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

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

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

Major story

In October, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a landmark report and summary statement that detailed the severe consequences for our environment and society if global warming continues unabated. The special report, also known as the SR15, was compiled by 91 authors from 40 countries, and cites more than 6,000 peer-reviewed studies.

“There’s no doubt that this dense, science-heavy, 33-page summary is the most significant warning about the impact of climate change in 20 years,” said Matt McGrath an environment correspondent for BBC News.

The  EGU announced its support of the IPCC report in a statement published last month. In this address, EGU President Jonathan Bamber said: “EGU concurs with, and supports, the findings of the SR15 that action to curb the most dangerous consequences of human-induced climate change is urgent, of the utmost importance and the window of opportunity extremely limited.”

The IPCC was first commissioned to produce this report by the UN Convention on Climate Change following the Paris agreement, where world leaders pledged to limit global warming to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels and “pursue efforts” towards 1.5ºC. The goal of the report was to better understand what it would take for the world to successfully meet this 1.5ºC target and what the consequences would be if we are unable to reach this goal.

The report illustrates the two different outcomes that would arise from limiting global warming to 1.5ºC or allowing temperatures to rise to 2ºC.

While a half-degree doesn’t come across like a pronounced difference, the report explains that additional warming by this degree could endanger tens of millions more people across the world with life-threatening heat waves, water shortages, and coastal flooding from sea level rise. This kind of warming would also increase the chances that coral reefs and Arctic sea ice in the summer would disappear. These are just a few of the impacts detailed in the report. Recently, Carbon Brief has also produced an interactive graphic that does a deep dive into how climate change at 1.5ºC, 2ºC and beyond will impact different regions and communities around the world.

It should be noted that while limiting warming to 1.5ºC is the better of the two pathways, it still isn’t optimal. For example, under this warming threshold, the authors of the report project that global  sea levels would still rise, coral reefs would decline by 70-90%, and more than 350 million additional people would be exposed to severe drought.

Furthermore, the report goes on to explain what action (and just how much of it) would be necessary to limit warming to 1.5ºC. An article from the Guardian perhaps put it best: “there’s one simple critical takeaway point: we need to cut carbon pollution as much as possible, as fast as possible.

The report authors emphasise that limiting warming would require a massive international movement to reduce emissions and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; and additionally this effort would need to happen within the next few years to avoid the most severe outcomes. They warn that if greenhouse emissions are still released at their current rate, the Earth’s temperature may reach 1.5ºC some time between 2030 and 2052, and reach more than 3ºC by 2100. Even more so, they concluded that the greenhouse gas reduction actions currently pledged by various countries around the world are still not enough to limit warming to 1.5ºC.

Measures to reach this temperature target include reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and reach a ‘net-zero’ by 2050. and making dramatic investments in renewable energy. They conclude that 70-35% of the world’s electricity should be generated by renewables like wind and solar power by 2050. By that same time, the coal industry would need to be phased out almost entirely.

Moreover, the authors say that we would need to expand forests and develop technology to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The report notes that climate action needs to be taken on an individual level as well, such as reducing the amount of meat we eat and time we spend on flying airplanes.

The authors report that we have the technology and means to limit warming by 1.5ºC, but they warn that the current political climate could make reaching this goal less likely.

“Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III, in an IPCC press release.

Still have questions about the recent report? The IPCC has released a comprehensive FAQ and Carbon Brief has published an in-depth Q&A that addresses questions such as why the panel released the report, why adaptation is important, what the reaction has been, and what’s next.

What you might have missed

BepiColombo approaching Mercury. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab; Mercury: NASA/JPL

Last month the science media was also abuzz with a series of space agency news. On 20 October, the European-Japanese mission BepiColombo successfully launched from French Guiana, starting its seven-year long journey to Mercury, the smallest and least explored terrestrial planet in the Solar System. The probe is poised to be the third mission to travel to Mercury.

