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Inspiring the Next Generation of Earth and Space Scientists

Tue, 12/11/2018 - 12:35

A new year is just around the corner. With it comes the promise of new beginnings and opportunities for personal and professional growth. And 2019 is also AGU’s Centennial year—a time for our community to celebrate the scientific advances made in Earth and space science over the past 100 years.  For me, the advent of the Centennial leads me to consider how we can make sure that our science will prosper and contribute to society for the next century.

We must support young scientists and help them to overcome whatever may stand in their way.I believe that to flourish in the years ahead, we must take steps now to expand AGU’s membership, transcend our traditional demographics and cultural boundaries, and create a more diverse and global community. We must support young scientists who are eager to join our ranks and help them to overcome whatever may stand in their way. These young men and women have the potential to become the next generation of leaders in Earth and space science. They will bring innovative ideas and cultural perspectives. They will bring a surge of new energy and scientific expertise to face the great issues of tomorrow—something science and society needs. But only if we are able to open the door for them.

It is imperative that members of AGU commit to developing this next generation by making a personal pledge to invest in and support them. That is why I am asking you to join me in donating to the Austin Endowment for Student Travel Grant Challenge.

Rising to the Challenge

Last October, scientist and AGU Development Board member Jamie Austin issued a challenge to the AGU Earth and space science community. Recognizing the life-changing potential of Fall Meeting, Dr. Austin generously offered to match all donations to the Austin Endowment for Student Travel to AGU’s Fall Meeting up to the amount of $1 million.

Fall Meeting is much more than an annual science meeting. It is the largest annual gathering of international Earth and space scientists in the world, where researchers who span generations and scientific disciplines join together to advance the scientific enterprise. It is a place where a young scientist can hear about the latest work of leading researchers in their field and also present their own work—some for the first time—to their peers. It is a place where lifelong professional connections and relationships, some of which influence their professional careers, are built and strengthened. It is a place where ideas are exchanged that spark new research and where those who want to explore science communications learn about science policy advocacy. It is a place to discover career opportunities and find support. Virtually nowhere else can a young scientist—or, for that matter, a scientist of any age or career stage—experience all of these opportunities in one place.

The expense of Fall Meeting can be prohibitive. As a result, many miss out—and we miss out.However, for young scientists who are still in school or freshly graduated and likely saddled with student debt and/or without a good income, the expense of traveling to and registering for Fall Meeting can be prohibitive. As a result, many miss out—and we miss out.

No doubt there are many worthy organizations and causes that you may be considering for your donations. I ask that you consider the current landscape of the funding for the Earth and space sciences in making your decision about where to give. Historically, science has been viewed through an apolitical lens where it has been valued for its global, far-reaching contributions that benefit humanity. Of late, however, the environment for scientific funding has grown less hospitable, less generous. As this gap in funding has grown even larger, the impacts are particularly far-reaching for young scientists who are at the precipice of entering or remaining in the field of Earth and space sciences.

From Member to Philanthropist

Become a philanthropist who is shaping the very future of our field.Finally, I wish to make a distinction between membership and philanthropy. By donating to the Austin Endowment for Student Travel you transform from a passive transactional state—a member who attends meetings, reads or perhaps contributes to journals or Eos, etc.—to an active state: a philanthropist who is shaping the very future of our field for years to come. You can play an essential role in ensuring the future of our dynamic community.

With your support, we have the opportunity to create a fund of $2 million to support students attending AGU Fall Meetings for years to come. Think of all the good your donation can do. I hope you will join me in meeting this challenge to ensure that those whom we will rely on to contribute to the next century of discovery are poised to join our community.

—Carlos A. Dengo (development@agu.org), Chairman, Development Board, AGU

Editor’s note: This article previously appeared as a From the Prow blog post on 3 December 2018.

The post Inspiring the Next Generation of Earth and Space Scientists appeared first on Eos.

Extinct Megatoothed Shark May Have Been Warm-Blooded

Tue, 12/11/2018 - 12:34

The largest sharks that ever lived, Otodus megalodon, maintained warmer body temperatures than their modern analogues, according to a recent geochemical analysis of fossil shark teeth.

An O. megalodon tooth, 13.7 centimeters long and 11.2 centimeters wide, held in an adult hand. Credit: Tomleetaiwan, CC0 1.0

“This project uses “isotopic fingerprinting” of teeth of megalodon and other marine vertebrates to determine not only their body temperatures but also their dietary behavior and ambient seawater chemistry during the past 15 million years,” Kenshu Shimada, a paleobiology professor at DePaul University in Chicago, Ill., told Eos. Shimada, a member of the team that analyzed the teeth, is working with his group to understand the ancient sharks’ biology and habitat, searching for clues on what drove the creatures to extinction.

Because they were such dominant apex predators, “the extinction of the presumed gigantic predator, O. megalodon, must have been at least in part responsible in shaping the composition of the present-day marine biodiversity,” he explained.

The team presented preliminary results of this research yesterday at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2018 in Washington, D. C.

Megalodon: Hot or Cold?

O. megalodon thrived during the Miocene and Pliocene epochs 23–2.5 million years ago and likely went extinct as glaciers began to dominate the planet around 2 million years ago. Fossils of O. megalodon have been discovered in tropical and temperate coastline and continental shelf regions on every continent except Antarctica. The ancient sharks likely grew up to 20 meters long and may have weighed more than 20,000 kilograms, making it the largest fish that has ever lived.

The sharks’ body temperature and their ability to regulate it may have played a large role in their extinction.One of the largest unanswered questions about this ancient apex predator is whether it was warm-blooded (endothermic) or cold-blooded (ectothermic), said co–principal investigator Michael Griffiths, a geochemist and a professor of environmental science at William Paterson University (WPU) in South River, N.J. The sharks’ body temperature and their ability to regulate it may have played a large role in their extinction, he explained.

“Megalodon thrived in a warm Earth,” Griffiths said. It is possible that “when we went into an ice age, they couldn’t adapt, because they were so large and they would have had to eat a lot of food to sustain their body temperature.”

Moreover, “if O. megalodon were ectothermic, maybe it just couldn’t adapt to the higher latitudes where it was cooler, to chase down its primary food sources,” like whales, he said.

Isotope Clumps in Teeth

To learn more, the team is turning to fossil records to determine whether O. megalodon’s body temperature and source of food were different in the Pliocene compared with the earlier Miocene. Almost all O. megalodon fossils are teeth, and tooth enamel is the most well preserved material. What physiological clues, if any, could it hold?

WPU undergraduate student Allison Neumann is drilling the enamel of an O. megalodon tooth from North Carolina. The enamel is the best-preserved material from the teeth and allows the researchers to compare O. megalodon to their modern extant shark equivalents. Credit: Tim Miller

The answer rests on a relatively new biogeochemical technique called clumped isotope thermometry (CIT). With this technique, the researchers are testing whether isotope ratios in shark teeth can be used as proxies for body temperatures.

CIT pinpoints the concentrations of oxygen-18 (18O) and carbon-13 (13C) isotopes within the carbon dioxide (CO2) of tooth enamel. These two isotopes, which are commonly found in fossilized carbonate material, clump together with strong bonds but are weakly attached to other C and O isotopes. It’s not energetically favorable for heavier CO2—e.g., with 18O, 13C, and a light oxygen isotope—to exist at higher temperatures. So a lower concentration of clumped isotopes in enamel CO2 means that the enamel formed at a higher body temperature. This thermometer is independent of the composition of the water that the shark swam in.

“Clumped isotope thermometry tests for the temperature of the animal,” said Allison Neumann, a WPU undergraduate student and one of the lead researchers on the project. “We can use that, along with seawater temperature, to figure out whether [O. megalodon] really was an endotherm or an ectotherm.”

A New Approach to Megalodon Isotopes A fossil O. megalodon tooth (black) compared with two teeth (white) from the modern great white shark. A centimeter ruler shows the teeth’s different sizes. Credit: Parzi, CC BY-SA 3.0

To test whether the method works, the researchers first calibrated their CIT analysis using teeth from aquarium sharks and wild specimens from areas with temperature records.

“Our study investigates a variety of sharks, including lineages that have modern representatives such as the great white, mako, and sand tiger sharks, as well as a number of bony fish and marine mammal taxa, including whales,” Shimada said. Using teeth from modern sharks as comparative benchmarks was key to compare O. megalodon measurements with those of known endothermic and ectothermic marine vertebrates, he said.

After confirming that CIT accurately measured the body temperatures of modern sharks, the team moved on to O. megalodon teeth. In this, the extinct shark’s size was a distinct advantage, Griffiths explained. One megalodon tooth provides enough enamel for a full CIT measurement, whereas 15­–20 modern shark teeth were needed to provide enough enamel for one measurement, he said.

“Megalodon was quite a bit warmer than its coexisting shark species and other sharks such as great whites.”The preliminary CIT results were very encouraging, the team reported. “The analyses are telling us that megalodon was quite a bit warmer than its coexisting shark species and other sharks such as great whites,” Griffiths said. He stressed that their results were still preliminary and that they require more CIT measurements to be sure. However, “these are sort of the first clues as to what may have led to the extinction of O. megalodon,” he said.

