GeoLog

General Assembly 2018

Wildfires in the wake of climate change

Wildfires in the wake of climate change

Last year saw some of the biggest blazes in history, and may be a sign of things to come.

2017 was a record year for wildfires. California and neighboring western states saw the most destructive fire in US history, with an estimated 18 billion dollars worth of damage over the season. In central Portugal, fires caused 115 deaths over the same period. Researchers presenting at a press conference at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, suggest this may be a sign of things to come.

With climate change, wildfires are expected to be on the rise, as fire-prone regions become hotter and drier. But how did weather and climate contribute to this disastrous season? Strong winds and warm temperatures are thought to be responsible for last year’s fires in California, but it remains unclear how much climate change contributed to these conditions. Etienne Tourigny, of the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre, has been on the case.

“Would this event have been possible with or without climate change?” Tourigny asks. “It’s hard to say. What we can say is that there is a high chance that these kinds of events will be more present and more frequent in the future, especially if we see temperatures increasing as they have”

Central Portugal is already very susceptible to wildfires. It’s hot, it’s dry and it’s forested: a recipe for the perfect storm. The 2017 season was particularly tragic due to an unusual set of circumstances: a tropical cyclone passed as the Portuguese Centro Region was ablaze. The nation hoped that the hurricane would bring rain to put out the fires, but, instead, the storm passed the area by, bringing strong winds and spreading the flames.

200 thousand hectares were burned in two days. Even if this was spread throughout an entire season, it would be a very bad year. Speaking at the conference, António Ferreira, a scientific coordinator at the Research Centre for Natural Resources, Environment and Society in Coimbra, Portugal, puts it frankly: “that’s hell as it was taught in Sunday School.”

The region is also vulnerable to climate change, and an increased risk of wildfires is expected by the end of the century. New strategies are needed to prevent such losses in future. Ferreira emphasised that there is no quick fix and, to reduce the risk, policies, plans, habits and investment have to change.

Even in the high Arctic, fires present a threat. This time, it’s not a direct risk to life or infrastructure, but a threat to the environment. Nikolaos Evangeliou, from Norwegian Institute for Air Research, stated that, even in icy regions, wildfires have the capacity to alter the Earth’s climate and accelerate melting.

Thawing permafrost during the 2017 summer left Greenland’s peatlands vulnerable to wildfires and between 31 July and 21 August about 2300 hectares of peatland were burned. Seven tonnes of black carbon generated by the fires rained down on the ice sheet, making the surface darker and causing it to absorb more heat.

If the ice sheet darkens, it reduces Earth’s ability to deflect solar radiation, allowing more of the sun’s energy to warm the planet. The change in Earth’s reflectivity following last year’s wildfires was small, but it is a warning. With larger fires predicted as the climate warms, we could expect much bigger changes to the Earth’s reflectivity towards the end of the century. Such warming spells further trouble for wildfire-sensitive regions.

By Sara Mynott, EGU 2018 General Assembly Press Assistant

References

Evangeliou et al. Open Fires in Greenland: An Unusual Event and its Impact on the Albedo of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 20, EGU2018-12383, 2018, EGU General Assembly 2018.

Leitão et al. Dealing with climate change: how to cope with wildfire threat in a climate transition region. Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 20, EGU2018-16640, 2018, EGU General Assembly 2018.

Tourigny et al. An observational study of the extreme wildfire events of California in 2017: quantifying the relative importance of climate and weather. Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 20, EGU2018-9545-1, 2018, EGU General Assembly 2018.

At the Assembly 2018: Thursday Highlights

At the Assembly 2018: Thursday Highlights

Welcome to the fourth day of General Assembly excitement! Once again the day is packed with great events for you to attend and here are just some of the sessions on offer. You can find out more about what’s on in EGU Today, the daily newsletter of the General Assembly – grab a copy on your way in or download it here.

Union-wide sessions

The Union-wide session of the day focuses on the Cassini mission to Saturn and future perspectives for the exploration of the outer solar system (US3). The session will feature reports on the amazing discoveries that this mission brought and the new understanding we have gained of the Saturnian system. Join the discussion from 8:30 to 12:00 in room E1.

Thursday’s Great Debate will discuss natural versus anthropogenic threats for life on Earth (GDB5 from 13:30-15:00 in room E1). The session will explore the consequences of extreme events, from magnetic field reversal to anthropogenic climate change, for life on Earth. Tune into to the sessions on Twitter using the #EGU18GDB hashtag or online by webstreaming.

The EGU Early Career Scientists’ Forum (12:15–13:15 in room N2) is the best place to find out more about the Union and how to get involved. Because the EGU is a bottom up organisation, we are keen to hear your suggestions on how to make ECS related activities even better. There will be plenty of opportunities during the forum for you to provide feedback. It’s also over lunch, so you’ll find a buffet of sandwiches and soft drinks when you arrive!

At the Early Career Scientists’ Forum you can let us know what you would like from the EGU, find out how you can get involved in the Assembly and meet other scientists in the EGU early career scientist community. (Credit: EGU)

Scientific Sessions

Some of today’s interdisciplinary highlights include sessions on…

Short Courses

Take the opportunity to expand your skills in one of today’s short courses and splinter meetings. Be sure to share what you learn on social media using the hashtag #EGU18SC:

Medal Lectures

There’s also a number of Medal Lectures on throughout the day – here’s a sample of what’s on offer:

If you need a change of pace, stop by the Imaggeo Photo Exhibition beside the EGU Booth (Hall X2, basement, Brown Level). You can vote for your favourite finalists there, but be quick because the voting deadline is today at midnight! While you’re in the area, you can also take the opportunity to meet your Division’s representatives in today’s Meet EGU appointments.

