Exhibits at EGU 2014 – The Face of the Earth

11 Apr

This year, the conference will have a theme: The Face of the Earth. Much like a human face, our planet exhibits a huge diversity of shapes and forms, and the 2014 theme celebrates this diversity in geoscience processes – from the Earth’s core to interplanetary space.

In line with this year’s theme, you’ll find exhibits on each of the Earth’s faces – Rocks of the Earth, Waters of the Earth, Life of the Earth, Atmosphere of the Earth, and Space and the Earth – throughout the General Assembly venue. Here’s a hint of what’s in store…

Rocks smallRocks of the Earth

Bring your own rock. In the Entrance Hall we will be collecting rocks from around the world, where they will be placed on display in our very own stone showcase. Their origin will be mapped for all participants to see in an exhibit made by EGU participants, for EGU participants. Don’t forget to bring yours! Check the rock requirements on the General Assembly website.

Space small

Space and the Earth

What we find on Earth is mirrored in other planets – volcanoes on Venus generate a landscape that looks a lot like ours, despite the planet’s wildly different atmosphere and tumultuous tectonic system. Mars’ dusty surface looks a lot like the Earth’s arid landscapes. Search for the similarities between Earth and its neighbours in the Space and the Earth exhibit (Foyer C, Red Level).

Waters small

Waters of the Earth

Water affects virtually all physical, chemical and biological processes, and has shaped a significant part of human history and culture, as well as our lives today. The Waters of the Earth Exhibit will be, quite aptly, on the Blue Level of the conference centre. We don’t want to give all the exhibitions away though! Come down to the basement to see what it’s all about!

Life smallLife of the Earth

Life on Earth began about 4 billion years ago expanding and adapting to almost every environment imaginable: from the poles to the Equator, and from scalding vents on the sea floor to the tops of icy mountains. On the first floor you’ll find the Life of the Earth Exhibition Spot – a truly global view of life on this planet.

Atmosphere small

Atmosphere of the Earth

The Earth’s atmosphere is an incredible thing. It shields us from solar radiation, supplies us with water and shifts weather systems around the world. The atmosphere of the Earth inspires research at all scales, from the tiniest of aerosols to awe-inspiring phenomena that can be seen from space. This exhibit lets you experience the awesomeness of the atmosphere first-hand. Head to Foyer B on the Red Level.

The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria (27 April-2 May). Find out more at www.egu2014.eu


Geotalk: Claudia Cherubini and the art of characterising aquifers

10 Apr

This week in Geotalk, we’re talking to Claudia Cherubini, a research professor from La Salle Beauvais Polytechnic Institute. Claudia shares her work in hydrogeological modelling and delves into how such models can be used in water management…

Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you’re currently working on?

I am an environmental engineer with a PhD in hydrogeology. After more than four years of post-doctoral activity, I finally got a position as associate professor at LaSalle Beauvais Polytechnic Institute, one of the most reputable schools for engineering geologists in France.

My field of research involves characterising flow and transport phenomena in heterogeneous aquifers. My research interests include also advanced geostatistical methods to model complex spatial patterns of contaminants and quantify risk assessment – something I concentrated on when working as a consultant for the Italian Ministry of Environment and the Apulia Region (southeastern Italy).

Meet Claudia! (Credit: Claudia Cherubini)

Meet Claudia! (Credit: Claudia Cherubini)

During EGU 2012, you received a Division Outstanding Young Scientists Award for your work on hydrogeological models and how they can be used in resource management. Could you tell us a bit more about your research in this area?

Before coming to France, most of my research dealt with the hydrogeology of the fractured limestone aquifer in Apulia and, in particular, with water management in coastal aquifers.

The key study concerning this prize is published in Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences. Together with my Italian colleague Nicola Pastore, I combined two models – one describing density-driven flow and another describing fault hydrogeology – to find out more about the aquifer system in southern Italy. The coupled models let us work out how this complex aquifer could be exploited as well as determine its vulnerability to seawater intrusion. Vulnerability assessments like these are needed for sustainable planning, both in terms of picking well locations and setting pumping rates.

