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Job opportunity at the EGU Executive Office: Communications Officer

18 Mar

The EGU is seeking to appoint a Communications Officer to work with the EGU Media and Communications Manager in maintaining and further developing media- and science-related communications between the EGU and its membership, the working media, and the public at large. The Communications Officer will also work under the direction of the EGU Executive Secretary on activities related to the promotion of the organisation. The position will be based at the EGU Executive Office in Munich, Germany.

More information about this vacancy, including main tasks, requirements, application materials, and salary and starting date, is available in PDF format or on the EGU website.

Informal enquiries about this position can be made to the Media and Communications Manager, Dr Bárbara Ferreira (media@egu.eu, +49-89-2180-6703). Applications should be submitted by e-mail in a single file to vacancy@egu.eu by 8 May.

Do you know anyone who might be interested in this position? The EGU would be grateful if you shared this opportunity widely.

EGU social media

Science bloggers – join the 2014 General Assembly blogroll!

5 Mar

Will you be blogging at the 2014 General Assembly? If so, sign up here and we’ll add you to our official blogroll. We will be compiling a list of blogs that feature posts about the EGU General Assembly and making it available on GeoLog, the official blog of the European Geosciences Union.

We’d ask you to write posts that relate directly to the Assembly during the conference in Vienna (27 April – 2 May). The content of each blog on this list is the responsibility of the authors and is not sanctioned by the EGU, but we will make details of all the blogs on the General Assembly blogroll available online.

If you would like your blog to feature on our list, please submit your blog details to us.

With free (and open!) wireless internet and plugin points available throughout the building and great science throughout the week; we’ve got everything you need to get blogging! International plug adapters can even be borrowed from the Austria Center Information Desk!

GeoLog will also be updated regularly during the General Assembly, featuring posts about scientific sessions, conference highlights and interviews with scientists at the meeting. If you would like to contribute to GeoLog, please pitch your idea to mynott@egu.eu. You may also use this address for any questions you might have about the blogroll.

Bridge the gap between geoscience and the general public. (Credit: Dario Zampieri, distributed by imaggeo.eu.eu)

Bridge the gap between geoscience and the general public. (Credit: Dario Zampieri, distributed by imaggeo.eu.eu)

A sky-high view on pollution in the Himalayas: the science

2 Oct

 Jane Qiu shares her experience of shadowing atmospheric scientists some 5000 metres above sea level after being awarded the EGU’s science journalism fellowship. To find out how she got there, see her last post, A sky-high view on pollution in the Himalayas: the journey.

Lab with a view

After six days of strenuous hike, the Pyramid was finally in sight. At the foot of the majestic Khumbu Glacier, the main building, completed in 1990, consists of a three-storey stone building with a pyramid-shaped, solar-panel roof. It’s home to a data-processing centre, several laboratories and warehouses, as well as a lodge — with bedrooms, showers (yes, there is hot water), kitchen and a large common room — that can host 20 people at a time.

The Pyramid is finally in sight after six days of strenuous hike. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

The Pyramid is finally in sight after six days of strenuous hike. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

At dinner time, a gourmet Italian meal — prosciutto, mozzarella salad, penne arrabiata, and a bottle of Merlot — was presented to us by the skillful Nepalese chef. Having had dhaba (a popular Nepalese dish) for almost every meal for the last few days, this was extremely enticing. But the altitude effect was gaining momentum, and my stomach ejected everything that had gone in.

It transpired that my blood oxygen level hovered just above 60% (the value is normally between 96%-99% for healthy individuals). And Gian Pietro Verza, the station manager and an experienced mountaineer, decided that I ought to lie down and inhale oxygen for a couple of hours — with a Pyramid staff sitting next to me and measuring my oxygen levels every 10 minutes.