Once it arrives in 2025, the spacecraft will actually separate into two satellites, which will orbit the planet for at least one year. One satellite will investigate Mercury’s magnetic field while the other will take a series of measurements, including collecting data on the planet’s terrain, topography, and surface structure and composition. The researchers involved with the mission hope to learn more about Mercury’s origins and better understand the evolution of our solar system.

While one mission has started its journey, another’s has come to an end. Last month NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope has officially been retired after running out of fuel. Over its 9-year life span, the telescope has spotted more than 2,600 planets outside our solar system, many of which are possibly capable of sustaining life.

“As NASA’s first planet-hunting mission, Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm. Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars.”

However, even though Kepler’s planet-scoping days are over, NASA’s new space observatory, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, which launched in April 2018, will continue the search for habitable worlds.

NASA’s Kepler space telescope, shown in this artist’s concept, revealed that there are more planets than stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Image credit: NASA

Links we liked

The EGU story

Earlier in October, we announced the winners of the 2019 EGU awards and medals: 45 individuals who have made significant contributions to the Earth, planetary and space sciences and who will be honoured at the 2019 EGU General Assembly next April. We have also announced the winners of the Outstanding Student Poster and PICO (OSPP) Awards corresponding to the 2018 General Assembly, which you can find on our website. Congratulations to all!

This month, we also opened the call for abstracts for the EGU 2019 General Assembly. If you are interested in presenting your work in Vienna in April, make sure you submit your abstract by 10 January 2019, 13:00 CET. If you would like to apply for a Roland Schlich travel grant to attend the meeting, please submit your abstract no later than 1 December 2018. You can find more information on the EGU website.

Interested in science and art? After successfully hosting a cartoonist and a poet in residence at last year’s annual meeting, we are now opening a call for artists to apply for a residency at the EGU 2019 General Assembly. The deadline for applications is 1 December. You can find more information about the opportunity online here.

And don’t forget! 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.

Union-wide events at EGU 2018

Union-wide events at EGU 2018

Wondering what to expect at the General Assembly this year? Here are some of the highlights:

Union Symposia (US)

For events which will have general appeal, regardless of your field of research, look no further than the Union Symposia. The very first session, organized in collaboration with the European and American space agencies (ESA and NASA) will highlight observation missions focused on Earth and other planetary bodies, as well as discuss the challenges of organising future missions in an international framework.

Following this session will be Union Symposia 1: Past achievements and future challenges for the Geosciences, co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union. The Union Symposia on Wednesday will reflect on the fifty years of international ocean drilling. Thursday’s session will then feature reports on the Cassini mission and future perspectives for the exploration of the outer solar system.

And finally, Union Symposia 5 on Friday will cover Scientific research in a changing European Union: where we stand and what we aim for. Panelists will explore some of the challenges and potential threats to academics in the EU and how these issues can be addressed and overcome. The session will also outline some of the advantages of the EU, funding programmes that are currently provided and how the European Union can continue to develop and nurture its researchers.

Great Debates (GDB)
This year we’re holding four Great Debates! The topics covered this year are varied, from Natural versus anthropogenic threats for life on Earth to Low-risk geo-engineering: are techniques available now? The role of scientists in policy-making is another hot topic on the Great Debate agenda, with one debate dedicated to the subject on whether to be hands on or hands off in the political sphere. Continuing with the success of last year’s Early Career Scientist (ECS) Great Debate, the 2018 General Assembly invites participants to join a round-table discussion where everyone will be given the opportunity to discuss this year’s chosen topic: “Should early career scientists use time developing transferrable skills?” Whether you are in Vienna or elsewhere, be sure to follow and join in the debates using #EGU18GDB on twitter.

Educational & Outreach Symposia (EOS)
Educational and Outreach Symposia are sessions dedicated to all things education and outreach, and include the Geosciences Information for Teachers (GIFT) workshop, a long-running event for high school teachers that helps shorten the time between discovery and textbook.