The Arts at EGU

Tonight from 19:00 to 20:00 in room E1 you can experience geoscience through music with a concert by EMusic (ElectroMagnetic Music), a collaboration between geophysicist Antonio Menghini and musician Stefano Pontani. Their new show “Sounds from the Geology of Italy”, will feature musical styling drawn from electromagnetic data collected in 4 beautiful scenarios: the Phlegrean Fields, Venice Lagoon, Selinunte Temple and Castelluccio Plain.

EGU’s poet (Sam Illingworth) and cartoonist (Matthew Partridge) in residence have been circulating the Assembly to share their conference experiences and communicate science. You can see their work posted daily here.

Have a lovely day!

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 and follow the Assembly’s online conversation on Twitter at #EGU18.

Head on over to the EGU Booth!

Head on over to the EGU Booth!

You can find the EGU Booth in Hall X2 on the Brown Level. This is the place to come if you’d like to meet members of EGU Council and Committees (Meet EGU) and find out more about EGU activities.

Here you can discover the EGU’s 17 open access journals, browse the EGU blogs (GeoLog, the EGU Blog Network and the EGU Division Blogs), catch up on the conference Twitter feed, and more! We will also be giving away beautiful geosciences postcards, which the EGU will post for you free of charge.

Beside the booth you’ll also find the finalists in the EGU Photo Contest, make sure you vote for your favourite images!  You’ll also find the Assembly Job Spot – be sure to check it out if you’re looking for a job in the geosciences, or someone to fill as spot in your research group.

If you have any questions about the EGU, or want to be more involved in the Union, come and ask us, we’re happy to help!

What’s on for early career scientists at the Assembly in 2018

What’s on for early career scientists at the Assembly in 2018

This year, there’s a great line-up of early career scientist (ECS) sessions at the General Assembly. Not only that, but there are opportunities to meet those that represent you in the Union, get to know other ECS in your field, and make the most of both the scientific and social sides of the conference…

Networking

First up for ECS is the icebreaker event during the opening reception on the Sunday before the meeting, while this is open to everyone attending the Assembly, there’ll be a spot especially for early career scientists – the “ECS Meeting Corner” (Foyer E). So, if you’re coming alone, or if it’s your first time, you’re sure to find a few like-minded fellows!

The ECS Lounge is also back for EGU 2018! The lounge is somewhere that you can take a break, grab a coffee and gather your thoughts away from the buzz of the conference. Located on the Red Level of the conference centre, it is also a great place to catch up with colleagues you haven’t seen in a while, or start up a conversation with someone new.

This year there will be a series of pop-up style events held at the lounge too. Check out the notice boards to find out all the details. There is also the opportunity to provide feedback via suggestion boards.

The Early Career Scientists Networking and Careers Reception, with drinks and light snacks, aims to bring together early career scientists, award-winning researchers, and selected industry partners exhibiting at the General Assembly. The reception offers an opportunity for ECS to ask career-related questions and for established scientists, in and out of academia, to share their experience with young researchers in the early stages of their career. Places at the reception are limited and are currently full, however, please stay tuned to the EGU’s social media channels, particularly Twitter, during the General Assembly, as we’ll be advertising any extra spaces that become available.

Building a great CV

It’s not all about the social stuff though, there’s a veritable feast of courses where you can fine-tune your skills and grab those all-important nuggets of information to help you forge a career in academia. From Union-wide sessions to workshops and short courses, there’s a lot to choose from, including division-specific sessions like meet the experts in solar terrestrial science and natural hazards ECS research match-making. You can get advice on how to convene a session at the General Assembly, gather tips on how to find funding and write a research grant and learn how to get involved in the policy process – but this is just a snapshot! Take a look at our shortlist or the extended list of sessions of ECS interest to see what is on offer this year.

Also be sure to stop by the Early Career Scientists’ Great Debate, a session that aims to give a more prominent voice to ECS members on important research-related issues. This year’s debate will discuss whether early career scientists should use time developing transferrable skills. At the session, participants will be invited to join a round-table discussion where everyone will be given the opportunity to discuss the chosen topic with other conference attendees.

The ECS lounge at EGU 2014. Credit: Stephanie McClellan/EGU

Have a say in how the EGU runs

Like last year, we’ll be hosting a lunchtime session, the ECS Forum, to let early career researfchers know how they can get involved in the Union and gather feedback to make what we’re doing even better. ECS representation in the Union is growing leaps and bounds, with most divisions appointing ECS officers whose role is to feedback from the ECS community and make sure we do our best to act on your suggestions. What better way to tell us what you want than over a lovely lunch where you can meet your representatives?

The representatives will be making themselves available throughout the conference for informal chats at the EGU Booth. Take a look at the programme to find out when you can catch up with your division representative. Olivia Trani, the EGU’s Communication Officer and point of contact for the ECS members at the EGU Offices, can also be found in the lounge during most coffee breaks. Feel free to approach her if you have any questions or suggestions about ECS related activities!

The Union Level Representatives (Roelof Rietbroek and Stephanie Zihms) and the ECS Executive Office ECS Contact, Olivia Trani (EGU Communications Officer), will also be available from 13:30 to 15:00, on Wednesday the 11th, at the EGU Booth, to answer all your ECS related questions and to discuss any ideas you might like to bring forward.

You can also let us know what you think via the ECS survey which will become available during the General Assembly. You’ll find it included within the EGU 2018 feedback survey.

ECS Recognition at EGU 2018

Keep your eyes peeled for posters that are part of the Outstanding Student Poster and PICO (OSPP), and check out this recent blog post for some tips on how to make your presentation stand out from the crowd.

Finally, don’t forget to save space for a few talks from outstanding early career scientists. The winners of the Arne Richter and division awards will be giving talks throughout the week and are well worth a listen. Check the online programme to find out when and where they are taking place.

See you at the conference!

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.