Friday, 25 November 2016

The International Conference in Paleoceanography 2016... by Sonja Felder and Rowan Dejardin

Hello everyone,

Rowan in discussion at this poster about the Holocene
paleoceanography in South Georgia (Southern Ocean).
It’s us again, Sonja and Rowan, two BGS BUFI PhD students. Recently we took part in the twelfth International Conference in Paleoceanography, aka “ICP”, in Utrecht, Netherlands. Held every three years, ICP is the biggest international paleoceanography conference, so it was unsurprising that some of the biggest names in the field turned up to present their work. This gave those of us new to the field a great opportunity to discuss our work and socialise with them at events like the conference dinner or the traditional “paleomusicology” concert.

The conference was structured so that a series of key-note lectures where given in the morning and the afternoons were taken up with poster sessions. The key-notes are generally given by up and coming researchers in the field, whose work is doing a significant amount to push forward the boundaries on paleoceanography. By convention, researchers will only give one talk at ICP in their entire career and the resulting talks providing a fascinating insight into the cutting edge research currently occurring. The conference also had a strong focus on the poster sessions: there were almost 700 posters from researchers from all stages of their careers, from PhD students, to postdocs and professors, including some of the most well-known names in the field.

Sonja in discussion at her poster about the
Mid-Pleistocene climate transition at
 IODP Site U1427 (Sea of Japan).
An obituary for Harry Elderfield, a giant in the field of paleoceanography who passed away in April this year, was given by Nick McCave of Cambridge University. The obituary ended with a very impressive demonstration of Elderfield’s impact on the field: those in the audience who are the “children” and “grandchildren” of Elderfield, having worked with him directly or being supervised by his former PhD students, were asked to stand, and a significant proportion of the audience did so. Next, all those who worked with the proxies Elderfield developed were asked to stand and virtually all attendees of the conference stood up and gave Elderfield a standing ovation for his life’s work.

On Friday afternoon the conference closed with “the big debate” during which the panel and the audience discussing the idea that the current trend towards more focus on resolving social issues arising from climate change may be a threat to the fundamental research in paleoceanography. To illustrate this the debate started by highlighting the number of times the word “paleoceanography” appears in the most recent IPCC report, and with this the impact our field has on policy makers, which turns out to be zero! What followed was a lively and spirited debate with delegates offering arguments to support the whole spectrum of opinions on this issue. Although we paleoceanographers believe the past is the key to the future and that ocean records are integral to unlocking the past, policy makers mainly use the present alone to try to understand the future. One of the main conclusions from the debate was that the field needs to go further to foster a better understanding, among other scientists, policymakers and the wider public, of the importance of paleoceanography to our ability to predict future climate changes, whether this be through interdisciplinary collaboration, outreach work, or other avenues.

All in all, ICP12 was a really, really good experience full of fascinating insights and we hope to be part of the next ICP, which will take place in 2019 in Sydney, Australia. By then, surely we will be the big shots, giving the talks!


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