This week, more than 20,000 earth and space scientists from all over the world are convening in San Francisco for the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Sessions cover all sorts of topics, from social media as a science communication tool to the state of the Arctic.
Unfortunately, the scientific talk summaries on the AGU website are a lot more difficult to directly link to than published papers. But you can find a summary of each talk by going to this page, clicking on “2012 Fall Meeting Scientific Programme” and then searching by the scientist’s name – which we’ve highlighted in the descriptions below.
Of the thousands of talks, here’s a selection that caught our eye.
The many faces of climate change
Sir Bob Watson, Wednesday 5th December 12:30 – 1:30 pm
Bob Watson was until recently the Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). In this twenty minute talk, he outlines his views on the current climate situation. Climate change is becoming a major driver of biodiversity loss, through habitat destruction and coral bleaching, he says. He notes recent research suggesting that for every one degree of temperature rise, ten per cent of species are put at risk of extinction.
Watson argues the world needs to get back on track to mitigate serious climate change. Incentivising renewable policies, carbon capture and storage technology and valuing ecosystems will be key, he says. The full talk can be viewed here.
Is change in the Arctic linked to UK weather?
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released its Arctic Report Card – confirming record-breaking declines in summer sea ice, spring snow cover and surface melt over the Greenland ice sheet. The ice loss could have wider consequences for global weather patterns – a subject under much discussion at AGU this year. For example:
Judah Cohen and colleagues, Thursday 6th December 5:39 – 5:51 pm
Scientists in the US suggest a mechanism by which a warming Arctic could be linked to the trend towards colder winters in Northern hemisphere mid latitudes in the last two decades or so.
James Screen, Thursday 6th December 5:15 – 5:37 pm
Over mainland Europe and the UK, decreasing Arctic ice could be linked to more frequent temperature extremes in summer and winter, according to a comprehensive modelling study by Australian and UK scientists.
“Sometimes you need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind blows”
Dr Jeff Masters, Thursday 6th December 4:25 – 4:45 pm
In a session called “Dissolving Boundaries Between Scientists, Media, and the Public”, Dr Jeff Masters describes his 20-year “odyssey” into communicating the intricacies of global weather to the public, fellow scientists and the media. Masters is a meteorologist and co-founder of the online weather blog Weather Underground. The website, set up as part of his PhD, provides real-time national and local weather forecasts for major cities worldwide, as well as summaries and maps about weather and climate issues worldwide.
Among his top tips for communicating science, Masters includes: Find your own unique voice, be entertaining, don’t be such a scientist, tell stories, earn people’s trust, use colourful graphs and allow your audience to participate.
Black swan cyclones?
Kerry Emanuel and Ning Lin, Tuesday 4th December 1.40 – 1.55 pm
Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology presented modelling on the impacts of extremely rare and highly destructive tropical storms, which they describe as ‘ black swans‘.
Their model, which factors in warmer ocean temperature due to climate change, suggests Tampa Bay in Florida could see storm surges of up to five metres from a black swan storm. In Abu Dhabi, storm surges could reach nine metres, and Darwin, Australia could see ten metre storm surges. To put these storms into perspective, tropical storm Sandy which hit New York last month led to storm surges of 4.3 metres.
Pineapple express storms
F M. Ralph and colleagues, Monday 3rd December 5.15 – 5.30 pm
Researchers from NOAA announced plans to monitor the impacts of torrential downpours from ‘pineapple express‘ storms at AGU. The storms are the result of large rivers in the atmosphere which funnel moisture from the tropics to northerly latitudes.
Such storms can apparently release up to 10 million acre-feet of water as rain – a lot – often causing widespread flooding. With better information about these atmospheric river systems, it may be possible to adjust water stored in dams and reservoirs, to alleviate flooding.
Measuring city emissions
Eric A. Kort and colleagues, Tuesday 4th December 4.15 – 4.30pm
A group of international scientists presented early findings of the Megacities Carbon Project – a new monitoring system to remotely track greenhouse gas concentrations in megacities, rather than relying on estimates of emissions.
The monitoring network uses lasers, balloons and instruments on high-rise rooftops to collect data about greenhouse gas concentrations in cities like Los Angeles and Paris. By modelling the data collected, the system should help scientists to gauge the success of various climate initiatives, and help determine whether cities really are emitting what they say they are.