Between a Rock and a Hard Place


Conference Diaries: VMSG Meeting 2014

James Hickey is a PhD student in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. A geophysicist and volcanologist by trade, his PhD project is focussed on attempting to place constraints on volcanic unrest using integrated geodetic modelling.

The Volcanic and Magmatic Studies Group (VMSG) is a combined specialist group of the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain & Ireland, and the Geological Society of London. Each year they hold a meeting, alternating the venue between different UK university departments. This year marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of VMSG and over 200 participants headed to Edinburgh to be involved. [Read More]

Conference diaries: AGU Fall Meeting 2013

Following on from blog entries from the IAVCEI Scientific Assembly and Goldschmidt 2013, Kate and Charly report back from the AGU Fall Meeting 2013, held between 9-13th December in San Francisco, USA.


AGU pride outside Moscone South, one of three buildings the conference was held in. Credit: Charly Stamper

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting is the largest gathering of geologists in the world, with over 22,000 congregating in San Francisco every December. As first time attendees we weren’t really sure what to expect from a conference on such a scale. The schdeule promised approximately 100 parallel sessions and literally thousands of posters every day, and so the normal pre-conference planning took a little more effort than normal. It’s safe to say that prior to arrival we felt a little overwhelmed!

Both Kate and Charly travelled out to California a few days before the conference started, in theory to get over the jet lag before work began but largely to spend some time sight seeing. Highlights included wine tasting in the Sonoma Valley (Kate) and the San Andreas Fault (Charly).

Monday involved a very early start; talks at AGU begin at 8am. Despite our different PhD topics (isotope geochemistry and igneous petrology) we both headed for the same session on ocean islands and large igneous provinces. The best talk of the day was worth the early get up, with John Maclennan proposing that trace element arrays in the mantle can be generated by combining deep heterogeneous melts, and don’t necessarily reflect mixing of mantle zoo solid end-members.

After a short break for lunch it was all systems go for Charly who presented her poster on plutonic xenoliths from the volcanic island of Grenada. The sheer size of the conference ensured a lot of passing traffic and it was a busy but rewarding four hours. As is customary at AGU we went for dinner with both old and newfound friends, plumping for the typical American option of pizza.

AGU poster hall

Approx. 1/4 of the AGU poster hall and Charly presenting her poster on Grenadan plutonic xenoliths. Credit: Kate Hibbert

A convenient break in both schedules allowed time for a bit of Christmas shopping on Tuesday morning. We did try to buy some presents but can’t deny buying the odd thing for ourselves! Kate returned from shopping to a great session on the early Earth including an interesting talk by Robin Canup on the moon forming impact and how to resolve differences between models and isotopic constraints.

One of the great things about AGU is the variety of topics covered, and the breadth of ‘extracurricular’ sessions. Charly and James took advantage of this to represent Team Between a Rock at the Bloggers Forum. This was more of a discussion than a talk, with a panel of experts leading a chat about the value of blogging (definitely preaching to the converted as far as we were concerned!).

AGU bloggers forum

Charly and James representing Team Between a Rock at the Bloggers Forum. Credit: Charly Stamper

Once again we both ended up in the same session on Wednesday morning, covering aspects of the chemical evolution of the Earth’s mantle. Kate’s favourite lecture was by Allen McNamara on mantle recycling and their relation to LLSVPs (large low shear velocity provinces). Charly was particularly interested in Tim Grove’s talk about distinguishing between the melts produced from different mantle lithologies by using an experimental approach. The conclusion that the mantle source beneath Hawaii is olivine-bearing, and not pyroxenetic, caused some visible consternation in the audience!

Wednesday night saw a variety of entertainments with Kate attending a party thrown by the Schools of Geography and Earth Science at Bristol, bringing together lots of familiar faces. Rather aptly the location was the Thirsty Bear, a micro brewery close to the conference centre. A breakaway group, of which Charly was one, took the opportunity to get BART to Oakland to catch a game of basketball, a quintessential American experience. The Golden State Warriors even produced a last gasp victory for our enjoyment.

Golden State Warriors

Watching the basketball – a quintessential American experience. Credit: Amy Parker

On Thursday, Kate attended the Daly lecture given by Dante Canil on subduction zone redox. This was an hour long lecture, in contrast to the normal 12 minutes at AGU, which gave the opportunity for a great talk on a complex topic. Charly agonised over whether to attend, but instead plumped for a session on communicating Earth science through video, which included a talk about rapping. Weirdly brilliant. Oh, and sushi for lunch was definitely the food highlight of the week.


Lunchtime sushi – the food highlight of the week. Credit: Kate Hibbert

Friday morning was the time for Kate to give her talk on molybdenum isotopes in mid ocean ridge basalts. It being the end of a long week of science, attendance was not as terrifyingly large as it might have been earlier in the week; however, it did make friendly faces easier to spot. Probably the best part of the session was meeting the convener who was bringing a delivery of samples for Kate to eagerly take back to her lab. Charly flitted in to Kate’s talk to provide moral support but spent most of the morning in a session concerned with deciphering signals from deep magma chambers in erupted volcanic rocks. The consensus was that more experiments are needed in order to validate our existing models – good news for the piston cylinder community! After a long week of thinking about the mantle, Kate decided to explore some slightly different sessions in the final afternoon, including a great talk by Tom Chalk on the boron isotope record of the Pliocene.

Friday evening saw Kate visit one last tourist stop in San Francisco – the Stinking Rose restaurant where all of the food is made with garlic. Lots of garlic. Possibly more garlic than Charly enjoyed having to sit next to Kate on the long plane journey home.

The overwhelming feeling between us was that the week was a great experience, perhaps simply because of the sheer size of everything. With a poster hall the size of a large aircraft hanger and three enormous buildings all hosting talks, you can’t help but meet some new people with shared interests and bump into lots of old friends. Every other conference will seem small after this.

Our AGU in numbers

  • Number of Californian wines tasted: Kate – 19, Charly – 1
  • Local beers tried – Kate – 5, Charly – 5
  • 8am talks attended: Kate – 2, Charly – 1
  • Pounds gained from eating American food – we’re not telling, but too many for before Christmas
  • Dollars spent – many $$$
  • Severe bouts of academic FOMO (fear of missing out) – lots
  • Number of times we wished we could have a proper cup of tea – innumerable
Golden Gate Bridge

No post about San Francisco would be complete without a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. Credit: Charly Stamper

Conference diaries: Goldschmidt 2013

Following on from Mel Auker’s report on her visit to Japan for the The IAVCEI Scientific Assembly, Bristol PhD students Kate Hibbert and Sorcha McMahon tell us about their recent trip to Florence for Goldschmidt 2013.

What? The annual Goldschmidt conference is a major geochemistry conference, alternating between Europe and North America each year. With over 4,000 delegates from all over the world attending, this year’s gathering consisted of 22 themes, and many sessions within. Topics varied from the geochemistry of bottled water, to a Martian origin for life on Earth, with a new Volcanoes and Hazards session added this year. Talks were given all day every day, with poster sessions and refreshments each evening. Many social events were offered too, including a cheese and wine evening, film showings and a conference banquet.

When? The conference was from the 25th – 30th August, 2013, and started with an icebreaker on Sunday 24th.

Where? Florence, Italy. The conference was held in the Firenze Fiera Congress and Exhibition Centre, just a few minutes walk from the city centre. [Read More]