A major facility for studying climate and pollutants in the Himalayas. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

A major facility for studying climate and pollutants in the Himalayas. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

The observatory, which was set up by the Ev-K2-CNR Committee and the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, has allowed continuous measurements of pollutants since 2006. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

The observatory, which was set up by the Ev-K2-CNR Committee and the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, has allowed continuous measurements of pollutants since 2006. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

I was much better the next morning, but every single movement was a big ordeal. Having put on all the layers of clothing and tying the boot laces, I felt I could do with a little lying down. But the calling of the glorious Himalayan Sun was irresistible. So I went with the researchers to the observatory on top of an adjacent hill. It consists of a small hut and a whole suit of instruments, perching next to rows of solar panels near the terminus of the magnificent Khumbu Glacier.

Solar panels against the backdrop of the Khumbu Glacier. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

Solar panels against the backdrop of the Khumbu Glacier. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

In addition to meteorology and solar radiation, the instruments measure various properties of aerosols, such as size, concentration, total mass and optical properties (whether they absorb or reflect light). They also assess the level of mercury as well as a number of gases, including carbon dioxide, water vapour and ozone. A few devices on the roof pass air samples through filters to be analyzed in the laboratory for their chemical composition.

Angela Marinoni adjusting a sun photometer for measuring aerosols. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

Angela Marinoni adjusting a sun photometer for measuring aerosols. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

The coolest gadget is an automated apparatus called a sun photometer. It has its ‘head’ down most of the time, but ‘wakes up’ every 15 minutes to point at the Sun. The embedded optical system and filtering devices allow it to measure how transparent the atmospheric column is. Scientists use this information to deduce the quantity of aerosols and gases present.

All the measurements are transmitted to the data-processing centre in the main building. The satellite connection allows remote control of the instruments and real-time data access — from any part of the world. The Italian team comes every spring and autumn to calibrate instruments and install new sensors. For the rest of the year, the Nepalese staff, including Kaji Bista, Pema Sherpa and Laxman Adhikari, have a crucial role in keeping things running.

In addition to the Pyramid, there are another 8 weather stations along the Khumbu Valley — from 2660 metres above sea level near Lukla to 8,000 metres at the South Col (the ridge between Everest and Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain in the world). This has provided a rare glimpse of atmospheric circulation and pollutant transport in the Himalayas.

Peak station

The Nepalese staff, such as Pema Sherpa (right) and Lakpa Sonam, have a crucial role in keeping the equipment functional all year round. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

The Nepalese staff, such as Pema Sherpa (right) and Lakpa Sonam, have a crucial role in keeping the equipment functional all year round. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

A few days later, I set off to see an automated weather station on Kala Patthar (meaning black rock in Nepali). It’s a big dark bump at 5,600 metres above sea level on the south ridge of the Pumori (7161 metres), which is referred to by climbers as “Everest’s daughter”.

We stopped for lunch at the village Gorakshep — the last outpost before the Everest Base Camp — and heard the sad news that somebody had died from altitude sickness on Kala Patthar the day before. I learned a few days later that it was a German gentleman in his sixties who we happened to have met and shared a lodge with at the village Tengboche on our way up.

 

From Gorakshep, it’s a two-hour hike — with a lot of breaks as I huffed and puffed my lungs out. We crossed an ancient lake bed, navigated through a series of steep switchbacks, and had some serious scrambling before reaching the wind-swept summit ridge. The weather-station towers stood atop the boulders, among the prayer flags fluttering in the wind. A myriad of weather parameters, such as temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed and direction, are transmitted to the Pyramid in real time.

The weather station at Kala Patthar. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

The weather station at Kala Patthar. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

With a magnificent view of the Everest (8,848 metres) and the Lhotse (8,516 metres), which are connected to each other via the South Col, the site also boasts the highest webcam in the world — the Mount Everest Webcam. It was installed by Italian and Nepalese researchers as part of an Ev-K2-CNR-supported project to understand climate change in the Himalayas.

The spectacular view of the Everest and the Lhotse from Kala Patthar. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

The spectacular view of the Everest and the Lhotse from Kala Patthar. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

Looking over to the South Col, I tried to imagine what it would be like to install a weather station there at an altitude of 8,000 metres — certainly the highest in the world. In 2008, an expedition team consisting of three Italian climbers and five Nepalese sherpas, including Pema Sherpa, went up to the ridge with all the heavy scientific equipment.