“The geochemistry techniques used are very promising,” said Catalina Pimiento, a postdoctoral fellow at Swansea University in Swansea, Wales, who is studying the paleobiology and paleoecology of sharks. This technique “may overcome the difficulties of other, more traditional isotopic techniques that have failed to inform us on important life history traits of extinct sharks,” said Pimiento, who was not involved with this research.

Painting a Picture of Extinction

Griffiths and his team have only just begun their CIT analysis of O. megalodon teeth. They plan to conduct more CIT analyses to refine their modern shark benchmarks and analyze more Miocene and Pliocene fossils.

The researchers also plan to analyze the fossil teeth using more traditional isotope analyses. For example, a low calcium-44 to calcium-40 ratio suggests a food source that is high in the food chain and could show whether O. megalodon preyed on different animals during different epochs. The ratio of 16O to 18O in a tooth’s carbonates and phosphates would reveal seawater chemistry and temperature, just as it does in corals, sediments, and other paleoclimate archives.

When combined, these biogeochemical techniques could paint a more complete picture of O. megalodon’s last years.

“So far, we have uncovered the potential role of sea level and consequent area loss in the extinction of O. megalodon,” Pimiento said. “This project may provide additional clues on the role of thermoregulation and sea temperature.”

—Kimberly M. S. Cartier (@AstroKimCartier), Staff Writer

The post Extinct Megatoothed Shark May Have Been Warm-Blooded appeared first on Eos.

Neanderthals Likely Ate Rotten Meat

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 22:04

At this very moment, 10 steaks are rotting on a rooftop near the Foggy Bottom Metro in downtown Washington, D. C. The steaks sit in a greenhouse on top of a laboratory building owned by the science and engineering departments of George Washington University. And those steaks belong to anthropologist and doctoral student Kimberly Foecke, who’s been closely monitoring their progress.

Putrefying meat may hold clues to what Neanderthals ate when they roamed Earth from 400,000 to 40,000 years ago.“All the experiments are doing great,” Foecke said. They’ve even added bones and organs to the collection, she said.

The rotting meat is part of a study under way by Foecke to better understand one of our closest relatives: the Neanderthal. Foecke suspects that the putrefying meat may hold clues to what Neanderthals ate when they roamed Earth from 400,000 to 40,000 years ago. And what her research shows may call into question a common proxy used widely in dietary reconstruction in paleoanthropology. Foecke will present a poster on the work at AGU’s Fall Meeting this Friday.

A Not-So-Balanced Diet

Past research has suggested that Neanderthals ate inordinate amounts of meat, so much so that they have been labeled a hypercarnivore, meaning they got more than 70% of their diet from meat. This percentage puts them in the ranks of other meat-loving animals like hyenas and polar bears.

It would be “impossible for a human to survive on a diet like that.”But Foecke is skeptical that Neanderthals truly ate so much meat. Neanderthals were quite similar to humans, Foecke told Eos, noting that it would be “impossible for a human to survive on a diet like that.” Research into the plaque on Neanderthal teeth also suggests that they consumed more plants than previously thought.

The portrait of Neanderthals as meat guzzlers comes in part from chemical analysis of their bones. Bone collagen in Neanderthal skeletons reveals the relative ratio of the stable isotopes of nitrogen, 15N and 14N. Certain foods, like meat, carry higher 15N ratios, and researchers use this chemical fingerprint as a way to determine diet. The higher the 15N is in the bones, the theory goes, the more meat was packed into their diets.

Foecke hypothesized that something else may be driving 15N enrichment in Neanderthals’ bones, however. When meat begins to rot, microbes munch on the proteins in the meat, breaking them down. Because the lighter of the stable isotopes of nitrogen weighs slightly less, microbes can break those proteins down more easily, said Foecke, “leaving the rest of the meat with higher ratios of the heavy isotope of nitrogen.”

Something Rotten This Way Comes

To test her theory, Foecke rotted beef from a local butcher in her parents’ backyard in Maryland in autumn of 2017. For 2 weeks, twelve 1-pound steaks lay out in the elements in series of mesh enclosures to keep out animals.

Foecke sampled the meat every day with a copper coring device, popping out little tubes of the meat for analysis. She then measured the 15N levels in the meat with a mass spectrometer in the same way that researchers test Neanderthals’ bones.

She found that the meat went through two phases, each of which had a distinct effect on the nitrogen signature.

“For the first week, it’s pretty bad,” Foecke said. The meat began to give off a foul stench and turn gray. “It starts to act traditionally like rotting meat,” she explained. “You start to see some maggots forming.”

A fresh, bloody beef steak at the start of the 2017 experiment (left) and the same steak dried out after 2 weeks (right). Holes mark locations of extracted samples. Credit: Kimberly Foecke

When Foecke ran the isotopic analysis, she saw that the chemical composition of the meat was also changing. “Within the first week or so, the 15N levels are increasing at a statistically significant rate,” she explained.

In the second week, however, the outside of the steaks began to resemble “beef jerky,” the smell of rotting flesh diminished, and 15N levels started to decrease again. Foecke said that it’s unclear why the second phase would cause a decrease, which demands further study.

Taken together, said Foecke, “this work is starting to show that we really don’t fully understand all of the potential inputs and processes going on with generating the 15N signal.”

Hypercarnivores or Just Connoisseurs of Rotten Meat?

Hervé Bocherens, a paleobiologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany who was not involved in the research, said that these results point to just another nuance of nitrogen isotopes as a dietary proxy. The idea that Neanderthals are considered hypercarnivores because of their nitrogen isotope signatures “is just wrong, but unfortunately still widespread,” he said

He said that high 15N ratios could be due to the fact that Neanderthals ate prey higher up the food chain, for example. But none of this would matter, he said, if Neanderthals altered their food by aging, cooking, or some other modification. “So far, only the impact of cooking practices has been tested,” Bocherens said. He is looking forward to seeing the results of the present study in full and hopes to be able to take them into account in future work.

“Here I am, doing a dissertation that’s possibly the grossest that’s ever come through our department.”Foecke already has a second batch of steaks putrefying, this time in a greenhouse on top of her campus’s lab building. She’ll watch those for 18 months, mapping out a longer timeline of nitrogen’s ups and downs. Foecke is also investigating how cooking, drying, and other treatments might affect nitrogen signatures in meat.

With many more months of putrefied meat ahead of her, Foecke said that she is unfazed by the work. “Here I am, doing a dissertation that’s possibly the grossest that’s ever come through our department.” Foecke said. And yet, she added, “it actually doesn’t bother me that much. I still enjoy a lovely steak.”

—Jenessa Duncombe (@jenessaduncombe), News Writing and Production Intern

The post Neanderthals Likely Ate Rotten Meat appeared first on Eos.

Illustrating Casual Sexism in Science

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 20:39

Imagine that you’re a man and a principal investigator of a group researching geodynamics. It is a normal day at a conference where you and your team—who happen to be women—are presenting your research at a major international science conference. You’re excited to share your results on your group’s new data assimilation technique.

A man approaches you and asks, “Did you come with your harem?”A man approaches you and asks, “Did you come with your harem?”

How would you respond? For Nicolas Coltice, the principal investigator of a geoscience group focused on studying the state and evolution of Earth’s mantle in a 5-year project funded by the European Research Council (ERC), this is not a hypothetical. This situation actually happened to him at the 2015 European Geosciences Union (EGU) conference when his team consisted of four women.

“A Man’s World.” Credit: Alice Adenis/didthisreallyhappen.net, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Coltice, who was not with his team when the comment was made, had faced this type of comment before. He immediately asked the questioner to explain what he meant, making it clear that the remark was inappropriate.

But when Coltice and his team discussed this and similar events, they decided that more needed to be done.

Their eventual response? To start documenting and sharing such instances of casual sexism in academic environments and in an eye-catching way: through illustrations.

They call their effort Did This Really Happen? to capture the bafflement and sense of surreal that those on the receiving end of casual sexism feel after an incident has just happened.

The name “really represents our attitude when we faced this kind of sexist behaviors,” said Maëlis Arnould, a Ph.D. candidate in ERC’s Augury group and member of the project. “How else would one react at the remark ‘Where is the rest of your harem?’ Even asked as a joke during an international scientific conference?”

A Story Arc

The group initially gave a presentation about casual sexism at the 2016 EGU conference. That poster just had anecdotes and text.

But the project took its current form in 2016 when Alice Adenis joined the Augury group. Adenis, a data scientist, grew up reading her mother’s collection of comics and began making her own when an internship gave her too little time to paint.

With Adenis’s artistic aid, the group turned several of their own experiences into illustrated stories, which they initially posted to their lab’s refrigerator and presented on a conference poster in 2017.

Now, they share the comics through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and archive them on a website. Through the website, readers can also share their stories so that the group can transform them into new illustrations.

“Forever Girls.” Credit: Alice Adenis/didthisreallyhappen.net, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

When the Did This Really Happen? team chooses to illustrate a story, they work together and with the person who submitted it to ensure the “compliance and accuracy of the final comics compared with the initial testimony and message that should be conveyed in the story” and to maintain the desired level of confidentiality, explained Arnould.

