GeoLog

General Assembly

Cities of the future

Cities of the future

Over half the world’s population lives in cities. Many a metropolis rises high above carpets of concrete and tarmac, vibrant, bustling, and prosperous. But this urban environment comes with many a problem. From poor air quality to hazardous temperatures, there are several dangers present in urban environments. Scientists speaking at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna earlier this year have been testing designs that could change cityscapes and tackle the challenges of urban living. The solution, it seems, is making these areas greener.

As well as making cities more aesthetically pleasing, more vegetated urban environments come with a wealth of benefits, including improving wellbeing, absorbing noise and creating new habitats. With horizontal space at a premium, scientists and engineers are looking to city walls to make environments greener, exploring how growing vertical gardens can help address the challenges associated with urban environments.

“We should have much more vegetation than we currently have. That’s the source of a number of problems,” says Fulvio Boano an environmental engineer at Politecnico di Torino, Torino, Italy.

The problems include a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect. Cities are typically warmer than the surrounding countryside. Dense networks of dark roads and pavements absorb more solar radiation than natural vegetation, and high-rise buildings can also interfere with natural cooling effects, like wind. Combined, these urban features make cities warmer than their surroundings. The effect is more pronounced at night, leaving urban areas several degrees warmer than their suburban counterparts, resulting in an urban heat island.

The difference may only be a few degrees, but the impact that this change can have is no small matter, especially when combined with a heatwave. For vulnerable members of the population, including those over the age of 65, deaths due to heat stress are much higher when night-time temperatures exceed 25 °C indoors. Of course, air conditioning can help bring room temperature down, but there may be more sustainable solutions out there. Thomas Nehls, a researcher at Technical University Berlin, Germany, suggests vertical gardens are among them. He presented his recent research at the Assembly in April.

Roof and wall structures are ideal for urban greening, but with much more wall space going, vertical gardens could well be the future. Credit: Ryan Somma

Planting building walls with greenery provides shade, reducing the solar radiation reaching the building and the way plants uptake and lose water also helps remove heat. Between a bare wall and a green one, the difference in temperature can be as much as 16 °C on a hot summer’s day and – over a large area – these vertical gardens could help cities stay cooler. “For indoor night-time heat stress, every single wall especially south, south-west and west oriented walls will reduce the heat stress inside the buildings,” explains Nehls, whose interest in urban greening started with ideas around how to handle rainwater in cities.

“Water needs to get evaporated into urban atmospheres instead of being drained to the sewers and, finally, rivers or surface waters,” asserts Nehls. Vertical gardens slow down water movement, allowing it to be used by plants, and evaporated back into the atmosphere, rather than racing down a gutter. It means the gardens can be watered sustainably too.

Ongoing research at the Department of Land, Environment and Infrastructure Engineering (DIATI) in Torino, Italy, goes one step further – exploring whether vertical gardens can clean up domestic wastewater too.

A tiny vertical garden in testing at the Department of Land, Environment and Infrastructure Engineering at Politecnico di Torino. Credit: Alice Caruso

The average person uses 200-250 litres of water per day, and most of this ends up as wastewater, which usually requires energy to treat and make reusable. But, with vertical gardens, we can do the same with much less energy and fewer resources.

The idea is simple, by covering building walls with layers of plants, you get the many benefits of urban greening, and your very own wastewater treatment facility.

How domestic wastewater purification works. Credit: Alice Caruso

The design is currently being tested on university buildings at Politecnico di Torino, and is capable of cleaning all domestic wastewater except sewage. With roughly 100 litres of this produced daily per person, the technology could be a big step towards meeting water treatment demands. Scaling up the technology is the next challenge, including working out how the vertical wall should be built to meet the needs of a family.

Domestic wastewater provides plants with the water they need and, as it percolates through the system, the water is slowly cleaned and stripped of many ‘undesirables.’ The process removes many common pathogens, present in concentrations orders of magnitude lower than the original wastewater. Microbes in the soil and roots are thought to do most of the work, but exactly how they purify the water is not yet known. Together, the plants and microorganisms remove nutrients and contaminants.

