EGU Blogs

Four Degrees

Policy Focus: 1 – Creating value from Waste

Waste and recycling is a growing issue in a world where abundant resources are diminishing. This week Flo Bullough looks at recent policy activity in the area of ‘valuing waste streams’ and the geo-relevant example of Rare Earth Elements.

This week, the House of Lords Science and Technology committee has been taking oral evidence on the topic of ‘Generating value from waste’ with a particular focus on the technology and processes used to

House of Lords Chamber. Source - Wikimedia Commons

House of Lords Chamber. Source – Wikimedia Commons

salvage raw materials from waste and what the government can do to encourage and assist progress in this area.

This topic was also discussed in a recent European Commission consultation on the Review of European Waste Management Targets and the Raw Material initiative which highlights the importance of recycling to ensure safe access to raw materials. Consultations like these seek to engage with experts in the relevant field and are useful research and fact-finding exercises to inform future government policy.

This is all part of a wider plan to try and incorporate the disposal and cost of waste into the manufacturing life cycle. Additionally, waste is not just a cost burden but can also be a source of valuable materials that can be recycled.  In 2009 Friends of the Earth published a report entitled Gone to Waste – The valuable resources that European countries bury and burn. This included data on the value of the waste we don’t recycle and the associated CO2 emissions. The report also attempted to calculate the monetary value of recyclables. They found that in the UK in 2004, the value of materials classified as ‘key recyclables’ that had been disposed of as waste,  was a minimum of £651 million (based on values for materials such as glass, paper, iron, steel and biowaste. Rare earth elements were not included in their study).


Landfill Site. Source – Wikimedia Commons.

Geo-Relevant Example – Rare Earth Elements


Internal view of an iPhone. Rare earth elements are used in the manufacture of electronics such as smart phones but when replaced often end up in landfill. Source – Wikimedia Commons

The concept of valuable waste is particularly true of the rare earth elements that end up in waste streams through discarded electronics. Demand for rare earth elements is soaring while scarcity and market cost is increasing. Rare earth elements are essential to many commonplace electronics such as mobile phones and computers as well as in renewable technology such as wind power. The supply of these materials is finite and the market is currently dominated by China (see this excellent post from Geology for Global Development on the issue) which has its own geopolitical implications and so increasing focus from both an environmental and economic perspective is to extract these valuable materials from waste streams.

In terms of current research into Rare Earth Element recycling, Japan is the only place where significant research is being undertaken. An example of this is Hitachi who are aiming to be able to recycle electric motor magnets. It was also announced last year that the US is to build a $120 million ‘Critical Materials’ institute in Iowa which will focus, amongst other things on developing recycling techniques.

For more information see the following links:

Chemistry World – Recycling rare earth elements using ionic liquids – Rare earths recycling on the rise

POST note from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology – Rare Earth Elements


What’s Geology got to do with it? 3 – Christmas! Part 2

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the last Four Degrees post of 2013! I’m back home with family and here the Christmas festivities happen today, on Christmas eve. So before I focus my attention on wrapping my last present and stuffing the goose for our family meal, here is the second instalment of our Christmas special of ‘What’s Geology got to do with it’! What has geology got to do with the Three Wise Men, popular Christmas presents or Rudolph the reindeer? Find out here… and a very merry Christmas!

Source: Kris de Curtis, Wikimedia Commons.

Source: Kris de Curtis, Wikimedia Commons.


The Gifts of the Three Wise Men
Christmas Wishlist – Tablets!

1. The Gifts of the Three Wise Men

The Visit of the Three Wise Men, ca. 1900 - Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Visit of the Three Wise Men, ca. 1900 – Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In Christian tradition, the Three Wise Men, known as Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, visited Jesus after his birth. Each brought a gift from his land: gold (from Persia), frankincense (from India) and myrrh (from Arabia). These gifts were common offerings and presented to Jesus. Gold was seen as valuable, myrrh was used as an anointing oil, and frankincense as a perfume.


Gold is a precious metal and was already used for coinage, jewelry and art before written historical records began. Some of the oldest gold artefacts were found in graves in Bulgaria, dating back to the 5th millennia BC.

Gold is found as ores in rocks, typically as a mixture of gold and silver, It generally occurs as tiny particles embedded in the rock, accompanied by other minerals such as quartz and pyrite (‘Fool’s gold’), or as grains, flakes or nuggets that have eroded from the rock and can be found in rivers or loose soil deposits.

Gold nugget - Source: USGS, Wikimedia Commons.

