EGU Blogs

EGU 2014

Is it your duty to communicate your science?

Hello everyone!

Gosh! It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, I apologise! I am in the deepest, darkest hole that is called thesis writing. To make matters worse, the post today isn’t even my own! Having said that, it is a a fantastic guest post  by Ekbal Hussain. on why scientist SHOULD communicate the science that they do!


Ekbal’s main interest lies in natural hazards and he feels passionately about science communication and the importance of divulging our scientific knowledge to the wider public, particularly those at risk of natural hazards. He is currently undertaking his PhD in geodetic monitoring of strain accumulation along the North Anatolian Fault in Turkey. I highly recommend his blog, Climate and Geohazards hosted by Climate and Geohazard Services at Leeds University. Ekbal tweets at @ekh_rocksci.

In the post today Ekbal outlines why it scientist should communicate their science. I agree, we certainly do that on a regular basis by attending conferences and producing papers, but Ekbal argues we have a responsibility to make our research accessible to other, much wider, audiences. What is the best method for reaching those audiences? Undoubtedly face-to-face communication is paramount, but a a man after my own heart, Ekbal is a huge advocate for the use of social media, particularly twitter. I’ll finish with this, as Ekbal says, when it come to twitter: JUST DO IT!

After the really great discussions at the science communication splinter meeting at the EGU General Assembly on Monday, I felt inspired to write up some of my thoughts on why science communication is so important.

All scientists have a responsibility to communicate their science. To a large extent that is exactly what happens. We write scientific papers and present at conferences. These are all important forms of communication. However, I believe that we also need to communicate it to the non-scientists and the non-specialists.

Why? Well for multiple reasons: to inform and educate others particularly if the the scientific results could impact their lives, e.g. natural hazards and climate change, raise awareness of your field and the dynamic nature of science.

For me, a very important aspect of science communication is to inspire! You may one day become the world leader in your field but after you retire who will take over the mantle from you? We obviously love what we are doing, (yes yes, I know research has its ups and downs but we love the science really). So we have a responsibility to encourage, enthuse and empower the younger generation to get involved with the geosciences and equip them with similar communication skills so they can do the same.

We all have a responsibility to inspire, for without it the flame of discovery in our science will fizzle out and leave the world a much darker place. (That’s a really cheesy line, but I’m quite proud it …)

At the splinter meeting we discussed the importance of science communication via social media compared to face-to-face communication.

Undoubtedly both are very important and applicable in different settings. I am a great fan of face-to-face communication. Because you can directly share your love and passion for your subject. So be naturally appealing, be enthusiastic and energetic and use all the tools at your disposal. Be expressive with your hands, your face and your eyebrows because these all give social cues to the listener to become more engaged and attentive. There is nothing worse than an inattentive audience. Use your charisma to reel them in.

Face-to-face communication does not have to wait till you are in a classroom either. You can communicate science to your housemates, to your friends, on the train, to the person sitting next to you in the plane etc. Make Everywhere your playground and the World your audience!

In terms of digital communication…. just do it! Why? because you are helping to populate the internet with good, correct science. So when the concerned citizen wants to know about the risks of fracking in his/her neighbourhood and they Google ‘fracking risk’, make sure your blog is the first hit!

Maybe more importantly, you are doing it for yourself too. By writing blogs and tweeting you are developing skills in communication and dissemination of what is actually fairly complex knowledge. These are very valuable skills not only for an academic career but for a non-academic one too.

At the risk of waffling, I’ll end here and encourage you all to talk, write, be enthusiastic and engaging. Stop hoarding all that love for your science and let others experience it too!


Happy communicating!



P.s. Follow me on twitter: @ekh_rocksci

P.s.s. And check out my blog on climate and natural hazards:

EGU DIARIES: Day Three (30th May).

egu_logo_ga2014After a busy start to the conference, I decided to take it easy on Wednesday. Whilst there was a range of really interesting sessions that caught my eye, I decided instead to dedicate some time to talking to people (I’ve got some really interesting 10 minute interviews coming up!). In the afternoon, I attended the Great Debate, Metals in our backyard: to mine or not to mine. As outreach is something that I am heavily involved in, I attended the short course in School Outreach: A practical Guide.

To mine or not to mine?

The debate was interesting as it touched on some of the key questions surrounding the on-going debate about the future sustainability of the mining industry. However, I must admit, it didn’t much feel like a debate. Unfortunately, despite the convener’s best efforts, it wasn’t possible to find someone who would sit on the panel and argue the case against mining and only two people in the audience openly admitted to be against it.  There were some key questions and points raised by the panel and the audience, many of which I tweeted about (#EGU14mine) on the day, and some of which I’ve highlighted below.