Fractured aquifers are key water sources for many people around the world, how do your findings relate to sustainable water use in these areas? 

Most of my research deals with modeling groundwater flow and contaminant transport in fractured aquifers. Detailed geological reconstructions are used in hydrodynamic modelling to help interpret flow dynamics and the way contaminants are transported. Hydrogeological modelling is extremely important to optimise water extraction in fractured aquifers, to pin down pollution sources or predict the fate of a contaminant. All of these help decide how to manage areas that have been affected by a pollutant. Due to the complexity of fractured rock aquifers, they are often oversimplified. My research aims to apply discrete models to better describe flow and transport dynamics in these aquifers.

How does knowing more about groundwater help scientists understand the impacts of polluted sites on the surrounding environment?

In fractured-rock aquifers, the fracture’s orientation may cause the contaminant plume to be transported in a direction that diverges from the regional hydraulic gradient. Being able to characterise the dominant fractures in the system is extremely useful for aquifer cleanup.

How can hydrogeologists set up something close to what we might find in nature in the lab?

In fracture formations, multiple scales of heterogeneity may exist and there is the need to characterise them at the core, bench and field scale. There is some degree of skepticism about how representative physical models are of phenomena occurring in field conditions though. Laboratory experiments have the advantage of improving our understanding of physical mechanisms under relatively well-controlled conditions, which is not exactly the case in the field.

Key parts of the lab. (Credit: Claudia Cherubini)

Key parts of the lab. (Credit: Claudia Cherubini)

Do you prefer fieldwork or fixing up a laboratory experiment?

I would say probably the second. Dealing with lab experiments concerning fractured media is a matter of creativity and innovation, as there is still a lot to do in this research area.

However, here at LaSalle Beauvais we have set up a hydrogeological platform with an experimental site with 18 boreholes up to 110 m deep, each equipped with piezometers – instruments used to measure liquid pressure, so future directions are oriented towards fieldwork.

What do you enjoy about working in science?

I always felt at ease in science and I have always enjoyed doing research everywhere I go. I currently speak English, German, Spanish, French and obviously Italian (my native language). I spent some research periods abroad: during my PhD at The University of Göttingen Geosciences Centre, and during my post doc at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and at United States Geological Survey in California too.

Finally, what are your research plans for the future?

I work in Picardy (north of France), a region characterised by a fissured chalk aquifer, where the unsaturated zone has been poorly investigated. I am setting up a study with the notable scientist John Nimmo of the USGS, aiming to investigate preferential flow dynamics and their role in recharge within this chalk aquifer.

And I have an Italian PhD student to supervise! She will come here to do laboratory and field experiments on the platform. We also plan to integrate our network into the French H+ observatory, a database for data from a network of highly heterogeneous hydrogeological sites.

Find out more about Claudia’s work on fractured aquifers…

Cherubini, C. and Pastore, N.: Critical stress scenarios for a coastal aquifer in southeastern Italy, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 11, 1381-1393, 2011.

Cherubini, C., Giasi, C. I., and Pastore, N.: On the reliability of analytical models to predict solute transport in a fracture network, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss., 10, 2013. (currently under open review)

Cherubini, C.: A modeling approach for the study of contamination in a fractured aquifer. Geotechnical and Geological Engineering, 26, 519-533, 2008.

Cherubini, C., Giasi, C. I., Pastore, N.: Evidence of non-darcy flow and non-fickian transport in fractured media at laboratory scale. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 2599–2611, 2013.

Cherubini, C, Giasi, C. I., and Pastore, N.: Bench scale laboratory tests to analyze non-linear flow in fractured media. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 2511-2522, 2012.

If you’d like to suggest a scientist for an interview, please contact Sara Mynott.