Toward Thoughtful Discussion

“Each of our comics raises the question, ‘And you, what would you do in such a situation?’The goal of the project is not to shame individuals but to raise awareness of the issue and promote thoughtful discussion. “Each of our comics raises the question, ‘And you, what would you do in such a situation?’—not only addressed to women but also to men potentially witnessing such a situation,” Arnould explained.

“I love how the drawings can tell a story and how you can see the events happening in front of your eyes,” said Adenis. “Even if the drawings are fixed on the paper.”

Nature Cover.” Credit: Alice Adenis/didthisreallyhappen.net, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The short strips are quicker to read than a blog post and are more likely to inspire reflection, she explained. “We live an era where information must go fast. Reading a small strip is way faster than reading a blog article and can have a much larger impact,” she added.

Virginia Valian, a psychology professor at the City University of New York and director of the Gender Equity Project at Hunter College in New York City, thinks it is good that Did This Really Happen? portrays real events.  But she adds that “these cartoons run the risk of portraying women as helpless victims.”

“I think women often do not know how to respond either to doubts cast on their abilities or praise of their abilities,” Valian continued. “It would be helpful to provide women with possible answers.” She suggests that examples of appropriate responses might be beneficial after each situation.

Valian’s feedback is not an uncommon response, Arnould said. However, she noted that the current goal of the project is to honestly document, rather than offer advice that might be hard to adapt to different circumstances.

“It is important for us to show how such situations have been more or less uncomfortable and perhaps even totally unpleasant, by representing exactly how women reacted in those situations,” said Arnould. The group does not believe that reporting such stories paints women as victims, but rather, their real reactions of shock or hurt feelings serve to denounce the sexist behavior, she added.

Barriers Exposed

The careers of the scientists behind Did This Really Happen? have evolved, and they are now scattered across multiple continents. But they collaborate and spread information about the project when they visit other labs, attend workshops, and present at conferences. Two members of the group, Mélanie Gérault and Maëlis Arnould, will be formally presenting a talk about Did This Really Happen? Tuesday morning at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2018.

“Like anything else in science, we can’t solve a problem if we don’t understand it,” said Tracey Holloway, a cofounder of the Earth Science Women’s Network who is not involved in the project. “I think this comic series is a valuable effort to communicate some of the well-known barriers facing women in science.”

“Conference Classic.” Credit: Alice Adenis/didthisreallyhappen.net, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

You may ask, Can one drawing make a difference? “Our initiative might be a drop in the ocean,” acknowledged Arnould. “But we do truly believe and we do trust that starting from small projects like Did This Really Happen? can eventually lead to more gender equality in science.”

More drawings from the project can be found here.

—Bailey Bedford (baileybedford42@gmail.com; @BBedfordScience), Science Communication Program Graduate Student, University of California, Santa Cruz

The post Illustrating Casual Sexism in Science appeared first on Eos.

Developing Ocean Acidification “Champions” in Congress

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 12:23

Ocean acidification sometimes has been called the “evil twin” of climate change, with the increasing amount of carbon dioxide dissolved in oceans leading to more acidic seawater that is harmful to many kinds of marine life.

However, as Sarah Cooley works to encourage progress in Congress and elsewhere in understanding and dealing with ocean acidification, she tries to keep the issue away from the “partisan divide around action on carbon dioxide” and away from the visceral reaction, pro or con, that she says some people have when they hear the words “climate change.”

“It’s been really gratifying that members of Congress ‘get it,’ no matter the political spectrum they’re on.”Cooley, director of the ocean acidification program for the Ocean Conservancy, says that she and her colleagues have seen significant progress and bipartisan support in Congress for action on ocean acidification over the past several years. She says that much of this progress has resulted from focusing on the human dimension of the impact of acidification and on place-based threats and solutions for coastal communities and their economies while staying rooted in the science and away from “climate partisanship.”

This morning, Cooley is presenting a poster at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2018 about the topic. Her poster offers insight about developing congressional ocean acidification champions: members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle who are willing to take a stance on doing something about ocean acidification.

For example, these champions could be involved by introducing or cosponsoring legislation or supporting increasing appropriation levels for research and monitoring measures, Cooley said. “It’s been really gratifying that members of Congress ‘get it,’ no matter the political spectrum they’re on, because they understand that their communities are fundamentally dependent on healthy oceans and acidification could really disrupt that.”

Taking a Stand

The Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit based in Washington, D. C., counts more than 100 champions in the current 115th Congress. Among them are Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oreg.) and Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.), who in July introduced the Coastal and Ocean Acidification Stressors and Threats Research Act (H.R. 6267), and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who sponsored the Conserving Our Reefs and Livelihoods Act of 2016.

These and other investments in research and monitoring “have cracked open our understanding of the broad-brush implications of acidification.”Members of Congress have also supported appropriations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Acidification Program, whose budget has increased from $6 million in fiscal year (FY) 2013 to $11 million in FY 2018, and for funding the Integrated Ocean Observing System, which received a $35 million appropriation for FY 2018.

These and other investments in research and monitoring “have cracked open our understanding of the broad-brush implications of acidification,” said Cooley, a self-declared “carbon cycle nerd” who has a doctorate in chemical oceanography from the University of Georgia.

“We’re zeroing in on some of the ecosystem implications at a much more detailed level than we were able to do 10 years ago when federal funding streams really began,” she explained.

A Useful Case Study for Political Action

Cooley said although there is also a much better handle on how acidification is progressing in coastal and offshore regions, there is still a long way to go to understanding how the changes in the water translate into impacts on ecosystems and marine species, as well as on human communities.

Despite these challenges, she said that ocean acidification “provides a case study of a way that we can drive forward bipartisan action on an environmental issue.” She added that the ocean acidification issue could even serve as an “on-ramp” for some members of Congress to become involved with broader climate change issues.

For instance, she noted that a number of Congress members who have been involved in the acidification issue went on to become members of the House bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus.

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

The post Developing Ocean Acidification “Champions” in Congress appeared first on Eos.

Outreach Events Engage Queer and Transgender Youth in STEM

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 12:22

A first-of-its-kind program has been bringing college-level experiences in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to queer and transgender high school students. The program, Queer Science, is organized and run by queer and transgender scientists.

“We wanted to give queer and transgender youth a chance to see a future for themselves in the fields of science.”“We wanted to give queer and transgender youth a chance to see a future for themselves in the fields of science, to see people who are older than them who are involved in these fields, and to see some representation that is like them,” said Evan Tyler, a graduate student and outreach coordinator at the Minnesota Institute of Astrophysics in Minneapolis. Tyler helps organize and lead Queer Science events at his institution.

“There really isn’t any other STEM program out there that specifically addresses this identity,” Tyler said. “I would love to see other universities take notice and start to develop this in their own communities.”

Tyler will present a poster about this program today at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2018 in Washington, D. C.

Representation Matters During a Queer Science event in August 2018, high school students participated in a microbiology lab experiment using agar plates. They gathered samples of bacteria from around a classroom, extracted the bacterial DNA, and cultured the samples in petri dishes. Some participants even created designs out of the cultures, such as the symbol seen here. Credit: Julie Johnston

Queer Science started at the University of Minnesota (UMN) in Minneapolis a little under 3 years ago.

“When we first designed it,” Tyler said, “the Queer Science program was a group of transgender and queer scientists, mostly graduate students, that decided that we wanted to invite queer and transgender high school students to come and get a chance to do some hands-on college-level experiments with other queer and transgender scientists as mentors and as role models for them.”

Recent studies have found that STEM students and faculty who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and/or asexual (LGBTQIA) face discrimination, harassment, and assault at rates much higher than their cisgender and heterosexual peers. LGBTQIA students are also less likely to stay in STEM past the undergraduate level, and faculty are less likely to be open about their identity because of these factors.

As a result, scientists with these marginalized identities are underrepresented and not very visible. This lack of visibility can make it difficult for up-and-coming queer and transgender students to envision a future for themselves in STEM, Tyler explained.

“A lot of the time, these students just really want to see a representation of someone like them in front of them. They want to know that we are out there.”Tyler, who researches low-frequency plasma waves in Earth’s radiation belts, experienced those feelings himself during graduate school. “That was one of the reasons that I really wanted to be involved in this program,” he said, “because I’m certain that my experience isn’t unique. If I can ease some of that intimidation for students who are even younger than I was at the time, I would consider that mission accomplished for me.”

“A lot of the time, these students just really want to see a representation of someone like them in front of them,” Tyler said. “They want to know that we are out there. They want to know how accepting the field is to people like them and how you find support in a field where you may be the only representation of your particular identity.”

By and for Queer and Transgender Scientists

Queer Science hosts daylong STEM outreach events each semester. Participants perform hands-on experiments while learning the science behind them.

High school students took part in a plant genetics lab experiment during a Queer Science event in April 2018. During the experiment, the students learned how to extract and purify plant DNA and analyze it to determine the plant’s evolutionary history. Credit: Julie Johnston

At past Queer Science Days, “we have had astrophysics modules, civil engineering, chemistry, biomedicine, genetics, coding,” Tyler explained. “We’re always adding new things and mixing things up.”

“We staff our events completely with other queer or transgender scientists,” Tyler said, “and we’ve unfortunately not yet had a good geosciences module. I would really like to see that field represented, as well as medical science.”