Gold nugget – Source: USGS, Wikimedia Commons.

It is estimated that a total of 165,000 tonnes of gold has been mined in the world, roughly half of that from South Africa. In 2007, China became the world’s largest gold producer.

The gold brought to Jesus by Melchior could have originated from Persia, modern-day Iran. Iran contains several gold-rich regions, and total gold reserves are estimated to be 320 tonnes. Until 2012, the city of Takab contained Iran’s largest gold mine, with over 4 tonnes of gold reserves. Recently, three new gold mines have been discovered in the city of Saqqez in the West of the country.


Frankincense from Somalia - Source: Snotch, Wikimedia Commons.

Frankincense from Somalia – Source: Snotch, Wikimedia Commons.

Frankincense is an aromatic resin that comes from four main species of Boswellia trees. It is used in perfumes and aromatherapy and is considered valuable for its healing abilities. Frankincense is also used in religious rituals in many Christian churches. It is thought that the biblical frankincense brought by Caspar was extracted from the tree Boswellia sacra.

Frankincense can be found in different grades, depending on the time of harvesting of the resin. It is extracted by scratching the bark of the tree so that the resin bleeds out and hardens, forming frankincense ‘tears’. There are different sorts of resin, depending on the tree species producing it as well as on the geology of the soil upon which the tree grows and the climate under which it develops.

Flowers from a Boswellia sacra tree - Source: Scott Zona, Wikimedia Commons.

Flowers from a Boswellia sacra tree – Source: Scott Zona, Wikimedia Commons.

The Boswellia sacra tree is native from the Arabian peninsula and northeastern Africa. It is abundant in Somalia and the arid woodlands of the slopes of the Dhofar mountains of Oman and Yemen. The tree is famous for its ability to grow in very unforgiving environments. It typically develops on calcareous soils (limy or chalky soils mostly composed of calcium carbonate) and is found on rocky slopes and ravines. The trunk is made of disk-shaped bulbs, which ensures that the tree remains firmly anchored in the rock, even in violent storms.


Man collecting myrrh in Somalia - Source: Somalia Ministry of Information and National Guidance, Wikimedia Commons.

Man collecting myrrh in Somalia – Source: Somalia Ministry of Information and National Guidance, Wikimedia Commons.

Myrrh is another type of aromatic resin. It was very popular in the ancient world and was used as medicine in ancient China and Egypt, as well as for Egyptian religious rituals and mummification. It was also used in cosmetics, and Greek soldiers used it on the battlefield as an oil to stop wounds from bleeding.

Myrrh comes from the thorny tree Commiphora myrrha. The tree is native from the Arabian peninsula (mainly Yemen), Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia. Like frankincense, myrrh is also extracted by cutting through the bark and sapwood to bleed the tree. Commiphora myrrha grows best in thin soils containing limestone, at altitudes of 250 m to 1,300 m, with a mean annual rainfall of 23 to 30 cm.

2. Christmas Wishlist – Tablets!

Be it standard or mini, Microsoft, Nexus or Apple, the tablet remains a very popular Christmas present. So as we are handling our shiny new toys, let’s ask ourselves: what does geology have to do with it?

A typical tablet is made of aluminium, copper, silicon, gold, nickel, glass, steel and plastic. The raw metals used must be mined before making their way to the factory and I will use aluminium and copper as examples.

Bauxite - Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Bauxite – Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Aluminium is a silvery-white metal. It is tough, conducts electricity and is resistant to corrosion. Most metallic aluminium is produced from an ore called bauxite. Bauxite is formed in tropical climates when rocks containing little iron and silica are weathered by the elements. This ore is primarily mined from Australia, China, Guinea, Brazil, India or Russia. Other possible sources of aluminium include rocks such as shales or clays.

The production of aluminium takes place in three stages. First, the ore is mined, then it is refined to recover alumina (aluminium oxide) from bauxite, and finally it is smelted to produce aluminium from alumina. The ore is mined by what is called open cut mining, i.e. surface methods of mining where the soil is removed by bulldozers and scrapers. The bauxite lying below is then removed before being loaded into trucks or conveyor belts to be transported to refineries.

Weipa bauxite mine in Australia - Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Weipa bauxite mine in Australia – Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Copper is a soft and malleable red-orange metal. It conducts heat and electricity and is used in many metal alloys. It has been used as a material for thousands of years but nearly all of the copper ever extracted has been mined since 1900.

Copper nugget - Source: Jurii, Wikimedia Commons.

Copper nugget – Source: Jurii, Wikimedia Commons.