GeoEd: An African GIFT Experience

9 Apr

This year the EGU embarked on a new journey into Africa to deliver its renowned Geosciences Information for Teachers (GIFT) programme to teachers in South Africa and neighbouring countries in collaboration with UNESCO and the European Space Agency (ESA). The topic: Climate Change and Human Adaptation. Jane Robb reports on the week’s events…

Set in ‘the windy city’ of Port Elizabeth (or PE if you’re local), in stunning 28°C sun, complimentary blue skies and a dash of wind, we made our way to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s (NMMU) Missionvale Campus to begin the proceedings. Missionvale Campus is situated just outside Port Elizabeth, in the heart of surrounding communities. The campus is intricately connected to these communities, with a commitment to supporting the development of those local to Port Elizabeth through school education and lifelong learning – making it the ideal location for the workshop.

All of us outside the front of NMMU’s Missionvale Campus. Credit: Jane Robb

All of us outside NMMU’s Missionvale Campus. (Credit: Jane Robb)

We were welcomed by Thoko Mayekiso, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Engagement at NMMU, followed by a short introduction given by the co-organisers Sarah Gaines from UNESCO and Carlo Laj from the EGU, and from our host Moctar Doucouré (from NMMU’s Africa Earth Observation Network – Earth Stewardship Science Research Institute, better known as AEON-ESSRI).

To open the workshop, we had Maarten de Wit (from AEON–ESSRI) discuss the importance of geology in understanding climate change. Maarten put geology and climate change into a South African, and broader African, political and social context. He focused on the African concept of ‘observing the present and considering the past to ponder the future’ – a notion that is summed up in the isiXhosa word Iphakade. Maarten introduced Iphakade in the context of Earth stewardship: scientifically informed, ethical and democratic management of both the physical and living systems of our planet. The Earth is a system, but so is our society. Because our society is reliant on the Earth, it has a responsibility to manage it. Therefore, we need to apply our appreciation of our culture and how it will change in the next 50 years to our understanding of how to manage the Earth system.

Echoing the need for systems thinking in managing climate change, Rob O’Donoghue spoke about the South African school curriculum on climate change. Rob highlighted the need for systems thinking to be integrated as a learning enhancement tool. He also echoed the usefulness of the past in learning about the present, not only in a geological context, but in a social one. Africans have lived through climate variability in the past and have met these challenges with innovative solutions in agriculture, animal husbandry, cooking, sanitation and more. Both applied their perspectives on the importance of understanding the socio-cultural aspects of climate change to teaching. They emphasised the need to help relate climate change to children, and stop it seeming scary and impossible to manage. By using stories, art, music and other culturally informed methods we can make understanding and responding to climate change more manageable for future generations.

During lunch (with amazing live local music providing the background to our delicious South African cuisine) we discussed with the teachers their reactions to the workshop so far. What concerned the teachers most was the need to make climate change accessible to their children without forcing an impossible change on them. In many African countries, including South Africa, people are aware that their daily practices are harming the environment. However, unlike developed countries, these practices are essential to survival on a daily basis. The teachers simplified the issue: environment is directly linked to survival in this part of the world. These people do not have the luxury to change their daily practices. If anything, this highlighted the need for workshops like this, which help teachers find different ways to engage the next generation with climate change in a way that means they can continue to develop.

Sally Dengg explaining an experiment about thermohaline circulation to the teachers. For some of our practicals we had to improvise with materials commonly available to teachers – instead of test tubes we used plastic bottles. (Credit: Jane Robb)

Sally Dengg explaining an experiment about thermohaline circulation to the teachers. For some of our practicals we had to improvise with materials commonly available to teachers – instead of test tubes we used plastic bottles. (Credit: Jane Robb)

Carl Palmer from the South African based Applied Centre for Climate and Earth System Science reiterated this point in his talk on how climate change affects us. He highlighted the fact that poor communities cannot deal with climate change in the way developed countries can. And yet, Africa is a large continent, rich in unique landscapes and biodiversity, with an incredible diversity of people too. As Guy Midgely from the South African Biodiversity Institute also discussed, Africa contains a wealth of natural resources as well as a wealth of variable climates and people. Carl emphasised the need to excite and inspire our children about what Africa has to offer, encouraging them to choose science. Not just geoscience however: we need them to address the issues of sanitation, malnutrition, health and politics in tandem with climate to make a real difference. In other words, rather than a threat, climate change is an opportunity to engage kids with science.