At the fifth Queer Science Day, which took place on 1 December, participants built autonomous robots, learned the building blocks of computer code, synthesized fluorescent dyes, purified DNA, and blew up dissolved metals in balloons.

The robotics and computer programming labs, which were new this year, were very successful, according to Julie Johnston, a graduate student in environmental engineering at UMN and founder and head of Queer Science. “I am so excited to expand into these newer STEM fields since they are so important and distinct from traditional benchtop lab work,” she said. “We need more queers in the tech world.”

Queer Science also hosts college preparation days where organizers help students select and fill out applications, write personal statements, and study for standardized tests.

“We want to support our students to not just envision themselves in STEM but ensure that they make it to their favorite college,” Johnston said.

Steadily Growing

Queer Science Day has seen a more than fivefold increase in participation since it started a little under 3 years ago, which is a big response from such a small subset of the population, Tyler said. Some of the participants have gone on to volunteer as leaders at future events. “They really love this program and want to invest in it,” he said.

“Hopefully we can reach a point where there is less division between our queer identities and inner scientist.”The change in how the local and university communities view queer and transgender students has been slow, Johnston said, but there has still been notable progress since Queer Science began. “Faculty who are supportive are getting better at knowing what authentic support actually looks like, as opposed to claiming allyship without backing it up.” she said.

Tyler, Johnston, and the other organizers hope to add more Queer Science events throughout the year and spread the word of this program to queer and transgender scientists at other institutions. They want others to see their program’s success and begin similar organizations elsewhere.

“There is still a lot of work that needs to be done,” Johnston said, “but hopefully we can reach a point where there is less division between our queer identities and inner scientist.”

—Kimberly M. S. Cartier (@AstroKimCartier), Staff Writer

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Universities Can Lead the Way Supporting Engaged Geoscientists

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 12:21

Geoscientists play a critical role in addressing societal challenges related to natural hazards, climate change, the environment, energy, and resource issues. Many geoscientists who recognize this critical role put their knowledge into action by engaging with local communities and beyond, and we are called upon by public leaders to do more of this work [e.g., Lubchenco et al., 2015].

Engaging with societal challenges requires more than just a one-way transfer of facts.  It necessitates multidirectional dialogue with those outside the research community based on shared values and understanding [Meadow et al., 2015]. Universities benefit from this type of engagement through the rigorous use-inspired research it generates, as well as better community relations, higher-quality teaching, and service learning opportunities.

Unfortunately, at many universities, engagement is still viewed as an optional professional activity, having a lower priority than research, teaching, and university service [Whitmer et al., 2010]. This perception stands in opposition to growing understanding that engagement is a necessary ingredient in actionable science: Researchers cannot and should not craft usable knowledge all on their own [Clark et al., 2016]. Training and encouraging individual geoscientists to engage the public is necessary, but insufficient, to address the critical societal challenges that involve the geosciences.

How Do We Fix This Disconnect?

Universities should play a central role in both bottom-up cultural change and top-down support for public engagement.We suggest something different: Universities should play a central role in both bottom-up cultural change and top-down support for public engagement. Geoscientists are educated in and often employed by universities, and universities can coordinate existing resources and build new capacities to amplify geoscientists’ collective impact.

We recognize that motivating and enabling scientists to create a culture of engagement cannot happen in a vacuum—support and opportunities must come from a university’s institutional and administrative levels. Universities must also evolve to incentivize such engagement.

To fix the disconnect, university-based geoscientists should use faculty and student governance structures to create change that strengthens the culture and formalizes support for public engagement.

What Is “Engagement”?

Public engagement describes “intentional, meaningful interactions that provide opportunities for mutual learning between scientists and members of the public,” according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In other words, engagement includes all of the activities that scientists do to bring their work into the world around them and the ways that scientists do better by learning from people beyond academia.

Engagement activities can include communication with the public, providing input into policy making, citizen science, and research cooperation. Each of the authors has been recognized as a public engagement fellow by the AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute, and we each take our own approaches to engagement based on what works best for our research topics and personal style.

For us, engagement activities include working with national and local parks on environmental monitoring and restoration projects that involve hundreds of volunteers, building relationships with local and state leaders to improve the resilience of climate-sensitive communities, and working with policy makers worldwide to help inform the negotiation and implementation of international treaties to address toxic pollution. We also spend time translating science to state and federal decision-makers and designing research projects in collaboration with stakeholders.

Five Core University Capacities That Support Public Engagement Universities can support their faculty, staff, and students—and advance their missions—by embracing five core capacities to support public engagement. In this way, the university forms the central pillar that enables a swirl of public engagement activities by many members of the university community. Credit: Bethann Garramon Merkle

Universities can bring scientists together in ways that transcend disciplinary boundaries, spawning innovative ideas for tackling societal challenges. Solutions to such problems require integrative, multidisciplinary perspectives, broad collaborations, and strategic engagement with specific public audiences.

We propose that universities develop five core institutional capacities to support public engagement.  These capacities are not unique to geoscience engagement, but they can catalyze transformation when combined and directed at large-scale interdisciplinary challenges:

creating networks of scientists from across disciplines working on public engagement to provide peer-mentoring support and collaboration on existing and new initiatives developing best practices, informed by literature on science communication and outreach, to train, educate, advise, and support faculty and students convening stakeholders to collaborate with academics on projects, events, and engagement strategies toward shared goals (stakeholder groups can include concerned citizens, nongovernmental organizations, industry representatives, and government officials) establishing incentives such as merit pay, workload modifications, and tenure and promotion credit to support developing engagement skills and to recognize high-quality engagement activities facilitating regular evaluation of public engagement activities and processes, using evidence-based approaches to improve the quality of engagement and university support

To build these core institutional capacities, universities could integrate best practices, expertise, and support that may already exist scattered throughout each university, allowing universities to coordinate, leverage, and elevate existing resources. One approach is to create centers with professional public engagement staff that provide a one-stop shop for students, faculty, and staff. However, universities should tailor their approach to their unique needs and contexts.

Effective Engagement Requires Funding, but It Won’t Break the Bank

Universities need to make long-term commitments to engagement, with sustained support from administrators. In addition, students, faculty, staff, alumni, and local communities can work individually and collectively to build a case for why resources for public engagement are critically important.

Building engagement capacity requires resources, but engagement is not a zero-sum game, and resource requirements can be modest. For example, universities can help build partnerships with community groups, making it easier for individual faculty to institute collaborations. They can offer small seed grants to faculty and students who seek to connect to the public. The AGU Centennial Celebrate 100 Grants are a perfect example: Small amounts of money can jump-start engagement activities.

The investment pays off: Universities benefit when their scientists are ambassadors who publicize the return on investment of scientific funding. Scientists can leverage engagement initiatives to pursue meaningful activities with broader impact, and they can build bridges beyond the university to solve problems.

Institutional change does not have to take an all-or-nothing approach—incremental steps can demonstrate the value and success of university investments.

Give Engagement Formal Structure and Support

Systemic change requires supporting and recognizing team-based and long-term efforts that build to significant outcomes.Systemic change requires supporting and recognizing team-based and long-term efforts that build to significant outcomes, not just recognizing a few stellar individuals or events within a university or professional society. To facilitate collective action by many geoscientists, formalized infrastructure supporting engagement must be in place.

For example, universities often have Centers for Teaching and Learning to help faculty and others improve teaching; these centers offer training sessions, provide targeted individual assistance (e.g., evaluating individual teaching efforts by observing classes), and connect faculty to research in education and evaluation. Engagement centers could fulfill similar functions, such as providing training in communications, making connections to experts in policy and law, or helping organize stakeholder engagement workshops.

Geoscience faculty and students can, individually and collectively, push departmental and university administrations for formalized support structures. Department chairs and tenure stream faculty, who have greater access to power within university structures, could lead the charge for institutional change, but all members of the university community should be empowered to advocate for change through departmental committees, student government, and unions.

The National Science Foundation and other funders value public engagement as a “broader impact.” Organizations like the National Alliance for Broader Impacts provide examples of engagement successes that scientists can use as a jumping off point. But networks within institutions can also facilitate idea exchange, local knowledge, and in-person training and support, so that researchers can better maximize engagement efforts.

Rather than being informal and ad hoc, engagement can be prioritized if university administrators create a formal space for ideas to grow. Through such a space, university-based networks can grow as individual scientists across the campus find each other.

The collegial atmosphere has an added benefit: Just like the way research collaborators pool together to discuss a negative result or a failed experiment, universities can support scientists in learning from and responding to engagement attempts that are not always positive.

Lessons Learned from Existing Successes

Building university-based public engagement capacity enables geoscientists to work alongside colleagues from other disciplines, learning from and developing improved practices across a broad range of science-society interactions.

Geosocial scientists can collaborate with policy makers to support smart decision-making in coastal regions like this Maryland wetland. Credit: Ariana Sutton-Grier

Geoscientists already work, in part, within existing models that institutionalize support for public engagement on sustainability challenges [Parris et al., 2016]. Such models include Cooperative Extension, Sea Grant Extension, state water resources research institutes, and climate impact–focused Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) centers. These sustained and successful programs promote evidence-based decision-making, facilitate cogeneration of ideas, and support translation of knowledge into action. They build long-term relationships between university and decision-making communities. Staff and faculty alike are involved with public engagement, the work is financially supported, and engagement is incorporated into merit and promotion metrics.