Most copper is extracted from large open pit mines in geological deposits containing up to 1% copper. The largest producers of copper are Chile, the United States, Indonesia and Peru. Although the Earth contains large amounts of copper, only a small fraction of this is economically viable and extractable.

The ores containing copper are knows as porphyry copper deposits. Porphyry is a type of igneous rock – a rock that is formed through the cooling and solidifying of magma – that forms from a column of hot magma rising from inside the Earth to the surface. It is characterised by the fact that it contains larger crystals in a much finer surrounding.

Porphyry, with large crystals visible in a finer surrounding - Source: Piotr Sosnowski, Wikimedia Commons.

Porphyry, with large crystals visible in a finer surrounding – Source: Piotr Sosnowski, Wikimedia Commons.

The size of crystals in a rock is determined by how fast the rock cools down and solidifies. If the rock cools slowly, the crystals have time to grow from the liquid magma, forming large crystals that can be seen with the naked eye. If the rock cools quickly, the crystals do not have time to grow and solidify as tiny grains that are only visible under a microscope. Porphyry deposits must therefore have cooled in two stages, first very slowly deep in the Earth’s crust, and then very rapidly as the magma reaches shallow depths and rises to the surface very rapidly, for instance in a volcano. As the magma cools, fluids are driven off and carry with them dissolved metals such as gold, lead, tin, zinc, and of course copper.

The Chino open-pit copper mine in New Mexico - Source: Eric Guinther, Wikimedia Commons.

The Chino open-pit copper mine in New Mexico – Source: Eric Guinther, Wikimedia Commons.

3. Reindeer

When they are not driving Santa’s sleigh on Christmas night, reindeers live in different regions of northern Eurasia, including Scandinavia.

Over the past few decades, reindeer activities and reindeer farming in specific areas have had important ecological impacts. Reindeer graze and trample the vegetation covering the ground and the release of faeces and urine provides specific nutrients to the soil. This has damaged the lichen and moss-rich vegetation originally present, slowly replacing it with ‘lawns’ of nutrient-rich and digestible forage. The new vegetation type leads to what is called a positive feedback, where reindeer grazing leads to more digestible foliage, which enhances reindeer grazing, and so on. The loss of lichens also enhances the growth of coniferous trees.

Reindeer herding in Sweden - Source: Mats Andersson, Wikimedia Commons.

Reindeer herding in Sweden – Source: Mats Andersson, Wikimedia Commons.

These on-going disturbances have ultimately created a new stable ecological state in regions of reindeer herding. But they also have consequences for local climate, through changes in the surface properties of the land.

When radiation from the Sun reaches the surface of the Earth, it can be both absorbed by the land or reflected back to the atmosphere – generally a mixture of the two. The proportion of energy absorbed versus reflected depends on the properties of the ground, including its colour. This is what is called albedo. Ice, for example, reflects a majority of solar energy and has a high albedo. Darker surfaces such as oceans absorb more energy and have a low albedo. The more energy is absorbed, the warmer that particular region (although water and land will warm up differently).

High-resolution satellite image of the border zone shared by Norway (northern half) and Finland (southern half), June 2001. A reindeer fence mirrors the border between the two countries. The difference in whiteness is due to more lichen coverage in Norway, with reindeer herding in Sweden causing loss of lichen cover - Source: Grd Arendal Maps and Graphics Library.

High-resolution satellite image of the border zone shared by Norway (northern half) and Finland (southern half), June 2001. A reindeer fence mirrors the border between the two countries. The difference in whiteness is due to more lichen coverage in Norway, with reindeer herding in Finland causing loss of lichen cover – Source: Grid Arendal Maps and Graphics Library.

The loss of lichen cover in reindeer herding areas has slowly reduced the whiteness and therefore the albedo of the land surface, changing the balance of solar energy reflected and absorbed in these regions. Reindeer can therefore have both ecological and climatic consequences, and studies have only recently started to investigate the potential positive or negative impacts of these changes in northern Scandinavia.

On these geological notes, a very merry Christmas to all!


What’s Geology got to do with it? 3 – Christmas! Part 1

What’s Geology got to do with it? 3 – Christmas! Part 1

Dear Readers!

Christmas is almost upon us and so at Four Degrees we decided to devote our next post in the ‘What’s Geology got to do with it?’ series to Christmas! Marion and I have selected varying aspects of the festive season from trees to biblical stories and common Christmas presents, and linked them to geology (some tenuous, some not so tenuous…). We hope you enjoy!

