Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Thrill to Drill (over the next 10 years) by Prof Melanie Leng

In late November the International Continental scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) Science Conference was held in the historic Telegrafenberg in Potsdam, Germany. The aim of the conference was to debate and map ICDP’s way forward over the next 5 – 10 years and develop a science plan for continental deep drilling. Here Melanie Leng gives us a brief overview:

The 160 participants of the ICDP Science Conference

The ICDP’s aim is to provide funding and infrastructure that facilitate outstanding science by obtaining cores of rock, ice or sediments that are archives of our planet over the last 4.5 billion years.  Key questions are focussed on climate change, natural hazards, Earth’s resources and the origins of life on Earth. As we head toward a warming world where hazards are becoming increasingly disruptive and resources more scarce, there has never been a greater need to drill into our Earth to answer key scientific questions. However as questions become more pertinent to a sustained and prosperous life on Earth there is increasingly a need for targeted research. Over the past few years ICDP funding has been used to underpin research themes from other international research programmes, this is a great joined up approach especially where those questions are aligned with our main societal challenges. However discussion was needed concerning ICDP’s future and this was the rationale behind the conference.

The geological monoliths in the grounds of GFZ,
Potsdam where the conference was held. Note the
large column of marble with blue (azurite?) veining.
The conference took the form of a series of keynote talks, project specific lightning talks and sessions dedicated to education, outreach, and partnerships with industry as well as developing the 10 year plan through discussion and debate. For example, one breakout group that I was part of was tasked with formulating a plan regarding key questions in global climate cycles; we identified 5 key targets that could be used to integrate our science with policy maker concerns. These were: (1) Understanding climate cycles on different time scales; (2) The investigation of the sensitivity of the land surface to different types of climate perturbations; (3) Understanding feedbacks and identifying conditions related to climate tipping points causing new climate ‘states’; (4) Characterising the critical zone (between land and atmosphere) and understanding how changes in one affect others; and (5) Understanding ice sheet response to climate variations, links to sea level, global temperatures and hydrology etc. Most of these targets are not new to us and all are connected with a better understanding of the Earth’s climate system, at all time scales. We thought that there is an obvious need to target intervals of geological time, for example periods of warmer worlds, periods of higher CO2 than present (>400ppm) and periods of rapid change (potentially tipping points)…

Early career scientists were represented at the meeting and were asked how ICDP could facilitate their involvement. In particular, they were concerned about the age structure of ICDP (with a high number of very experienced scientists) and the low diversity (women, ethnic mixtures). They felt they could be helped to integrate more within ICDP via a post doctoral fellowship programme, travel support to ICDP workshops, conferences, networking opportunities, as well as better access to successful proposals. All suggestions we should be mindful of – so thanks to them for giving this some thought.

The next stage is for the ICDP community to pull together a “white paper” on the findings of this conference and publication of the keynote reviews and active projects in a special issue of the International Journal of Earth Sciences. Both coming soon! Keep a look out for more information on the UK’s ICDP blog page, website here and via their Twitter  @ICDPdrilling.

Melanie Leng
Twitter @MelJLeng

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Tellus – The Questions by Andy Howard

Previously on Tellus South West…….My last blog recalled our project media launch in early August. Since then, aircraft have been buzzing to and fro across Devon and Cornwall gathering data on the landscape, soils and rocks, and student volunteers have been splashing around in streams collecting sediments and waters for analysis. What have we found out so far?

Preliminary airborne radiometric data shown
at the conference – the audience went quiet….
We set off from a very sunny Nottingham on 30 October, first thing, for the long drive down to the Eden Project Cornwall for the Tellus South West stakeholder conference. The aim of the conference was not only to communicate some of the early results of the surveys, but also to find out exactly what our stakeholders expect from the project, in terms of new data, information and knowledge. In other words, what are the questions that Tellus is expected to answer, and which are the highest priorities?

Fresh from the Tellus Border Conference in Ireland the week before, we knew that the data delivered by Tellus projects can get diverse groups of scientists, professionals and decision-makers  together in the same room who don’t normally talk to each other. How were we doing with Tellus South West? Well, only 3 months into the project, we were already filling the Core conference room at the Eden Project with a diverse collection of ‘ologists’ -  geologists, ecologists, hydrologists, archaeologists and soil scientists (OK, pedologists) and many more. There to listen were reps from the minerals industry, local government, heritage groups, agriculturalists, education, regulators, tourism, small medium enterprises, boards of trade………..What were their needs? More on those in a moment.

And here’s what to expect from the Lidar data,
showing the conference venue ( the doughnut- shaped
building bottom right) at the Eden Project
When we traveled to Cornwall in August we were lucky enough to spot the airborne geophysical survey aircraft and get right underneath its flight path to see what an 80 metre altitude survey looked and sounded like. No such luck this time – the survey plane was in the air but no sightings, so we headed off for our first appointment of the day at BBC South West. In August the project was captured in a great story piece aired on Spotlight South West, all about the airborne survey with some aerial shots and interviews at Newquay airport. This time, we made it onto the studio sofa, with make-up, poppy, the works, for an interview with Rebecca Wills, which went out on the Spotlight evening show. Great publicity, and thanks to Simon Clemison and his team at Spotlight South West for their continued interest and enthusiasm for the project. Then it was onwards to the Eden Project to get set up for the next day’s conference, rounding up a long day’s travelling. There was only one way to finish it, with some good honest Cornish seafood (no garlic allowed, in case it cramps our style for networking on the following day!).

Andrew Bloodworth sums up – is that a pumpkin
themed microphone?
All Hallows’ Eve dawned, and the day of the conference. We’d set up the morning’s programme with some conventional 15 minute presentations,  so that the project partners could inform the users about the data we are delivering and show off some teaser examples, leaving the whole afternoon for some ‘speed dating’ between diverse groups of scientists and stakeholders. The afternoon kicked off with a dozen 5 minute soapbox presentations from data users, highlighting their needs and priorities, followed by a discussion chaired by Iain Stewart,throwing the floor open to everyone to say their piece.

Over-wintering in the northern hemisphere –
the airborne lidar survey team from the British
Antarctic Survey
And say their piece they did. They want data about geology, data about soils, data about minerals, data about stream chemistry, data about ecosystems , data about the landscape, data about nutrients, data about dusts. And more. And soon. As soon as we can deliver it, if we don’t mind (we don’t).

But as the afternoon progressed, more interesting and challenging questions emerged. Questions that require cross-disciplinary, joined up action involving diverse groups of scientist and users. Questions that require researchers to work with users at the sharp end of the value chain, where the data yields real and quantifiable societal and economic outcomes. Questions that not only seek new scientific understanding, but also progress to follow up actions such as new exploration, economic appraisals, risk assessments, planning and development guidance and regulation that will ultimately make a difference.

Iain Stewart and Andy Howard, Tellus South
West Confernce @ The Eden Project 31 October 2013

Yes, it’s still early days with the project, there are still surveys to complete, analyses to finish and data to publish. But we now know the priorities for follow up, and where to focus our efforts for further support and funding. That’s the ‘Tellus The Questions’ conference delivered, now we start work on the ‘Tellus the Answers’ conference for spring 2014. Look out for more details soon……