To compliment these insightful approaches to climate change education, the workshop integrated several presentations on the science behind climate change and areas where climate change impacts are being felt, including agriculture (Bernard Seguin), water (Roland Schulze), ocean changes (Jean-Pierre Gattuso), as well as remote sensing of the atmosphere (Michael Verstraete). These presentations opened up the discussion for how to teach children specifically about the scientific aspects of climate change: what happens to these different Earth systems in a changing climate, and how can we transfer this knowledge to children in the classroom? For the teachers, although there was a lot of information packed into a tight curriculum, this was incredibly valuable as it catered directly to the GIFT workshop mantra: reducing the time from research to textbook. These presentations gave teachers the opportunity to hear about the science directly from the scientists.

The World Challenge Game in action. ‘Families’ had to colour in sheets to make money for their countries within a time limit. (Credit: Jane Robb)

The World Challenge Game in action. ‘Families’ had to colour in sheets to make money for their countries within a time limit. (Credit: Jane Robb)

In addition to these presentations, we were also treated to demonstrations and practical exercises by Ian McKay, from the University of the Witwatersrand and the International Geoscience Education Organisation, Sally Dengg from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research and Carl Palmer. We experienced interactive discussions, marshmallows and chemical structures, solar cookers, production of carbon dioxide, acidifying oceans and exploding hydrogen balloons. To finish up the workshop, we watched the film Thin Ice and ended with a critical discussion on how the teachers will disseminate what they have learnt to their colleagues, students, communities and councils.

What we were able to take away from the workshop was the need for a paradigm shift in the way we think and educate about climate change in an African context, where the participants helped us understand how to make the global local. Climate change isn’t just a scientific issue; it is implicitly related to people, politics and survival. To engage children with climate change science, we need to develop a systems thinking approach, balancing global responsibilities while maintaining healthy lifestyles and valuing the cultures and perspectives of the very people we are trying to engage.

By Jane Robb (EGU Educational Fellow), Sarah Gaines (UNESCO) and Carlo Laj (Chair of the EGU Education Committee)

Imaggeo on Mondays: Volcanic rope

7 Apr

On Hawaii, lava fields fall into two camps – pahoehoe and a’a. This week’s Imageo on Mondays puts the two into perspective…

Pahoehoe fields are created when the lava is well insulated at the surface. The cooled rock on top prevents a lot of heat escaping and lets the lava flow beneath a tough skin of basalt. This skin is pulled and distorted by the moving lava, creating ripples and wrinkles that resemble rope.

Pahoehoe lava. (Credit: Martin Mergili via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Here’s a close up! (Credit: Martin Mergili via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Pahoehoe flow. (Credit: Tari Noelani Mattox, USGS)

And here’s the bigger picture! (Credit: Tari Noelani Mattox, USGS)

The other type, a’a, sounds a lot like it feels. Cooled a’a fields are notoriously difficult to walk over and the jagged rocks can quite happily shred your walking boots to pieces. A’a lava is much more viscous than pahoehoe and flows uninsulated over the surface. They form tall fronts of rough basalt blocks that are pushed forward and swallowed by the lava as it moves downslope.

A’a lava (and a little pahoehoe in the foreground). (Credit: USGS)

A’a lava – and a little pahoehoe in the foreground fro good measure. (Credit: USGS)

Want to see some lava flow on the go? The BBC has a collection of excellent clips.

Imaggeo is the EGU’s open access geosciences image repository. 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.


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