Pemba Wangchu traversing a ladder in the Khumbu Icefall, while Pema Sherpa had crossed safely. They were part of an expedition team to install a weather station at the South Col at 8,000 metres above sea level. (Credit: SHARE Everest Expedition)

Pemba Wangchu traversing a ladder in the Khumbu Icefall, while Pema Sherpa had crossed safely. They were part of an expedition team to install a weather station at the South Col at 8,000 metres above sea level. (Credit: SHARE Everest Expedition)

The team drilled deep into the ground to fix the masts, so they would be stable in harsh conditions for as long as possible. The electronic instruments also have to sustain extreme conditions, such as frigid temperatures, strong winds, low pressure, and ice formation.

Their efforts have paid off. One striking finding is the records of above-zero temperatures at the South Col. This coincided with massive ice falls, presumably because the warm temperatures caused snowmelt and triggered avalanches. This is particularly interesting in light of the recent surprising findings that Tibetan glaciers are losing ice at altitudes as high as 6,000 metres.

Himalayan cleanup

All these pursuits are, of course, not purely academic. Pollution in the Himalayas could have far-flung impact. Once reaching the high mountains, pollutants — especially dust, black carbon, and organic compounds — could increase glacier melt, pollute streams, poison ecosystems, and even change monsoon patterns, threatening the livelihood of millions of people.

With the aerosol observatory at the Pyramid and the 9 weather stations along the Khumbu Valley, the researchers now have the data to pinpoint pollution sources and transport mechanisms and determine how pollutants might react with each other along the way to form new chemicals. This, together with a new modelling initiative, will be able to inform emission-reduction policies in the Himalayas.

Further reading

Qiu, J. Pollutants capture the high ground in the Himalayas. Science, 339, 1030-1031 (2013).

By Jane Qiu, Science Writer

A sky-high view on pollution in the Himalayas: the journey

25 Sep

After being awarded the EGU’s science journalism fellowship, Jane Qiu took to the Himalayas to shadow scientists studying air pollution at the Pyramid Observatory some 5000 metres above sea level. The journey to work is by no means an easy one…

For Angela Marinoni and Paolo Bonasoni, climate scientists at the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate in Bologna, Italy, and Maxime Hervo, a Ph.D student at Blaise Pascal University at Clermont-Ferrand, France, getting to work is no mean feat – and can be life threatening. I’m not talking about their European laboratories, but the Pyramid Observatory 5079 metres above sea level on the south side of Mount Everest.

Thanks to the support of the EGU Science Journalism Fellowship, I had the opportunity to find out first-hand what it is like to ‘go to work’ in the Himalayas and carry out cutting-edge science in a region that boasts the largest stock of ice outside the Arctic and the Antarctic – also known as the Third Pole.

In 2006, scientists from the Ev-K2-CNR Committee, a nonprofit scientific association in Bergamo, Italy, and the Kathmandu-based Nepal Academy of Science and Technology set up the climate observatory at what they imagined would be a pristine site in the Himalayas. The aim was to measure baseline conditions, against which they could measure regional pollution. But what they found was “a total surprise”, says Marinoni: the mountains are teeming with dust and soot.

Figure 1. The Pyramid Observatory locates at over 5,000 metres above sea level on Everest’s south side. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

The Pyramid Observatory locates at over 5,000 metres above sea level on Everest’s south side. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

Now, along with another 8 weather stations along the valley, the team is trying to understand where the pollutants come from, how they are transported to the Himalayas, and how they are affecting both glaciers and regional climate.