The Journey to Bethlehem

The story of Joseph and Mary’s hallowed journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is an intrinsic part of christmas festivities. But what route did they take and what landscapes would they have seen?


Map of the Holy Land showing the Old Kingdoms of Judea and Israel drawn in 1759. Source – Wikimedia Commons

As a distinct geographic area, the description “Holy Land” encompasses modern-day Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and sometimes Syria. The geology of the Holy Land is characterised by the Judean Hills which run North to South through the centre of the region exposing Cretaceous age limestones and sandstones. The rocks reach down to the western banks of the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley Rift valley which marks the modern border between Palestine and Jordan. The Judean Hills mark the highest area in the region (an area Joseph and Mary may have been trying to avoid!) and the topography then lowers to the Mediterranean coast to the west and the Dead Sea to the east.

Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem began in Nazareth in modern day Israel and ended in a manger in Bethlehem, which is in modern day Palestine. The route taken between the two, and indeed the time it took them is oft disputed. Given the mountainous nature of the central Holyland which is dominated by the Judean Hills and the reality of transporting a pregnant woman on a donkey, it is possible they would have avoided the mountains and travelled southeast across the Jezreel Valley, connecting with the Jordan Valley to the East, down to Jericho and then across to Bethlehem. This route would have looked something like this.

Image of the Judean Hill taken in 1917. Source – Wikimedia Commons

The area they may have wanted to avoid, the Judean Hills, is formed from monoclinic folds and relates to the Syrian Arc belt of anticlinal folding in the region that began in the Late Cretaceous.  These are the same hills that include the famous Mount of Olives, and the location of the story of David and Goliath which occurred in the Ella Valley in the Judean Hills’. It is also home to Bethlehem which stands at an elevation of about 775 meters and is situated on the southern portion in the Judean Hills.

By contrast, the Jordan valley encompasses the lowest point in the world, the Dead Sea (sitting at 420 below sea level). The valley was formed in the Miocene (23.8 – 5.3 Myr) when the Arabian tectonic plate moved away from Africa.  The plate boundary which extends through the valley (and houses the Dead Sea!) is called the Dead Sea Transform. This boundary separates the Arabian plate from the African plate. For more on the geology of the Dead Sea region see this earlier Four Degrees post.




Christmas tree made of Lego at St Pancras Station! Source – Wikimedia Commons

As children (or adults!) many of us will have experienced unwrapping various Lego sets on Christmas Day. Its popularity has been sustained over the last 50-60 years whilst the company has continued to grow; Lego never goes out of style! But did you know that Lego has been manufacturing its hugely successful interlocking toy bricks since 1949 and as of 2013, 560 billion Lego parts have been produced! But what does any of this have to do with geology?


Lego blocks! Source – Wikimedia Commons

Well, Lego started off as wooden blocks and toys in the workshop of inventor Ole Kirk Christiansen, before moving onto manufacuring the blocks out of cellulose acetate. But since 1963 the blocks have been made from a resilient plastic called acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS).  As with many plastics, the Butadiene and Styrene components of ABS are formed from a process that begins with the extraction and cracking of crude oil. Oil consists of a mixture of hundreds of different hydrocarbons containing any number of carbon atoms from 1-100. Butadiene is a petroleum hydrocarbon that is obtained from the C4 fraction of steam cracking (more on steam cracking here ) and styrene is made by the dehydrogenation of ethylbenzene, a hydrocarbon obtained in the reaction of ethylene and benzene. Lego is just another manufactured product who’s journey began in the rocks!

Wrapping Paper


Christmas wrapping paper! Source – Wikimedia Commons

The use of wrapping paper was first documented in ancient China where it was invented in 2nd century BC but it was the innovations of Rollie and Joyce Hall, the founders of Hallmark Cards that helped popularise the idea of wrapping in the 20th Century. Wrapping paper is made using specially milled wood pulp, this pulp is made from a special class of trees called softwoods. The paper is then bleached and decoration and colours are printed onto the paper using dyes and pigments.

Whilst many dyes that are used in the modern day are synthetic, originally all dye materials were sourced from natural materials. Here we focus on how to make the dyes and pigments for christmassy colours!


