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Geoscience under the tree

18 Dec

In a festive-themed post, EGU Media and Communications Manager Bárbara Ferreira selects a plethora of geoscience-inspired Christmas presents, which you could give to your favourite researcher. Please note that, with the exception of the last one, the items listed below are not necessarily recommended or endorsed by the EGU.

For me Christmas is more about eating large amounts of food and celebrating with family and friends than it is about giving and receiving presents. But I am guessing many of the readers of this blog are still scratching their heads thinking what gifts to get to the geoscientists in their families, to their Earth or space science researcher friends or, why not, themselves. This, and the fact that Paleoseismicity posted about some beautiful geology shoes a few days ago, is why I’ve set out to discover the best geoscience-inspired gift items out there.

Compiling this list ended up being easier than I thought because a few people, such as Georneys’ Evelyn Mervine and Agile’s Matt Hall have written similar blog posts in the past. And also because I discovered that Etsy – the e-commerce website for all things handmade or vintage – has an impressive collection of geoscience-y items. So, brace yourselves for a link-rich post!

Solid Earth

I’ll start with a present idea for our crafty readers: if you are into knitting, or know someone who is, this book filled with knitted-dinosaur patterns might be for you. If you’re not crafty, you may prefer to gift this triceratops cup or a pair of agate bookends, or even this t-shirt with a different take on the Earth’s internal structure. The geomorphologist in your life might like this antique map illustrating the geomorphology of the Alpine region or this simple yet beautiful travel journal.

If, instead, volcanology is your thing, then you might like this awesome volcano woolly hat – and if you are looking for a gift for a little one, this wooden volcano stacker could be your choice. For soil scientists, Etsy has a collection of beautifully illustrated soil postcards, while tectonic scientists and seismologists, may find this t-shirt funny. This science kit would suit a young fan of rocks and minerals, while this tie with crystalline formations would be more appropriate for a grown up.

Volcano hat by MariaBjork

Volcano hat by MariaBjork

Soft Earth

Moving on to soft-Earth disciplines, atmospheric scientists might like this wonderful screen print of different types of clouds, or this original necklace representing the various layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. And there’s this rather neat calendar of the sky and sea, which may also please ocean scientists. These researchers might also like an ocean tide ceramic pot or a 19th century map of the Atlantic Ocean.

Budding hydrologists, on the other hand, may be fascinated by this hydropower kit, while older ones will likely appreciate this antique engraving of water engineering. On the topic of antiques, the climate scientist in your life may like this climate map of Europe or this beautifully illustrated book to teach kids about climate. When gifting biogeoscientists, you can’t go wrong with this fantastic diatoms t-shirt (available for men and women) or these seaweed magnets.

Diatoms t-shirt by vortextradingcompany

Diatoms t-shirt by vortextradingcompany

Space and planetary science

Moving up into the upper atmosphere, your favourite solar-terrestrial scientist might like to receive this rather cute card of aurora in the Arctic or, for something a bit different, this pair of Northern Lights leggings! Going further up into space, the Earth’s magnetosphere finds its way into this totebag/backpack while the solar corona is the star of this antique print.

Planetary scientists also have plenty to choose from, with a variety of art decals and solar system charts available on Etsy. There is even a seller who builds jewellery with photos from NASA missions, such as this Mars Curiosity Rover pendant. Budding space and planetary scientists will likely be happy with this space exploration kit from National Geographic.

Interdisciplinary areas

Moving on to the more interdisciplinary areas of the EGU, I couldn’t help but mention Slow Factory, who produce stunning (but expensive!) clothing items from satellite images: the Terra MODIS Greenland dress and this silk square with an image of phytoplankton from the Bay of Biscay are two of the highlights. For something a bit more affordable, you could gift this top to bottom poster from Our Amazing Planet (sadly, the original interactive infographic can’t be put up on the wall) or this carbon cycle t-shirt. If you are feeling crafty, you can get LEGOs to build this rather incredible LEGO globe. Energy, resources and the environment enthusiasts have plenty to choose from, from a sustainable Earth lab or a solar-powered night light to a pair of windmill earings or a wind-energy decal. If great waves are more your thing, you may be interested in this tsunami top or, if landslides are your natural-hazard of choice, in this interesting pendant.

If you, like me, prefer to give and receive an experience as a gift, then why not offer a geoscientific trip? Though I haven’t been on a trip of this kind myself, I found a few companies that organise geo-themed excursions, such as this one in Italy, this one in Iceland or this one for trips further afield.

Finally, I couldn’t finish this blog post without suggesting the best present of them all (OK, I’m biased!). This Christmas, why not gift EGU memberships to the Earth, planetary and space scientists in your life? It is very affordable and researchers will likely appreciate the discounted registration rate members receive to the EGU General Assembly!

By Bárbara Ferreira, EGU Media and Communications Manager

Imaggeo on Mondays: That spot there? It’s 143,000 kilometres across

18 Nov

This week’s Imaggeo on Mondays highlights an amazing view of the night sky at new moon. Christian Klepp took this photo while at Waterton Glacier in the Rocky Mountains – it’s an incredible feat of determination to spend the night beside a glacial lake in the Rockies, let alone to capture such a photo!

“Patterns in the void” by Christian Klepp. This image is distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. You can find out more about the image from the photographer.

“Patterns in the void” by Christian Klepp. This image is distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. You can find out more about the image from the photographer.

The centre of the Milky Way lies just over the horizon, shrouded by clouds of interstellar dust. To the left of it is Jupiter – the brightest spot in the photo.