These programs are shaped by the goals of scientists, communities, and state and regional policy makers. University-based geoscientists could build upon lessons from these existing models to advocate for long-term support across a broader range of issues.

Similarly, over the past several years, AGU has expanded trainings and programs, such as Sharing Science and the Thriving Earth Exchange, to encourage members to engage with communities and decision-makers [Vano et al., 2017]. AGU could also play a role in advancing university initiatives, and university administrators and geoscience faculty and students could work together with AGU on these initiatives. However, professional societies cannot replace all of the core capacities and human power that universities can leverage.

Expected Transformation

New public engagement initiatives should be inherently collaborative and multidisciplinary. In particular, public engagement initiatives could facilitate greater interaction between geoscientists and social scientists, recognizing vital human components within the Earth and environmental challenges facing society.

Societal challenges are too important to leave engagement to individual scientists acting alone or to after-hours efforts.Just as multidisciplinary research collaborations can take extra time to realize their full potential, university structures must recognize that relationship-building and public engagement activities often require patience and careful tending before they bear fruit, particularly when engaging with marginalized communities. Successful and transformative public engagement produces benefits even when it may not generate awards, media coverage, or viral Internet attention. Engagement helps guide research approaches that are sensitive to public needs, and it translates results into knowledge that benefits communities, society, researchers, and academic institutions.

Societal challenges are too important to leave engagement to individual scientists acting alone or to after-hours efforts.  Universities, along with organizations like AGU, need to lead the charge to amplify individual efforts. By developing university capacities to connect, train, support, and reward public engagement, geoscientists can enhance their collective impact in addressing societal challenges.

We invite you to continue the conversation with us at Fall Meeting 2018 session PA13D, “Behind the Scenes on the Front Lines of Science Communication: How Institutions Can Support and Reward Scientists Who Do Public Engagement Work” on Monday afternoon in the poster hall.


The authors are AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellows (2016–2017). M.A.K. received support from Maryland Sea Grant (SA75281760ACL3 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

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AGU Announces Locations for the 2022 and 2024 Fall Meetings

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 00:15

We are pleased to announce that AGU has selected the locations for our 2022 and 2024 Fall Meetings. The 2022 meeting will take place in Chicago, Ill., and the 2024 meeting will take place in Washington, D. C. This completes the plan for meeting locations through 2026.

San Francisco — 2019 San Francisco — 2020 New Orleans — 2021 Chicago — 2022 San Francisco — 2023 Washington, D. C. — 2024 New Orleans — 2025 San Francisco — 2026

Chicago and Washington, D. C., Meet the Needs of AGU and the Science We Advance

Both of these major cities are vibrant and anchored by strong scientific research communities. They offer convenient air travel with frequent flights from all parts of the world as well as AMTRAK service. Both have robust sustainability programs at the convention center and throughout the city, and offer well developed mass transit and plentiful hotels in close proximity to the meeting, as well as countless parks, museums, internationally ranked restaurants, and other exciting amenities.

Taking the Fall Meeting on Tour, and How We Decide Where to Go

Fall Meeting will officially move into a rotation schedule, with San Francisco serving as an anchor city. This means that the meeting location will change on a regular basis.With the announcement of these locations, the Fall Meeting will officially move into a rotation schedule, with San Francisco serving as an anchor city. This means that the meeting location will change on a regular basis, and in doing so will provide opportunities to engage new affiliated groups and science community and policy leaders from across the country and around the world. The locations selected were informed by criteria, needs and preferences provided by the AGU Council, the Board and members, including the following:

the cost of travel to and lodging in the city for attendees; the space and hotels (how we will fit, number of hotel rooms available, whether we can create the best meeting experiences, and whether we can get the space needed at the cost desired); accessibility of transportation within the city and accessibility to get to the city (flights, weather risk, city transportation); proximity of convention center to downtown or areas of interest; amenities in the city (restaurants, entertainment, etc.); sustainability programs in the city, convention center and hotels; and the overall cost of hosting the meeting. 2020 and Beyond

As you may remember, construction disruption caused us to move the meeting from San Francisco in 2017 and 2018. Previously, the meeting had been held in San Francisco every December for more than 40 years. We are very grateful to San Francisco for being such a wonderful host, just as New Orleans was last year. We look forward to returning to both cities regularly.

In addition to looking forward to holding our first Fall Meeting in Chicago in 2022 and hosting a successful return to Washington, D. C., in 2024, we can’t wait to celebrate AGU’s Centennial with you in San Francisco next December. Have a wonderful Fall Meeting!

—Eric Davidson, President, AGU (president@agu.org); and Chris McEntee, Executive Director/CEO, AGU (agu_execdirector@agu.org)

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Measuring the Magnetic Reconnection Rate in the Magnetotail

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 13:14

Magnetic field reconnection is one of the most efficient and important mechanisms for magnetic energy being converted to other forms of energy. It is widely accepted that magnetic field reconnection plays a key role in various eruptive phenomena in solar atmosphere and planetary magnetospheres. The reconnection rate controls the energy release process, and therefore has been studied for decades through observations and simulations.

Nakamura et al. [2018] push these studies a step forward by investigating the event on 11 July 2017, which was the first observed electron diffusion region in the magnetotail by the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission. By combining the results from observational analysis and kinetic simulations, the authors reliably obtained that the normalized reconnection rate is about 0.15–0.2, corresponding to an unnormalized reconnection rate of 2–3 mV/m. The results show strong evidence that the reconnection rate has a close relationship with the amplitudes of geomagnetic disturbances.

Citation: Nakamura, T. K. M., Genestreti, K. J., Liu, Y.‐H., Nakamura, R., Teh, W.‐L., Hasegawa, H., et al. [2018]. Measurement of the magnetic reconnection rate in the Earth’s magnetotail. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 123. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018JA025713

—Yuming Wang, Editor, JGR: Space Physics

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Introducing the New Editor-in-Chief of GRL

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 13:09

We are delighted to announce that Harihar Rajaram, a seasoned AGU journal editor from Johns Hopkins University, will become the next Editor-in-Chief of Geophysical Research Letters. He will officially start on 1 January 2019 but has already begun the transition process. We asked him some questions about his own research interests and his vision for the journal.

What are your own areas of scientific interest?

I am a hydrologist, interested in fluid mechanics and transport processes in earth and environmental systems. My research focuses mostly on mathematical modeling. I am currently involved in a variety of research projects in three broad categories.

First, subsurface energy and environmental problems, including coupled thermal-hydrologic-mechanical-chemical processes in fractured rock, the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, and induced seismicity.

Second, critical zone science, including modeling the evolution of the critical zone and its functioning, and its response to climate change and disturbances.

Interdisciplinary research has helped me to expand my knowledge significantly over the years.Third, glacier and ice sheet hydrology including developing models for subglacial, englacial and supraglacial hydrology.

I really enjoy interdisciplinary research, which has helped me to expand my knowledge and understanding significantly over the years.

What does it mean to you to serve as Editor-in-Chief of Geophysical Research Letters?

I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve as Editor-in-Chief of GRL, a journal that I have followed and admired since my student days. I have served as an editor for Water Resources Research for six years, which has provided me with valuable experience, but GRL is a significantly greater challenge. Unlike most of AGU’s other journals, GRL covers the entire spectrum of geosciences, planetary and space sciences. Overseeing fields which are not my area of expertise will be challenging, but it’s also an exciting opportunity for me to learn more about other disciplines.

GRL provides a forum for rapid dissemination of high-impact journal geoscience research, while maintaining a rigorous and demanding review process that draws upon the highest levels of disciplinary expertise.Another challenge is achieving both speed and quality. GRL provides a forum for rapid dissemination of high-impact journal geoscience research, while maintaining a rigorous and demanding review process that draws upon the highest levels of disciplinary expertise. The quick turnaround time for review and decision requires a team of dedicated editors. Some of the existing GRL editors will be continuing their service, while others are due to rotate off the editorial board and will be replaced. These people give generously of their time and expertise and without their dedication the journal would not have such a high reputation.

How do you plan to take the journal forward in the coming years?

I will build upon and continue the strong tradition of excellence at GRL established by the current and previous editorial teams. The first step is to recruit outstanding scientists to replace outgoing editors, and make sure that the editorial team spans the diverse areas covered by GRL. I will then work with the AGU publications staff and editorial team to further enhance the efficiency of the review process.

Special sections are a great way to showcase emerging research topics, so I will proactively solicit and organize some of these, as well as encourage papers based on exciting geoscience advances, new measurements and observations.

I plan to engage with the community of geoscientists worldwide to build the reputation of GRL.In this role at the helm of a multi-disciplinary journal, I plan to engage with the community of geoscientists worldwide to build the reputation of GRL and expand the reach of AGU. I appreciate the solemn responsibility that comes with this appointment, and I will do my best to serve the geoscience community in the capacity of Editor-in-Chief.

— Harihar Rajaram (hrajara1@jhu.edu), Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University

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Community-Driven Science: Update on the Thriving Earth Exchange

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 13:03

Over the last 5 years, Thriving Earth Exchange has launched more than 80 projects that share three things in common: They use Earth and space science, they make a concrete local impact, and most important, the projects are community driven. Thriving Earth Exchange empowers communities to decide what they want to accomplish and fosters scientific partnerships to help them accomplish their goals.