“We need energy to treat water, we need energy to make water drinkable and we need energy to pump it into houses. This kind of application is going to reduce all that,” Boano explains.

There may be other benefits too, “green surfaces in your direct surroundings will keep you calm, reduce blood pressure and other symptoms of stress,” suggests Nehls, emphasising that while the benefits to wellbeing aren’t fully known, there’s a lot of potential.

For the scientists working on the future of our cities, the reasons for making them greener couldn’t be clearer: “[we want] to make the environment more comfortable for people and our children,” says Politecnico di Torino’s Alice Caruso, who presented the work at the Assembly.

By Sara Mynott, EGU Press Assistant

Help shape the conference programme: Union Symposia and Great Debates at the 2020 General Assembly

Help shape the conference programme: Union Symposia and Great Debates at the 2020 General Assembly

Do you enjoy the EGU’s annual General Assembly but wish you could play a more active role in shaping the programme? This year, why not propose a Union Symposia or Great Debate?

Each year at the General Assembly, the conference features a limited number of Union Symposia (US) and Great Debates (GDB), which can be proposed by anyone in the scientific community. These high-profile, union-wide events are intended to be cutting-edge, current, and of interest to a broad range of the Earth, planetary and space sciences. The deadline to submit your proposal is fast approaching (15 August 2019), so here’s a quick overview of what these special sessions involve and what to consider when proposing session ideas.

Union Symposia (US)

A US session is organised as a lecture series focusing on an important theme, topic, question or event. Past sessions have covered topics on how scientists can stand up for science and promoting/supporting equality in the geosciences to the 250th anniversary of  Alexander von Humboldt and the International Year of Soil.

A US consists of two time blocks separated by a break. Each time block has three lectures of 30 minutes each (so the US has a total of six lectures). In addition, each time block can have 15 minutes for introduction or discussion.

Great Debates (GDB)

The format of a GDB session is typically a panel discussion lasting 1 hour and 45 minutes featuring 3-5 panel members and a moderator. The aim of the session is to delve into a particular question or debate topic relevant to the geosciences in a lively, interactive and entertaining way. Past debates have facilitated discussions on many different timely themes, including Plan S and Open Science, early career scientist mental wellbeing, low-risk geo-engineering, and the role of scientists in policy.

Early career scientists having Great Debate round-table discussions on mental wellbeing in research at the EGU General Assembly 2019.

Proposing a US or GDB

Submitting a proposal for a US or GDB involves many of the same steps you would need to take when submitting a session to other programme groups, however there are some additional guidelines and important notes to keep in mind:

1) The EGU strongly encourages diversity in career stage, gender, and country of work or origin for US and GDB speakers and conveners.

2) The EGU recommends a maximum of three (co-)convenerships at its General Assembly. One additional (co-)convenership for US and GDB is allowed (i.e. a maximum of four).

3) Proposals of US and GBD need to include the following extra information in the proposal form (this information is confidential to the programme committee):

    • a justification of the union-wide character of the proposed session;
    • a list of preliminary speakers;
    • an indication of whether the proposal should be included in another programme group as a regular session if the proposal is turned down for US or GBD.
    • whether the proposers have a contact person in the programme committee or the EGU office.

4) Speakers in Union Symposia (US) are solicited. They need to submit an abstract using a password provided by the US convener by the abstract deadline of the General Assembly.

5) As a guideline, US and GDB speakers, conveners, and moderators do not receive discounted abstract processing charges, registration fees, or travel reimbursement.

6) Limited financial support is, however, available in special cases. The EGU will consider support requests for speakers (up to 2) who bring something extra to our participants, who are not space or geoscientists, who would otherwise not attend the EGU’s General Assembly, and who do not have funds to cover their expenses.

7) Financial support requests are subject to approval by the treasurer, executive secretary, and programme committee chair and form part of the evaluation of US and GDB proposals. We consider requests for day-pass registration and support for accommodation and/or travel. As a guideline, travel support should not exceed €350 for travel within Europe and €1,000 from outside Europe, respectively. Accommodation should not exceed €120 per night, and up to 2 nights can be granted if justifiable.