Jupiter orbits the sun at a distance of about 778 million kilometres (Earth is about 150 million kilometres away), taking twelve times longer than Earth to make the trip. Unlike our atmosphere, Jupiter’s is rich in hydrogen and helium – the elements that fuel our sun – and if this gas giant had been 80 times bigger, it would have been a star too – and would have been considerably brighter than it is in Klepp’s photo!

As it is though, Jupiter is ‘only’ a planet – it’s 1,321 times larger than Earth (by volume) and has over 60 more moons. It’s definitely impressive. For more about this great gaseous giant, see this short video – put together with footage from NASA and ESA:

Imaggeo is the EGU’s open access geosciences image repository. A new and improved Imaggeo site will be launching soon, so you will be able to peruse an even better database of visually stunning geoscience images. Photos uploaded to Imaggeo can be used by scientists, the press and the public provided the original author is credited. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. You can submit your photos here.

Muon musings – how penetrating particles could let us peer beneath Mars’ surface

19 Jun

Muons are penetrating particles generated by cosmic rays. Muon radiography – or muography – is the large-scale equivalent of using x-rays to generate images. Except, instead of using x-rays to take a closer look at your broken arm, we can use showers of muons to take a look inside large geological structures – we’re talking several kilometres in size here!

When cosmic rays meet the atmosphere, they create showers of secondary particles, some of which reach Earth’s surface. These can either interact with matter in the atmosphere to create more particle showers, or the particles can decay. These extensive air showers form unstable particles known as mesons. The mesons decay rapidly to form muons, which have a much longer lifetime and, if they also have high energy, can travel long distances and penetrate rock. To get an idea of just how big these muon showers are, in the Earth’s atmosphere roughly 1000 muons them are generated per meter squared every second! What can we do with so many muons?!

The atmosphere of Mars (credit: PD-US).

They can provide a great a measure of density. The angles at which muons arrive at a detector, and their number, can be used to pin down the properties of the matter they have travelled through. This technique has been used to reliably image and create 3D models of the interior of volcanoes, making clear the distinction between rocks of different temperatures, water, and voids beneath the surface. So what if we could do this for geological structures much further away?

Muon showers are naturally occurring and since the cosmic rays that generate them are ubiquitous, muons can be created in the atmosphere of any planet. Indeed, recent research published in Geoscientific Instrumentation, Methods and Data Systems shows that we could use this technique to take a closer look at some of the subsurface geology on Mars!

Preliminary estimates of muon production on Mars suggest that the horizontal flux of muons is as strong as, or even stronger than, on Earth, allowing for high resolution imaging of the planet’s geological features.

How it would work (credit: Kedar et al., 2013).

There are other benefits too: muon detectors have much lower power requirements than other imaging technologies as they use background radiation, rather than emitting a signal (as in seismic imaging or ground penetrating radar). Because the detectors can be quite simple, the data files they produce are small, allowing information to be easily transmitted back to Earth. In addition, high energy muons can easily pass through hundreds of metres of rock – great potential for somewhere we know so little about!

What could we take a look at? Just a few spots on Mars, where muography could tell us a whole lot more about the local geology (credit: Kedar et al., 2013).

All we need now is to fix a muon detector to the next Mars rover…

By Sara Mynott, EGU Communications Officer


Kedar, S., Tanaka, H. K. M., Naudet, C. J., Jones, C. E., Plaut, J. P., and Webb, F. H.: Muon radiography for exploration of Mars geology, Geosci. Instrum. Method. Data Syst., 2, 157-164, 2013.

Tanaka, H. K. M., T. Uchida, M. Tanaka, M. Takeo, J. Oikawa, T. Ohminato, Y. Aoki, E. Koyama, and H. Tsuji (2009): Detecting a mass change inside a volcano by cosmic-ray muon radiography (muography): First results from measurements at Asama volcano, Japan, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, 2009.


GeoCinema Online: Making Measurements

14 Jun

Making measurements from the space and looking to the skies has hugely enhanced our understanding of the Earth, it’s surface processes and its movement in space. This short episode of GeoCinema Online takes you through some of the  great technological developments in the Earth and planetary sciences!

Looking Down a Well: A Brief History of Geodesy

Geodesy is a field of study that deals with the measurement and representation of the Earth, and it all started with something as simple as looking down a well. Over time, the field of geodesy has expanded and evolved dramatically. It now involves radio telescopes, ground surveys and satellites. This video gives a great overview of geodesy and how our measurement techniques have evolved over time.

Using Quasars to Measure the Earth: A Brief History of VLBI

VLBI, or Very Long Baseline Interferometry,  uses multiple radio telescopes to make precise measurements of the Earth’s orientation. It was originally invented to take better pictures of quasars, but scientists soon found out that if you threw the process in reverse, you could measure how the ground beneath the telescopes moved around, how long days really are, and how the Earth wobbles on its axis as it revolves around the sun!

Eyes on the Skies

The invention of the telescope was a revolutionary development in astronomy, dramatically increasing our understanding of outer space. This film takes us on a journey of the telescope’s history: from the technological breakthroughs and scientific discoveries to successes and failures of the people involved in its invention.  While we don’t have the full film, the first chapter is certainly worth investigating – you can take a peek on the Hubble website.

Catch up on some super space science or make sense of natural hazards in earlier posts from the series. Seen them already? Stay tuned for the next episode of GeoCinema Online!


Looking Down a Well: A Brief History of Geodesy:  NASA Goddard Space Flight Center  (source)

Using Quasars to Measure the Earth: A Brief History of VLBI: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (source)

Eyes on the Skies: ESA (source)



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