AGU launched Thriving Earth Exchange as part of a Centennial commitment to leverage our science to benefit humanity.AGU launched Thriving Earth Exchange as part of a Centennial commitment to leverage our science to benefit humanity; however, we’ve found this community-driven approach yields real benefits for our science and scientists as well. Thriving Earth Exchange introduces previously unexplored questions and techniques to our fields. It creates new partnerships and opportunities for AGU and helps our scientists learn novel skills and expand their careers. It helps diversify science through workshops and projects that are led by women and people of color. Thriving Earth Exchange even contributes to public support for investment in science. Eboni Cochran, a community leader who is working with Thriving Earth Exchange to improve air quality in the “Rubbertown” neighborhoods of Louisville, Ky., wrote a letter of support that was read on the floor of U.S. Senate during the 2017 budget debate.

Although all projects are driven by community priorities, three main themes have emerged: reducing the impact of natural hazards, cleaning up pollution, and addressing climate change.

Reducing Natural Hazard Impacts

This nature-based approach to resilience is a common feature of many Thriving Earth Exchange projects.As the number and severity of natural disasters grow, more projects are working to prevent hazards, particularly flooding. As part of AGU’s Fall Meeting 2017 in New Orleans, Thriving Earth Exchange cohosted a tour of the city, which included a visit to one of the city’s new rain gardens. These rain gardens hold water to help keep adjacent neighborhoods from flooding. The gardens are part of a citywide effort to store water until it can flow naturally out of the city. This nature-based approach to resilience is a common feature of many Thriving Earth Exchange projects.

In the Chantilly neighborhood of New Orleans, Thriving Earth Exchange worked with ISeeChange, a locally led citizen science project, to help collect and analyze data and stories about neighborhood flooding. Scientists at the National Weather Service used those data to improve local hydrological forecasts, and Chantilly residents used them to convince the city to enlarge the footprint of a proposed resilience effort to include their neighborhood.

Approximately 1,125 kilometers east, Thriving Earth Exchange helped design a green and flood-resilient city hall in Midway, Ga. The new city hall was the initiative of the mayor, who rallied her city around beautification, efficiency, and improved city services. Students from nearby Savannah State University, working with Thriving Earth Exchange scientists, added ditches to collect rainwater, permeable paving, rain gardens, and cisterns to the city hall site plan. The results included lower operating costs and reduced flooding risk and ensured accessibility during extreme rain events. Upon reviewing the high-quality student work, a local engineering firm certified the drawings for free.

This project highlights the importance of beginning with community priorities. Local climate adaptation was enabled by the mayor’s commitment to safety and reliability and her willingness to explore new strategies to meet those goals.

Cleaning Up Pollution

One of the earliest Thriving Earth Exchange projects tackled air pollution in the northeast corner of Denver. Residents were concerned about spilled chemicals from long-abandoned dry cleaning operations that may have been transported by groundwater and were releasing gases in the basements of local homes. Although the scientific leads on the project designed a testing and mapping program, community leaders insisted the project offer individual residents options for remediation—something the scientists hadn’t focused on. The most efficient remediation option was to ventilate the basement or crawl space in the same way these spaces are ventilated for radon. By combining the testing for dry cleaning chemicals with testing for radon, homeowners became eligible for a program that helped fund radon remediation.

Not only did this eligibility help individual residents respond when tests revealed the presence of dangerous gases, but it led to a better understanding of radon as an environmental justice issue in Denver and the surrounding area. Radon is ubiquitous in Denver, and it is more likely to impact renters, older homeowners who bought their home before radon testing was routine, and low-income residents who cannot afford remediation. As a result of this project, a coalition of scientists and community and business leaders has launched an ambitious program of radon awareness and testing. In their first 6 months they have distributed radon testing kits, hosted 12 community events, and helped 42 homeowners.

One of the key lessons for this project is the importance of focusing on concrete outcomes. The map of the distribution of chemicals and its connection to remediation is what made the project impactful. Thriving Earth Exchange works to focus projects toward action, not just understanding.

Addressing Climate Change

Thriving Earth Exchange is working with communities in the Pamir Mountains, which span the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, to recover traditional ecological calendars. These calendars have been used for centuries to track local conditions, as well as ecological patterns, to adjust agricultural and pastoral practices. Historically, these calendars have been constantly refined and updated on the basis of experience, but they haven’t been used for decades. In some places, the calendars were actively suppressed in favor of larger-scale agricultural planning. Decades of military activity, often by outsiders, have also thwarted traditional agriculture practices.

After recovering the calendars, local communities found them to be out of sync with the environment. The rapidly changing climate, especially in mountainous regions, meant that the cues for planting, harvesting, and pastoral activities no longer matched local conditions. Village leaders are working with climate scientists to update these calendars and then use them to develop climate-resilient agricultural and pastoral practices. Trees and bushes planted and cared for using these updated calendars bore their first fruit earlier this year.

This project highlights the importance of intellectual humility in community-driven projects. Rather than insisting that villagers adopt international climate forecasts based on Western calendars, scientists on the project opted to respectfully contribute observations and data to a far older tradition.

What’s Next

Thriving Earth Exchange envisions a day when community collaboration is as much a part of the toolbox of geoscience as numerical modeling, field work, and long-term monitoring.Thriving Earth Exchange envisions a day when community collaboration is as much a part of the toolbox of geoscience as numerical modeling, field work, and long-term monitoring. To accomplish this, Thriving Earth Exchange and AGU have four goals: increase the number of community science projects, including expanding our international efforts; create more varied ways for scientists and community leaders to be part of community science projects; advance community science as a scholarly enterprise; and increase recognition for community science.

If you are curious about community science, explore opportunities on the Thriving Earth Exchange website, get involved, and share your stories with the team.

—Raj Pandya (rpandya@agu.org), Director, Thriving Earth Exchange, AGU

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AGU Should Support Its Members Who Fly Less

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 13:00

Every day, humanity adds another hundred million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Every day, the prospects for humans and other beings on this beautiful planet get that much worse. Every day, a hot and desperate future closes in around our children a little more tightly.

There is no longer any way to escape the fact that burning fossil fuels causes real harm. From the wildfires of California to the heat-ravaged reefs of the Pacific, the true scope of climate damages is coming into clearer focus every year. As Earth scientists, we have a front-row seat to the unfolding of our grim climate future.

For some of us, a concerted effort to fly less is a critical part of our shift to a lower-carbon lifestyle.For this reason, many of us feel called to reduce our carbon footprint—sometimes dramatically—in an effort to align our actions with the urgency of climate change. For most Earth scientists, as for most other academics, air travel dominates our personal carbon footprint by a significant margin. For some of us, a concerted effort to fly less is a critical part of our shift to a lower-carbon lifestyle.

Our decision to fly less is not an easy choice, and it has consequences both personal and professional. It means fewer conferences, meetings, and field campaigns. Ground travel is slower and often more expensive. We face resistance and sometimes even hostility from colleagues who see us as challenging a comfortable status quo. Family members struggle to understand why we opt out of some far-flung family get-togethers.

Others dismiss our decision to fly less because this alone will not “save the planet.” So why do we bother? First, there is no faster way to contribute to the destruction of our climate than to fly on a regular basis, and we wish to reduce our participation in that harm. Second, frequent flying sends a message to the public that a shift away from fossil fuels is not urgent when, in fact, the opposite is true. With every passing year, an increasing number of Earth scientists arrive at similar conclusions.

AGU could begin by including an estimate of its members’ travel emissions in its greenhouse gas audit.AGU has taken some steps to reduce emissions by, for example, “greening” its administrative building and, as a representative from AGU informed us, beginning an audit of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with its Fall Meeting operations. But thus far, that audit does not include emissions generated by members flying to and from each Fall Meeting, which amount to some 15,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. The time is ripe for AGU to take aim at this far bigger carbon prize, recognizing that this is a complex issue requiring sustained and focused partnership between AGU and its members.

AGU could begin by including an estimate of its members’ travel emissions in its greenhouse gas audit. As a next step, AGU could support members who choose to fly less by accelerating its adoption of technology and policies that would enable remote presentations and participation in its existing meetings. Last, AGU could form a working group to begin a dialogue with its members on the future of virtual participation and to assess, develop, and experiment with alternative, low-carbon meeting models over the next several years.

As the world’s premiere professional organization for Earth and space scientists, AGU has a responsibility—and an opportunity—to take a leading role in developing low-carbon meeting practices that reflect the urgency of mitigating climate change. There is no time to waste.


This opinion piece was prepared by the authors in their personal capacities. The opinions expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not reflect the view of their employers. Peter Kalmus is author of Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution.

—Kim M. Cobb (@coralsncaves), School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta; Peter Kalmus (@ClimateHuman), Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena; and David M. Romps (dromps@protonmail.com; @romps), Department of Earth and Planetary Science, University of California, Berkeley


Editor’s Note: Below is a response to this opinion from AGU.