Extreme landing

The Pyramid is literally in the middle of nowhere. The only way to get there is by foot from the nearest Nepalese village Lukla at an altitude of 2840 metres. As I stepped out of the 15-seat, unpressurised Twin Otter aircraft at Lukla – still recovering from the sudden dips the plane took every time it climbed over a ridge – Marinoni mentioned nonchalantly that the airport happens to be one of the top 10 extreme airports in the world that “flirt with disaster”. Indeed, flying in the Himalayas can be precarious: a similar jet crashed on its way to Pokhara in western Nepal a few months later. I wasn’t sure whether I should be pleased that our plane landed safely or ought to be concerned that I’d still need to fly back to Kathmandu.

Our plane landed safely at the Lukla airport, one of the 10 airports in the world that “flirt with disaster”. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

Our plane landed safely at the Lukla airport, one of the 10 airports in the world that “flirt with disaster”. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

But the spectacular, snow-capped mountain peaks took my mind off this little dilemma. From here, it’s a six-day arduous journey to the Pyramid, walking past very different types of terrain – from lush forests to an alpine, rocky environment – along the Khumbu Valley, and accompanied by the soft tinkling of yak bells and the rumbling roar of the turquoise Dukh Kosi River.

It’s a popular route to the Everest Base Camp, and is frequented by trekkers, mountaineers, as well as people aspiring to break all sorts of world records (we met someone who aimed to be the first person to summit Everest on his bike and another who wanted to make tattoos at the highest altitude). Against this hustle and bustle is the harsh life of the local people, especially Nepalese porters who often carry far more than their own body weight to altitudes as high as 5,400 metres.

Those porters are also indispensable for the existence and continuous operation of the Pyramid because there is simply no other way to get anything – ranging from daily subsistence to scientific equipment and construction materials – to the site.

A Nepalese porter carrying new scientific equipment to the Pyramid.

A Nepalese porter carrying new scientific equipment to the Pyramid.

Himalayan haze

The Khumbu Valley is dotted with villages which earn most of their income from tourism and mountaineering. Most of the houses do not have chimneys, which local people believe would let out protective spirit and good fortune. At cooking hours, we saw thick threads of smoke oozing out of the houses and a pungent odour filled the air. As biomass such as wood, dung and crop residues is the main source of fuel for cooking and heating in the Himalayas, pollution, especially black carbon, is “a major concern”, said Bonasoni.

The Third Pole -- a term used to designate the gigantic land mass consisting of the Tibetan plateau and surrounding mountain ranges -- has become a catchphrase in local tourism in the Khumbu Valley. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

The Third Pole – a term used to designate the gigantic land mass consisting of the Tibetan plateau and surrounding mountain ranges – has become a buzzword for local tourism in the Khumbu Valley. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

Another source of pollution is forest fires, which have become increasingly frequent in recent decades because of warmer and drier springs. Part of our journey was indeed shadowed by such a fire not too far from the path. It was just one of 86 forest fires that broke out in Nepal on that day.

A forest fire broke out in the Khumbu Valley. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

Our first day of trekking in the Khumbu Valley was greeted by a forest fire, one of 86 in Nepal on that day. (Credit: Jane Qiu)

The main culprit, however, is the pollutant-laden atmospheric brown clouds over the Indo-Gangetic Plain, which result from biomass burning, vehicle emissions and industrial processes. They can travel thousands of kilometres a day – extending southward over the Indian Ocean and characterised by a sharp boundary in the north due to the barrier formed by the Himalayas. But “the barrier is leaky,” said Marinoni. The Khumbu Valley is like a gigantic chimney that can effectively channel the pollutants piled up at the foothill to high altitudes.

With every step up the Khumbu Valley, my lungs struggled harder to grasp for more air. The landscape had transformed from lush forests to a rocky, alpine habitat sprinkled with fresh spring snow. The glacier-capped peak of the Ama Dablam (meaning “mother’s necklace” in Nepalese) loomed in the distant, inspiring and intimidating in equal measures. It would take nearly a week of walking to reach the Pyramid. The journey was breathtaking in more ways than one.

Stay tuned for Jane’s next instalment on studies of pollution in the Himalayas, where she shares her experience of shadowing atmospheric scientists some 5000 metres above sea level.

By Jane Qiu, Science Writer

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