Of those, six were given to researchers in the early stages of their academic career.

As a student (be it at undergraduate, masters, or PhD level), at the EGU 2018 General Assembly, you might have entered the Outstanding Student Poster and PICO (OSPP) Awards. A total of 64 poster contributions by early career researchers were bestowed with a OSPP award this year recognising the valuable and important work carried out by budding geoscientists. Judges took into account not only the quality of the research presented in the posters, but also how the findings were communicated both on paper and by the presenters. Follow this link for a full list of awardees.

Further information regarding how to nominate a candidate for a medal and details on the selection of candidates can be found on the EGU webpages. For details of how to enter the OSPP Award see the procedure for application, all of which takes place during the General Assembly, so it really couldn’t be easier to put yourself forward!

The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria from 7  to 12 April. The call-for-abstracts will open in mid-October. Submit yours via the General Assembly website.

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.

 

How to convene a session at the General Assembly… in flow charts!

How to convene a session at the General Assembly… in flow charts!

Convening a session at a conference can seem daunting, especially if you are an early career scientist (ECS) and a first-time convener. At the 2018 General Assembly, Stephanie Zihms, the Union-level ECS representative, discussed the basics of proposing, promoting and handling a session in the short course ‘How to convene a session at EGU’s General Assembly.’

In today’s post she has created some simple flow charts to ensure your convening experience is a success. With the call for sessions for the 2019 EGU General Assembly open until 6 September 2018, now’s the perfect time to put this advice into practice!

Did you know that you can help shape the General Assembly by proposing a session?

Follow the flow charts to find out more:

After the session submission deadline, the Programme Committee will look for duplicate sessions and encourage sessions to merge before the call for abstract opens. Once sessions are open for abstract submission, it is then up to you and your convener team to ensure your session is advertised. Try publicising your session as widely as possible. Why not spread the word through social media, mailing lists or even a blog post?

Remember, scientists who would like to be considered for the Roland Schlich travel support have to submit their abstracts by 1 December 2018, prior to the general deadline, to allow for abstract assessment.

Also remember that ECS can apply to be considered for the OSPP (Outstanding Student Poster and Presentation) award. Judges are normally allocated by the OSPP coordinator, but as a convener you need to check each entry has been awarded judges.


Once the general deadline closes, your responsibilities as convener or co-convener depend on the type of session and the number of abstracts. EGU’s conference organisers, Copernicus Meetings, will keep you updated via email and more information about your responsibilities can be found here.

Note that the EGU considers all General Assembly contributions equally important, independent of presentation format. With this in mind, if your session is given oral blocks, make sure your oral slots include presentations from early career scientists as well as established scientists. It’s also a good idea to ensure your diversity selection goes beyond career stage and includes gender and nationality.

As the convener (or co-convener) you need to ensure all abstracts submitted for the Roland Schlich travel support are evaluated and the feedback is provided through the online tool. This should be done as a team.

The minimum number of submitted abstracts required for a session varies each year. This often depends on the type of session requested (oral, poster, PICO) and overall amount of abstracts submitted.

Not all conveners attract the required number of abstracts for their session of choice, but don’t worry. If this happens to you, there are other options available, like converting to different session type or teaming up another session. The EGU Programme Committee works hard to make sure all abstracts are presented at the General Assembly in sessions that are as suitable to them as possible.

Remember, the call for sessions for the EGU General Assembly 2019 closes on 6 September 2018 and the call for Union Symposia and Great Debates proposals ends by 15 August 2018.

By Stephanie Zihms, the Union-level ECS Representative

The EGU’s 2019 General Assembly, takes place in Vienna from 7 to 12 April, 2019. For more news about the upcoming General Assembly, you can also follow the official hashtag, #EGU19, on our social media channels.