Powdered Alizarin dye. Source – Wikimedia Commons

There are a variety of natural materials that can be used to make red dyes including lichen, henna and Madder. Madder, made from the dye plant Rubia tinctorum, has been used as a dye as far back as 1500BC it was even found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Madder was also used to make Alizarin, the compound 1,2-dihydroxy-9,10-anthracenedione. Alizarin was a prominent red dye until synthetic Alizarin was successfully duplicated in 1869 when German chemists Carl Graebe and Carl Liebermann found a way to produce alizarin from anthracene. A later discovery that anthracene could be abstracted from coal tar further advanced the importance and affordability of alizarin as a synthetic dye. This reduced cost caused the market for madder to collapse almost overnight. While alizarin has been largely replaced by more light-resistant pigmens it is still used in some printing.  (QI – it is also used in classrooms as a stain to indicate the calcium carbonate minerals, calcite and aragonite!)

Other more exotic inks and pigments used in wrapping paper such as metallic pigments are also made through mined raw materials. To produce metallic pigments, materials such as Aluminium powder (aluminium bronze) and copper-zinc alloy powder (gold bronze) are used to produce novel silver and gold inks!


Christmas Trees


Abies Nordmanniana on sale as christmas trees. Source – Wikimedia Commons

Christmas trees are an iconic part of Christmas, whether at home or in your local area its hard to go far in December without seeing one most days! In fact they are so popular now that Christmas trees are farmed specifically for this purpose. While the best selling trees in North America are Scots Pine, Douglas-fir and noble fir, in the UK, Nordmann fir is the most popular species due to its low needle drop feature.

As with all crops, Christmas trees require a specific set of nutrients to thrive and these are provided by fertile soil which is controlled by the underlying geology. Elements that are required for health growth include Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Sulphur, Boron, Copper, Manganese, Molybdenum, Iron and Zinc which are all obtained from the soil.

Where this isn’t available or in areas of intensive farming these elements are derived through the use of fertiliser which relies on mined phosphate for mass production (more on the link between fertiliser and mined phosphate reserves here). In terms of soil types, pine trees are usually better adapted to a sandy or sandy loam soil, while White Spruce trees and fir trees,  prefer fine-texture loams and clay loam soils.


Abies nordmanniana trees located in the Black Sea region of Turkey. Source – Wikimedia Commons

The popular Nordmann fir used in the UK, or ‘Abies nordmanniana’ is native to the mountains to the east and west of the Black Sea in an area which covers Turkey, Georgia, Russian Caucasus and Armenia. They grow at high altitudes of 900-2200 m on mountains and require plenty of rainfall (~1000mm).

The distribution of the species around the Black Sea and its absence in other local areas of similar, suitable climate is thought to be due to the forest refugia that formed during the ice age. Refugia is the term used to describe a location of an isolated or relict species population. This can be due to climatic changes, as with Nordmann Fir, geography (and therefore geology) or human activities such as deforestation. The forest refugia that caused the limited spread of the Nordmann Fir was caused by the glacial coverage during the Ice Age in the eastern and southern black sea which cut off many areas restricting the spread of the species. Indeed the presence of these refugia is the reason many forest tree populations survived at all!


Stay tuned for Marion’s Part 2 of the Christmas Post next week…


Snacking on climate

ClimateSnack is a new initiative for early-career climate scientists around the world to improve their writing and communication skills. Snackers get to write tasty climate blogs and discuss them in a friendly and interactive environment. Marion talked to three members of the Imperial College London group for the latest issue of GeoQ!

UnderwoodKeyboardGood written and oral communication skills are quickly becoming a pre-requisite for early career scientists. Writing, presenting, interacting and collaborating are important for making contacts, developing research proposals, applying for fellowships and communicating one’s work. This is particularly true in a very publicised field such as climate change research, where inter-disciplinarity reigns, and the ability to convey ideas to wide ranging audiences is crucial.

But gaining these skills is not always straightforward. Writing and publishing online can be daunting, so can interacting with researchers outside of one’s field.

Born in January 2013 at the University of Bergen, ClimateSnack brings together postdoctoral and PhD scientists across climate change disciplines, and helps them improve the way they communicate their work in a friendly, interactive environment. In July, Imperial College London became the second institution to join what has now become a global network of hungry climate snackers.

Panorama of Bergen - Source: Sindre, Wikimedia Commons.

Panorama of Bergen – Source: Sindre, Wikimedia Commons.

I joined ClimateSnack back in August and have really enjoyed chatting about climate change research with so many PhD and postdoctoral students across the college departments and climate disciplines. When thinking of what to write for the Young Scientists section of the GeoQ issue on climate change, I decided that it would be great to discuss this  initiative that has taught me very  much about communicating climate change research. So I interviewed three core members of the London snacking team and asked them to tell me more about what ClimateSnack is all about. Here is what came out of our interview!