Thanks to Kim, Peter, and David for raising an important set of issues related to improving the efficiency, sustainability, and value of meetings while lowering their overall carbon footprint. These are not incompatible goals; they can be addressed by improved meeting design, implementing new technologies and science, and offering broader support and viable choices for AGU members regarding all of their travel. AGU hopes to reduce its carbon footprint not just through the design of its new home but also through a change in practice through all its activities. For AGU, this applies to the entire meetings program and to the meetings and travel communities that support AGU events. It also aligns with a broader objective to expand access to our science. Indeed, several open science efforts, some of which are mentioned below, are expanding access to meetings content and worldwide engagement. Reducing the carbon footprint and expanding remote engagement are key elements of AGU’s meetings strategy, as developed by AGU’s Meetings Committee and approved by the Board of Directors and the Council in 2016.

By rotating the meeting through regions around the nation, we enable participation by more members over time.We currently have policies in place that support and measure the use of recycled materials and reduction of printed materials, sustainable food and beverage options, and how much waste we send to landfills. We can and will add estimates of the travel footprint, and we’ll be asking members in our postmeeting survey some basic questions about their own behaviors to further inform our understanding. Sustainability criteria are used to select meeting locations and include whether locations have strong sustainability programs and whether they expand or allow easy attendance by train travel (as is the case this year). Moreover, by rotating the meeting through regions around the nation, we enable participation by more members over time.

As noted in the opinion above, a broad carbon audit of our meetings will begin next week. The audit will be done in cooperation with hotels and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and is designed to inform future actions.

AGU’s meetings strategy includes supporting experiments aimed at an improved remote experience, such as the following:

Expanding the virtual program and the use of technology in oral presentations and posters. Expanding the on-demand program, including the addition of interviews and other engagements outside of sessions. Enabling questions from remote participants in some virtual sessions. Expanding the use of electronic posters. After an initial pilot period, fees were eliminated for these to enable broader participation. In addition, we will soon be exploring remote presentations of electronic posters. Leading the development of a poster and preprint archive, ESSOAr.org, to make posters available online. We will be adding annotations to and commenting on these shortly. Expanding social media use and participation during meetings. Expanding public lectures to reach broader local audiences.

Further expansion of and experimentation with these and other technologies are planned for 2019.

Replicating for virtual participants the full experience of a meeting as large and dynamic as the Fall Meeting is challenging. We’ll be using some of AGU’s smaller meetings for pilot studies on how to best allow for broader remote participation. As we test these technologies, we welcome comments and suggestions from members.

Our science requires visiting Earth and other planets both in person and remotely.Travel in some form will always be a part of Earth and space science. Our science requires visiting Earth and other planets both in person and remotely. Sharing that science in person has been and will likely remain critical for the development of the science and for engaging society. Nonetheless, there is much that can be done to limit travel to and increase the sustainability of AGU meetings. We hope that the efforts described here provide some idea of what AGU is doing to improve our understanding of our meetings footprint, increase the sustainability of our meetings, and enhance the ability of Earth and space scientists to optimize their travel and meetings experiences.

—Brooks Hanson, Executive Vice President, Science, AGU; Lauren Parr, Vice President, Meetings, AGU; and Rick Murnane, Chair, AGU Meetings Committee

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Introducing the New Editor-in-Chief of JGR: Earth Surface

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 12:49

We are delighted to announce that Amy East, a Research Geologist for the United States Geological Survey will become the next Editor-in-Chief of JGR: Earth Surface. She will officially start on 1 January 2019 but has already begun the transition process. We asked her some questions about her own research interests and her vision for the journal.

What are your own areas of scientific interest related to Earth’s surface?

Many and varied, to be honest! Most of my present work focuses on landscape evolution in response to perturbations, such as anthropogenic activity or hydroclimatic changes, whether individual extreme events or change over multi-decadal scales.

At Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha River, Washington. This 64-meter high dam is the largest dam ever intentionally removed. Amy and her colleagues at USGS spent 12 years studying fluvial processes there before, during, and after its removal. Credit: Josh Logan, USGS

I’m very interested in considering the magnitude and time scales of disturbance response in a holistic landscape context. Sorting out whether, and how, these disturbance signals make it into the sedimentary record is also interesting.

Several recent and long-term projects of mine include investigating links among fluvial, aeolian, and hillslope processes in a dryland river corridor, and figuring out how dam-imposed sediment-supply limitation propagates through the whole system.

For the past decade, I’ve also worked to quantify sedimentary and geomorphic responses to large dam removals in gravel-bedded rivers. I especially enjoyed working with a great team of colleagues to synthesize what is known about physical and ecological responses to dam removal.

Previously, I worked extensively on the sedimentary and geochemical record of active margins, focusing especially on arc-continent collision processes and their differential preservation in the geologic record.

What does it mean to you to serve as Editor-in-Chief of JGR: Earth Surface?

It’s a tremendous privilege to serve the Earth-surface-process community in this role. The disciplines that the journal covers have been undergoing almost explosive growth for the past few decades, with rapidly improving techniques and quantitative depth and breadth. JGR: Earth Surface has been at the forefront, publishing rigorous and high-impact scientific advances for 15 years.

The quality of the peer review process is critical to continuing growth and I greatly enjoy working to facilitate and shape that process. Having served as an Associate Editor for JGR: Earth Surface since 2013, and as an Editor for two other publications previously, I’ve discovered how deeply I appreciate the value of excellent peer review and the absolute intellectual integrity it requires from everyone involved. I consider it an honor to lead this journal, particularly at a time when scientific peer review in general is undergoing rapid changes, and as the needs and expectations of the community evolve.

How do you plan to take the journal forward in the coming years?

Authors have many options as to where they may publish, including several excellent journals specializing in Earth-surface processes. I want to ensure that JGR: Earth Surface remains at the top of the list when authors consider where to send their best work. To grow high-quality submissions, we must maintain a highly rigorous review process while imposing a reasonable burden on authors, particularly in terms of timeliness. In this regard especially, I will revise some aspects of our current structure to promote greater efficiency.

I will also work to increase the impact of published papers by making use of AGU’s fora for featuring certain articles, such as Research Spotlights, Editors’ Highlights, and other communication outlets reaching a broad network of Earth scientists.

Like many journals, JGR: Earth Surface is navigating a challenging landscape as the burdens on authors and reviewers have increased. Scientists increasingly require full public access to their publications, need rapid turnaround times for submission and review, and have choices as to whether reviews are publicly available, blind, etc. Despite such challenges, I am encouraged by the breadth and quality of advances occurring in our field and that are being published in JGR: Earth Surface.

I am also strongly encouraged by AGU’s leadership in the effort to increase diversity within scientific publishing. Doing the best possible science requires drawing participants from the largest possible talent pool. As an essential part of moving this journal forward, I am committed to improving representation in the publishing process – authors – reviewers, editors – from a diverse array of scientists.

—Amy East (email: aeast@usgs.gov), Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey

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Recognizing an Architect of the Age of Informatics

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 12:48

It was the summer of 2011, and the Earth Science Information Partners’ (ESIP) meeting had just broken for lunch. Everyone was wandering through the dining area looking for a seat.

Unfortunately for him, Greg Leptoukh chose the empty seat next to me. At the time, I was finishing a Ph.D. in scientific computing and was validating a new method with an atmospheric science application. I had the computing part down but was a little uncertain about the atmospheric physics. Greg was an expert in atmospheric physics.

That was the type of person Greg was—an expert in his field who always had time and support for colleagues and students.For the next 30 minutes Greg patiently listened to my ideas, corrected misunderstandings, and brilliantly suggested new paths to pursue. Greg even invited me to visit him a few months later when he learned I’d be at his institution, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. That was the type of person Greg was—an expert in his field who always had time and support for colleagues and students.

Greg was also a pioneer in informatics: a field that combines computing with specific domains of science. Over the past several decades, computing has become an inextricable part of the Earth and space sciences, leading to significant increases in productivity [Narock and Fox, 2012]. Yet the world of data can be a confusing place. Varying data formats, immense downloads, scientific visualizations, cloud computing, and data science present challenges even for experienced researchers. The field of informatics, with a breadth that encompasses computer science, information technology, human-computer interaction, and statistics, needs a common infrastructure and methodologies that enhance scientific work in the digital age.

Greg embodied the search for that common infrastructure through open collaborations. He embraced a nascent field and inspired others with his passion for evolving issues of data management. Those who capture that same spirit have been honored, each year since his death, with presenting the Leptoukh Lecture at AGU’s Fall Meeting. The lecture gives the geoscience community as a whole the chance to identify and support achievements in computational and data sciences.

Big Ideas for Big Data

Greg recognized early on that the Web could be used to search and analyze distributed heterogeneous data sets. He became one of the principal architects of Giovanni: the Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center’s Interactive Online Visualization and Analysis Infrastructure [Acker and Leptoukh, 2007]. Giovanni seamlessly integrates NASA Earth science satellite data that scientists can access through a Web browser–based interface (an example is shown in Figure 1).

Researchers can use the system to analyze a wide range of phenomena. In the 14 years since its launch, Giovanni has been instrumental in producing over 1,000 scientific papers, such as a study on coral bleaching [Miranda et al., 2013], a study investigating phytoplankton variability [Houliez et al., 2013], and a study on carbon dioxide flux in the northeast Atlantic [Jiang et al., 2013].