The main thing I took away from the debate was that mining sustainably is an issue that requires a huge deal of thought. I realise, I am stating the obvious, but I felt that during the debate the real issue was skirted around. The positive and negative impacts of mining seem relatively obvious, even to a non-expert like myself, but what I’d like to know is how the gap between the two is bridged?

  • Metals will not run out in the near future, the real issue is how much money is invested into the industry. We have a poor understanding of the amount of resources available due to a reduced handle on the global geology, particularly when it comes to subsurface outcrops.
  • Is the infrastructure and supply chain robust enough to support the future growth of the industry?
  • How much do we actually know about the environments we might want to explore in the future? This question was raised in relation to the exploration of the deep sea and future ventures in this area.
  • Mining in the deep sea requires technological and environmental assessments that are location specific as the impacts of the ventures will vary from site to site.
  • If done properly, the economic and social benefits to communities affected by mining can be large; it can lead to social empowerment, development of local infrastructure and health care. Equally, if the benefits of mining are not reaped by the local communities and country it can lead to violence and social instabilities. It is the responsibility if the mining industry and countries who engage in mining enterprises to establish contracts that will protect all stake holders and minimise conflict.
  • Available technologies and implementation of good practices can minimise the lasting impact of developing and exploring natural resources, paving the way for a sustainable future for the mining industry.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Author: TJBlackwell

Credit: Wikimedia Commons,
Author: TJBlackwell

For more detail on what went on on day three of EGU, and also on who the panelist were during the great debate, I highly recommend you take a look at Hazel Gibson’s post over on MyPatchworkPlanet.

EGU DIARIES: Day Two (Tuesday 29th April)

egu_logo_ga2014Tuesday was a seriously busy day! Again, I was in the situation where I found it difficult to choose which sessions to attend. I was spoilt for choice. There were a few highlights: an early morning session on geoethics and geoeducation proved to be an interesting experience whilst the session on geodynamics of the continental crust proved really relevant for my own research. I also attended my first ever press conferences and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience!

The Early Earth             

We know little about the history of the early Earth and this is mainly due to two key factors: the lack of records for the early Earth and their complicated histories and range of compositional mixtures. Research presented at session GMPV5/GD2.4 on the Earth’s early crust suggests the Archean mantle was 200-300°C hotter than at present. Continental crust volumes were small and supported little topography as a result of also being hotter. Sea-level is related (amongst many other factors, of course), to the temperature of the mantle and is expected to have been higher than at present due to the elevated mantle temperatures. As a result, it is estimated that less than 5% of the crust was emerged during Archean times.  One of the crucial questions about this period in the Earth’s history is: When did plate tectonics start and when did subduction being? Chris Hawkesworth (winner of the Robert Wilhelm Bunsen Medal) made the point that convergent margins do not produce a lasting record of crust generation and we might be better off looking in collision zones for the answers to these key questions.

The Core

Gaining understanding the workings of the Earth’s core was the main theme of session GD4.1/EMR/PS2.7. By developing

Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Author: Dr. Gary A. Glatzmaier.  This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons,
Author: Dr. Gary A. Glatzmaier. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties.

our knowledge of the Earth’s magnetic field we can make inferences about the Earth’s interior structure and interactions between the core and the mantle. The research presented in the session covered a number of time scales but the talk by Leah Ziegler linked in nicely with the talks I’d attended earlier on in the day and has implications for my own research. Newly published figures of thermal conductivity for the core suggest they are three times higher than previously thought and hint towards a largely adiabatic heat flow in the core. This implies that the core would be a relatively young feature appearing at about 3.0Ga. However, we have strong evidence (including the research I am presenting on Thursday, 1st May at Red Posters 15:30-17:00, Poster R112) from paleomagnetism that the Earth has a stable geomagnetic field since at least 3.48Ga. We’ve always assumed that the mantle is magnetically invisible, but perhaps this is an assumption we need to revisit. Is it possible that it could contribute to the magnetic field? Could it be that a large magma ocean, (which contributes a large number of radionuclides and is therefore a significant heat source), is a possible mechanism b which an early Earth magnetic field could be generated?

Geoethics & Geoeducation

As geoscientist we have to consider the social and cultural implications of our research and work.  I’ve noticed this topic has featured quite prominently at the Assembly this year. The ideas of geoethics can be applied to all aspects of geosciences, from how we communicate and engage with the lay person through to how we approach natural hazards, exploration in Polar Regions and climate change. It also includes the promotion of our geoheritage and geodiversity and highlights the usefulness of geology and geophysics in everyday life. The International Association for Promoting Geoethincs (IAPG), affiliated with the International Union of Geoscientist (IUGS), is the body which promotes geoethics.