Each submitted proposal is evaluated by the EGU’s Programme Committee before the deadline of the general call-for-sessions. Rejected proposals can then be considered for resubmission as a regular session.

Wondering whether your session would fit as a US or GDB? Just ask Programme Committee Chair Susanne Buiter (programme.committee@egu.eu). You can also find more information about the call for sessions (and the organisation of the scientific programme in general) on the EGU 2020 website.

The EGU’s 2020 General Assembly, takes place in Vienna from 3 to 8 May, 2020. For more news about the upcoming General Assembly, you can also follow the official hashtag, #EGU20, on our social media channels.

Sharing & talking isn’t enough – we need a change in culture around mental illness

Sharing & talking isn’t enough – we need a change in culture around mental illness

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.

Early career scientists (ECS) demand more open and honest discussions around mental health in academia to combat stigma and create supportive environments – they also acknowledge that, while their own approaches are part of the change, assistance from the top is required as well.

At this year’s ECS Great Debate, the topic was mental wellbeing.  The main question was “How can Early Career Scientists prioritise their mental wellbeing?”, which was discussed by almost 100 participants – mostly ECS but this topic is relevant to everyone. To guide our debate of this very broad topic we focused on two aspects:

  1. What can ECS do themselves
  2. What support would ECS like to see from institutions

Even though this is a very personal topic, we could have discussed both aspects all night, and in fact just having the topic in the General Assembly programme sparked debates during the week. I’m grateful that all participants debating this topic with us felt safe to share some very personal stories.

Early career scientists having round-table discussions on mental wellbeing in research and academia at the EGU General Assembly 2019.

Approximately one in four people will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime – this number is even higher for PhD students, early career scientists and academics. This means it is time to discuss this aspect of research life more openly, not only to provide support but also to reduce the stigma around mental illness and ensure it does not turn into career enders. By openly discussing all aspects of research careers, we make certain that diversity is celebrated and ECS feel supported.

Increasing demands on researchers, highly competitive working environments, uncertain career paths and expected relocations were some of the challenges highlighted at the event that can impact ECS mental wellbeing. As ECS face these challenges, it is important to find ways to protect and care for oneself to ensure that mental health is not ignored and that ECS feel supported to seek help or guidance if they encounter mental health issues. The top tips from the ECS debating this topic can be summarised in three key themes:

  1. Be more than your research: have hobbies and find communities outside your lab or office. This helps to find perspective, get additional assistance or just to distract yourself. This can be difficult if you are new to a research group and have to relocate regularly. This is where online communities can be very helpful as they provide support and local knowledge irrespective of physical location.
  2. Be kind to yourself: selfcare is important, so know your limits and don’t fall down the trap of overworking; work smarter not harder. Take regular stock of your achievements, such as a DONE list rather than a To-Do list. It can be tempting to compete with your colleagues who is in the office first and who ends up staying the longest, but are all these hours productive? Figure out your best times to be productive and let the flexible working hours of academia work for you.
  3. Share with others and learn to be an ally: it’s ok to not be ok; we play a part in sharing this to help to create a more open, accepting environment. It’s not only about speaking openly about your own mental health but it’s also about listening without judgement when others share their experiences – this allows supportive environments to flourish. In this kind of space, everyone can feel comfortable to share their experiences, worries and fears, as well as celebrate successes, good practices and support.

These are big asks, and it was acknowledged that a supportive workspace environment is also key to allow researchers to look after their mental wellbeing. Institutions have a key role in creating and maintaining the right kind of working environment and office culture. Stigma around mental illness is probably the biggest barrier, and employers have to do more to both reduce the stigma and foster kind, safe and judgment-free office environments. Offering awareness training and handing out phone numbers for support or help lines is a start but not enough. ECS listed these things as key actions they would like to see implemented to create supportive environments:

  1. Specialised training and guidance for supervisors and managers: These kinds of workshops should not only teach employers how to identify needs and offer help but also how to raise awareness and create a more open working culture.
  2. Open discussions (such as coffee mornings or discussion groups) should be encouraged by institutions across all career stages to allow people to share their experiences.
  3. Celebration of available support: far too often finding guidance or the right person to talk to is a difficult task, especially when you are in crisis or difficult situation. Raising awareness and celebrating support programs provided by institutions and other organisations can make it easier for people to reach out and get help at the right time.
  4. Research culture changes: work environments that bolster and celebrate diversity are key for ensuring that ECS feel supported.