Medal Lectures and Lectures organized by related scientific societies (ML, LRS)
There will be 3 lectures organized by related scientific societies as well as a grand total of 46 Medal Lectures this year!

Meet EGU (EGU)
Meet EGU does exactly what it says on the tin – these sessions are a great opportunity to get to know your division president and early career representative, put faces to names and find out what’s going on in the Union.

Townhall and Splinter Meetings (TSM)
Townhall Meetings allow participants to take part in a lot of open discussion. This year’s meetings cover a huge variety of topics, from a general discussion of the use of preprints and preprint servers like EarthArXiv, through to a talk on how geoscientists should address urbanisation. Like Townhall Meetings, Splinter Meetings are organised by participants, but they are typically smaller and can be either public or by invitation only.

The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria from 8 to 13 April. Check out the full session programme on the General Assembly website.

Union-wide events at EGU 2017

Union-wide events at EGU 2017

Wondering what to expect at the General Assembly this year? Here are some of the highlights:

Union Symposia (US)

For events which will have general appeal, regardless of your field of research, look no further than the Union Symposia.  In particular, if you want to stand up for science at a time when (some) politics seems at odds with science, come along to Union Symposia 3, Make Facts Great Again. An impressive panel composed of Christine McEntee (AGU Executive Director), Sir David King (Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government 2000–2007), Christiana Figueres (Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 2010–2016) and Heike Langenberg (Nature Geoscience Chief Editor) will discuss what can scientists do to further the progress of scientific research and ensure mainstream scientific views are accepted and taken seriously by policymakers and the public.

The very first of the Union Symposia, organized in collaboration with the European and maerica space agencies (ESA and NASA) will highlight Earth observation missions and there will be talks on ESA’s and NASA’s planetary and space programmers. On Wednesday, scientists from different fields will come together to explore the key role plants play in the climate system in Union Symposia 1: Vegetation-climate interactions across time scales Finally, there’s the EGU Awards Ceremony – set to celebrate excellent research and achievement in the Earth, planetary and space sciences.

Great Debates (GDB)
This year we’re holding not one, not two, but six Great Debates! The topics covered this year are varied, from: Arctic environmental change: global opportunities and threats (organized with AGU), through to whether 2 degrees is possible without relying on carbon storage and capture? Scientific publishing is also hot on the Great Debate agenda, with two debates dedicated to the subject, including the very first early career scientist (ECS) specific Great Debate: Should early career scientists be judged by their publication record? A set of group debates.  Discussions also explore the Earth’s deep past (Great Debate on Great Extinctions) and the planet’s future (transition to next generation cities and planet Earth future).  Whether you are in Vienna or elsewhere, be sure to follow and join in the debates using #EGU17GDB on twitter.

Educational & Outreach Symposia (EOS)
Educational and Outreach Symposia are sessions dedicated to all things education and outreach, and include the Geosciences Information for Teachers (GIFT) workshop, a long-running event for high school teachers that helps shorten the time between discovery and textbook.

Medal Lectures and Lectures organized by related scientific societies (ML, LRS)
There will be five Lectures organized by related scientific societies as well as a grand total of 45 Medal Lectures this year!

Meet EGU (EGU)
Meet EGU does exactly what it says on the tin – these sessions are a great opportunity to get to know your division president and early career representative, put faces to names and find out what’s going on in the Union.

Townhall Meetings (TM)
Townhall Meetings allow participants to take part in a lot of open discussion. This year’s meetings cover a huge variety of topics, from a discussion, moderated by ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, on how space data impacts EGU participants, through to questioning the formalizatin of the “Anthropocene” and how the interconnection between Open Access, Open Data and Free Open Source Software can be improved to develop the Open Science movement.

Splinter Meetings (SPM)
Like Townhall Meetings, Splinter Meetings are organised by participants, but they are typically smaller and can be either public or by invitation only.

The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria from 23 to 28 April. Check out the full session programme on the General Assembly website.