“ClimateSnack is essentially designed to help early-career researchers develop their writing skills and their communication skills in general”, says Dr Will Ball, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of Physics and the founder of the ClimateSnack group at Imperial College London.

“At each institute that we have set up a ClimateSnack group, we physically bring together people in different areas of climate research. They will write thousand-word blogs about their work, keeping it very simple. In fact you want to keep it at the level that any other climate scientist in a different area of climate research would be able to understand. So as a solar physicist, I should be able to communicate my work to somebody working on, say, atmospheric dust”.

These blog pieces are the climate “snacks” that eventually get published online:

“Then we have a centralised hub that all the institutes publish through, which is the website”, Will continues. “Through that, people will be able to interact, get to know each other and give feedback on the actual writing. So they get better at writing, and also learn about the science that’s going on around them. That’s the concept”.

Sian Williams, a PhD student in atmospheric physics looking at dust plumes and land-atmosphere interactions, runs the day-to-day climate snacking affairs in London:

“We have a meeting once a month where people from different departments across Imperial College come together”.

London snackers Rachel White, Will Ball and Sian Williams.

London snackers Rachel White, Will Ball and Sian Williams.

“Every time, we have a few snacks. I try to encourage people to write them and then send them out to anyone who is coming to the meeting in advance, so that people get a chance to read what has been written and give feedback”.

Writing a snack can be a daunting but rewarding experience. Each author reads out his or her piece and the floor is then open to discussion. I remember that reading my own piece out loud was really quite scary! But it helped very much with improving the post, because one instantly picks up on sentences or expressions that don’t quite fit or contain too much jargon.

“People who have come together from different institutions say what they like about the articles, how they think they can be improved. Normally when you write something, be it for a journal or a website, you never really get that direct feedback, so I think it’s a really great opportunity”, Sian continues.

Dr Rachel White, a postdoctoral researcher in regional climate modelling, has recently published her very first snack, writing about the difficulties of simulating global rainfall patterns: “I actually found that it was easier to write than I thought it would be”.

Detail of the portrait of a young woman with writing pen and wax tablets, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli - Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Detail of the portrait of a young woman with writing pen and wax tablets, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli – Source: Wikimedia Commons.

But putting pen to paper is just the first step: “Trying to check that you have really written what you wanted to write, and that people are going to understand what you meant, is the really interesting process”, Rachel adds. “That’s where the ClimateSnack meetings come in. Different people will have got different things from your article. You have to be quite careful so that everybody understands what you meant. That is a really interesting concept to learn and try and get you head around”.

Will is now an experienced snacker: “Publishing online was nerve-racking, but I developed a better sense of confidence in what I’m doing and in my writing”.

These meetings are not just useful for improving one’s writing, but also for placing early-career researchers in a safe, productive environment where they can hone their discussion and personal engagement skills.

“It’s not just writing. At these meetings you have to communicate, debate, argue, discuss, and you get better at that. And it’s in a safe environment. That’s where you build the confidence and then start moving out”, Will explains.

“Important, imaginative work comes out of collaborating with people who aren’t in your field”, Rachel adds. “Being able to discuss your research and describe it clearly to someone who is in a different field is incredibly important, at conferences, over the internet, everywhere.”

For Will, these communication skills are valuable even within one’s own field: “How many abstracts, how many summary papers have you read that are difficult to understand, even in your own field? [ClimateSnack] makes you more aware of the phrases and the words you use. I’ve noticed that in the way I write. I’m just a little bit more aware of what might confuse somebody.”

Source: Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia Commons.

Source: Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia Commons.

ClimateSnack has grown at an incredible pace since January. “We are setting up at many other institutes in the UK, and have interest from several others in Europe and in the United States”, Will tells me. “So it’s going to expand very quickly in the next coming months”.

The success and uniqueness of ClimateSnack lies, I think, in its open and constructive environment, and in the opportunities it creates for early-career researchers to forge international collaborations with other climate scientists.

Concluding our interview, Sian adds: “There are opportunities for climate snackers to go on residential courses across Europe, which is really exciting because it’s not only building skills but again building collaborations with different people. And I think the main exciting thing is more people from different universities getting involved”.

Source: ISS Expedition 34 crew, Wikimedia Commons.

Source: ISS Expedition 34 crew, Wikimedia Commons.

I have certainly loved being part of this exciting group and have learned so much about other branches of climate research. It has been fantastic to meet so many climate scientists from different departments and universities and I look forward to hearing about upcoming snacks at the next meeting!