The overarching theme of the debate was that mental health management cannot be left to the individuals alone, but instead together we can all play our part in making sure our work environments become more accepting, less judgmental and truly value diversity.

By Stephanie Zihms, lecturer in researcher development, University of the West of Scotland, UK 

If you are looking for someone to talk to or resources, here are some phone numbers and websites:

UK:

Samaritans: 08457 909090
Abuse Not: 0808 8005015
Brook Young People’s Information Service: 0800 0185023
Eating Disorder Support: 01494 793223
Anxiety UK: 0844 477 5774
Depression Alliance: 0845 123 23 20
Rape Crisis Centre: 01708 765200
Rape/sexual assault: 0808 8000 123 (female) or 0808 8000122 (male)
Miscarriage Association: 01924 200799
LLGS Helpline (LGBT): 0300 330 0630

Germany:

TelefonSeelsorge Deutschland: 0800 111 0 111 or 0800 11 0 222
https://www.telefonseelsorge.de/?q=node/6293

China:

Helpline 1: Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center Hotline: 800-810-1117 or 010-82951332
Helpline 2: Lifeline Shanghai: (english-speaking) (021) 6279 8990
Website: http://www.lifeline-shanghai.com
Helpline 3: Shanghai Mental Health Center: 021-64387250

Italy:

Helpline 1: 199 284 284
Website: http://www2.telefonoamico.it/

France:

Helpline 1: (+33) (0)9 51 11 61 30
Website: https://www.sos-amitie.org/

USA:

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Depression Hotline: 1-630-482-9696
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-8433
LifeLine: 1-800-273-8255
Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
Sexuality Support: 1-800-246-7743
Eating Disorders Hotline: 1-847-831-3438
Grief Support: 1-650-321-5272

Austria:

Helpline 1: 142
Website: http://www.telefonseelsorge.at/

Krisenhilfe: 0732 2177

Switzerland:

Die Dargebotene Hand (Schweiz) phone 143 or https://www.143.ch

Netherlands:

Helpline 1: 0900-0767
Website: https://www.deluisterlijn.nl/

Collection of helpline numbers around the world:

https://togetherweare-strong.tumblr.com/helpline

Coping tips:

https://www.rethink.org/diagnosis-treatment/symptoms/suicidal-thoughts/today

Resources to be a better ally:

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk
http://www.sane.org.uk
https://www.wie-gehts-dir.ch/de/

Uploading your 2019 General Assembly presentation

Uploading your 2019 General Assembly presentation

This year it is, once again, possible to upload your oral presentations, PICO presentations and posters from EGU 2019 for online publication alongside your abstract, giving all participants a chance to revisit your contribution hurray for open science!

Files can be in either PowerPoint or PDF format. Note that presentations will be distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License. Uploading your presentation is free of charge and is not followed by a review process. The upload form for your presentation, together with further information on the licence it will be distributed under, is available here. You will need to log in using your Copernicus Office User ID (using the ID of the Corresponding Author) to upload your presentation.

Presentations and posters will be linked to their corresponding abstracts. If your presentation didn’t have an abstract (this is the case for short courses and others), but you still want to share it with the wider community you can consider uploading your presentation to slideshare or figshare as a PDF to share it instead.

Poster authors can also upload their poster PDF to the community preprint server ESSOAr, the Earth and Space Science Open Archive, at: https://www.essoar.org.

All legal and technical information, as well as the upload form, is available until 14 June 2019 at: http://meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/egu2019/abstractpresentation