There is no dedicated Division at EGU that covers geoethics, geoeducation and public engagement, but there are a variety of sessions and splinter meetings which cover all three subjects. They often clash in the time table and coverage seems more prominent in natural hazard sessions. As Earth Scientist become more aware of their social responsibility and the need to disseminate and communicate their research, I wonder whether the time for a more concerted effort to support and promote geoethics might have come.

Anthropocene featuring heavily at the EGU

Among other sessions on Tuesday (Day 2 at EGU2014), I (Daniel) ventured to the EGU Press Conference featuring four experts from different scientific disciplines debating the Anthropocene concept. This term is fast becoming well-known in the popular media, politics and a vast spectrum of scientific disciplines and refers to the possibility that we, humanity, are living in a new geological time period in which our activities are the driving force behind present-day landscape evolution and surpass natural processes. As my own research spans geomorphology, Quaternary environmental and climatic change and past landscape evolution in general, I’m keen to keep abreast of the latest developments pertaining to the Anthropocene so it seemed like an opportune session to attend.

First up was Professor John Burrows, an atmospheric chemist who briefly presented data obtained from satellites of atmospheric emissions driven by human activity, particularly around urbanised regions, and likely future trends. Tony Brown, a Professor of Physical Geography at Southampton, and the chair of the British Society of Geomorphology Working Group on the Anthropocene then spent some time outlining the stratigraphic signature of the Anthropocene we can seek within alluvial sediments. Brown re-emphasised that a depositional feature or an erosional hiatus that is laterally extensive is required for any Anthropocene ‘boundary’ to be considered. His case study of the River Severn basin and its sub-basins showed a tremendous increase in sediment load after around 3000 years ago, directly driven by the introduction of agricultural practices in late-Neolithic and early-Bronze Age times. The removal of forest cover left a hilly landscape highly susceptible to erosion and a dramatic spike in sediment flux is thus recorded. Such a signal is found in different sedimentary environments in many areas of the world, including river systems and lake sediment cores, and is well-supported by archaeological data. The difficulty arises from the time-transgressive nature of such deposits because the agricultural revolution arrived in different regions of the world at very different periods. One interesting point Brown made relates to the need for any signature to persist through time preserved within the rock record. His calculated sediment load stored within floodplains is so large that, based on contemporary erosion rates, will not be removed until at least the next interglacial, thereby meeting that specific criteria. We also heard from Dr Pöppl, a geomorphologist from the University of Vienna, who showed some striking examples of the magnitude of impacts on sedimentary systems through the installation and removal of large dams.

Finally, Dr Jan Zalasiewicz, a palaeobiologist from the University of Leicester who has published some seminal papers on the Anthropocene concept, outlined the on-going work of the ‘Anthropocene Working Group’ of the International Commission on Stratigraphy examining whether it merits becoming a formal geological unit of time. One important revelation from Dr Zalasiewicz was that, while decisions taken by the ICS are lengthy processes, an interim report may appear sometime in 2016 addressing whether the Anthropocene is worthy of being designated as its own geological unit and, secondly, the date to be assigned as its onset. Dr Zalasiewicz also stated that, at present, the commission are leaning towards adapting 1950 as the ‘golden spike’, the so-called Great Acceleration as coined by Steffen et al. (2007), although he emphasised this is very much still under debate. He also highlighted that the Anthropocene Commission is unique at the ICS in that non-geologists and noted sceptics of the idea are sitting on the panel to ensure that the decision taken considers all view-points and stands up to scrutiny.

There was limited time at the end of questions from the press but one that sticks me is the relevance of the concept and whether it really matters that the Anthropocene is ratified by the ICS (or not). Burrows made the valid point that it’s imperative, in fact, that the Anthropocene be formalised as a geological entity to drive political action towards adapting a more sustainable future for the planet. That is certainly a view I share!

A couple of final points I’d like to highlight is that EGU is running a live-stream of all press conferences this week – check them out here – and the Anthropocene session taking place on Thursday: Orals in room G10, posters in Blue Room 243-279 (GM4.1/HS9.12/SSS9.18
Human-Earth interaction from the Pleistocene to the Anthropocene: state of the science and future direction).

Steffen, W., Crutzen, P. and McNeill, J. (2007) The Anthropocene: Are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature? AMBIO 36 (8), 614-621.