Fig. 1. Sample Giovanni visualization showing Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Aqua 11-micrometer nightly sea surface temperature. Credit: NASA/GSFC and the Giovanni team

In 2006 AGU recognized the issues that large-scale computing posed by forming the Earth and Space Science Informatics (ESSI) focus group. ESSI soon became a permanent AGU section, with the ultimate goal of evolving “data systems into knowledge systems that support the range of Earth and space science interests.”

Pushing the Boundaries of Informatics

Greg was an active member of the ESSI community, both at AGU and within the European Geosciences Union, where he researched data quality and reproducible science. Sadly, we lost Greg Leptoukh much too early when he passed away in 2012.

Many of us in the ESSI community wanted to recognize Greg’s scientific contributions and endearing personality, so we approached AGU about dedicating an annual lecture focused on data and computation. The inaugural Leptoukh Lecture was held in December of 2012 at AGU’s Fall Meeting, given by Chris Lynnes, a close friend and colleague at NASA’s Earth Science Data and Information System Project, who offered a remembrance of Greg and his work.

Every year since, AGU attendees have gathered to hear about advances in computation, instrumentation, and data handling, as well the accomplishments of individual scientists. The Leptoukh Lecture “aims to raise awareness of the often-overlooked computational and data advances that enable breakthroughs in science.”

In 2016, Cynthia Chandler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution described her experience with marine ecosystem research data and the challenges and strategies she’s learned about stewardship of large and complex data sets. In 2013, Simon Cox, a geophysicist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, illustrated how informatics can impact fields across the spectrum. The standardization of tools and methodologies he helped develop are now being used across several environmental fields and even air traffic control.

As we contend with the human impacts of climate change, innovations in computational and data science are facilitating adaptation.As we contend with the human impacts of climate change, innovations in computational and data science are facilitating adaptation. Digital tools are helping communities monitor air quality and drought, find available drinking water, and determine habitat vulnerability. Dawn Wright of the Environmental Systems Research Institute presented the notion of digital resilience in her 2015 lecture: If digital tools are to continue helping communities, those tools must be built with the capacity to deal effectively with the threats from rapidly changing environments.

The grand challenges of climate science severely stress our computational infrastructure. New remote sensing and in situ techniques coupled with a desire for ever-greater simulation resolution present significant problems in computation and data handling. In 2014, Leptoukh lecturer Bryan Lawrence of the U.K. National Centre for Atmospheric Science pointed out that the complex worldwide climate simulations projects, Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) and Phase 6 (CMIP6), progressed in large part because of advances in environmental informatics.

These past lectures show the innovation and creativity of the field of informatics and highlight the significant progress being made as Earth and space scientists advance through the digital age.Although some informatics techniques are increasing the quality of the output, advances in data collection technology have increased the quality of the input, leading to the 2017 lecture topic from Kirk Martinez of the University of Southampton. He noted how miniaturization, multisensor integration, and increasingly powerful downlink systems are just a few advances that have contributed significantly to the field of environmental observation networks. Today’s instruments have efficient energy management and can withstand harsh environments and remote locations, such as glaciers. Informatics advances led to the first subglacial sensor probes with custom electronics and protocols. Sensor systems in the mountains of Scotland have demonstrated complete Internet and Web integration. These new data streams are advancing climate change research and have positively affected the domain of cryospheric science.

These past lectures show the innovation and creativity of the field of informatics and highlight the significant progress being made as Earth and space scientists advance through the digital age. In today’s world, issues of data management, large-scale computation, and modeling affect each of AGU’s sections. The Leptoukh Lecture, along with the ESSI section, help foster the solutions to these issues, enabling transparent and reproducible Earth and space science.

Join the Discussion at the 2018 Fall Meeting

At ESIP, where I first met Greg, they have a slogan of “making data matter.” Data do matter, and in this increasingly digital world so too does the technical infrastructure we build on top of them. The Leptoukh Lecture aims to raise the awareness of AGU members of this technical infrastructure and the scientific breakthroughs it has enabled.

One of the exceptional individuals who have contributed to informatics and data science is Ben Evans, associate director of research engagement and initiatives at NCI Australia, who will be presenting the 2018 Leptoukh Lecture. Ben’s presentation, “Evolving Data-Driven Science: The Unprecedented Coherence of Big Data, HPC, and Informatics, and Crossing the Next Chasm,” will address best practices in data management, data quality, and FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) principles.

I hope you’ll join me at Fall Meeting 2018 on Wednesday, 12 December, at 10:20 a.m. to recognize his team’s accomplishments, and I hope you’ll join all of us in ESSI in continuing to recognize computational and data advances that affect the whole of the Union.


The author is indebted to Peter Fox and Mark Parsons of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as well as Karen Moe (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) for several helpful discussions and comments during the writing of this article.

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Self-Guided Tour of the Geology in D. C. Buildings

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 12:41

Washington, D. C., is much more than the seat of federal power. The city is the home of funky go-go music, the spiffed up hot dog known as a half-smoke, and striking architecture that hides geological gems for any curious Earth scientist.

In between Fall Meeting sessions, you can wander the National Mall to visit museums of our nation’s history (the most direct route from the convention center to the Mall is about 1.8 kilometers, or 1.1 miles, southward along 9th Street NW). But if you keep your eyes open, you can also take a tour of the “accidental museum” of fossils that are hiding in plain sight in buildings all around the city.

Here we’ve planned out a 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) walking tour from west to east along the National Mall (to save your feet for trekking through the convention center, you might want to rent a Bikeshare bike). You can even use our handy AGU Fall Meeting Google Map, where we’ve included a map layer with these tour stops. At the end of your tour, you’ll have a chance to carry your science past the walls of the convention center and into the halls of Congress.

But all along the way, you’ll have a chance to see how many earthly treasures aren’t preserved in museums at all. Like any other geologic feature, their beauty and secret histories are hiding in plain sight—right here in our urban landscape.

Stop 1: Vietnam Veterans Memorial A view of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The reflective surface is made from highly polished ultramafic gabbro. Credit: Lily Strelich

Our tour begins on the National Mall just south of Constitution Avenue NW, between 21st and 22nd Streets (about 3.5 kilometers, or 2.2 miles, southwest of the convention center), a short distance northeast of the white marble Lincoln Memorial. Here you’ll find the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a tribute to soldiers killed and missing in action between 1955 and 1975.

Maya Lin’s moving design is constructed from a highly polished, ultramafic gabbro. The stone was imported from Bengaluru, chosen for its intense, somber color. Lore has it that there was a closer source for dark gabbro in Canada, but the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund chose to forgo that source.

The reason? Designers didn’t want to use rock from a country that accepted American conscientious objectors.

Stop 2: Lockkeeper’s House The Lockkeeper’s House (left), built from local Potomac bluestone, was once the southernmost reach of the C&O Canal system, used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to bring construction materials into the city. Deformed pebbles in a block of Potomac bluestone used to build the Lockkeeper’s House (right). Credits: Lily Strelich

Walk eastward along the Reflecting Pool past the World War II Memorial, then turn north toward the intersection of Constitution Avenue and 17th Street to see the Lockkeeper’s House, which used to mark the end of the C&O Canal system, which was used between 1830 and 1924 to transport many of the interesting stones you can now see in buildings all over the city.

The house is built with a variety of schists and gneisses known as Potomac bluestone, the official rock of D. C. Get up close to search for tiny garnets and deformed quartz pebbles.

Stop 3: Sykesville Formation A Sykesville Formation boulder: metamorphosed greywacke studded with pebbles and cobbles. Credit: Lily Strelich

Walk out the front door of the Lockkeeper’s House, and you will see a small boulder in the grass, marked with a plaque describing the extent of the C&O Canal. This is a piece of the local Sykesville Formation, metamorphosed greywacke with big pebbles and cobbles.

The rocks are a mélange related to subduction that was capped by the first of the mountain-building events that formed the Appalachians. Take a side tour through Rock Creek Park (6.6 kilometers north) or Theodore Roosevelt Island (1.7 kilometers west) to see where else this formation appears.

Stop 4: Capitol Gatehouses The Capitol gatehouse (left) at the corner of 15th and Constitution Avenue was constructed from the same Aquia Creek sandstone as the White House. Visible cross-bedding in one of the Capitol gateposts at the intersection of 15th and Constitution Avenue (right). Credits: Lily Strelich

Diagonally across the intersection of Constitution Avenue and 17th Street NW is one of two Capitol gatehouses. The other is at 15th and Constitution, which still features the tall rectangular gateposts that secured fencing to keep grazing animals away from federal buildings. All of these structures are built from local Aquia Creek sandstone, the same stone used to build the White House.

The Capitol gatehouses and gateposts haven’t enjoyed the same constant upkeep as the White House, and you can see how they’ve held up to weathering—terribly! Look closer for delicate cross-bedding and rusty halos around oxidizing pebbles.

Stop 5: Second Division Memorial The Second Division Memorial, honoring soldiers who fought in World War I, built from 3.5-billion-year-old Morton gneiss. Credit: Lily Strelich

Looking north from the gatehouse toward the White House Ellipse, you’ll see a pink stone monument, featuring a sculpture of a hand holding a flaming golden sword. This monument honors soldiers of the Second Infantry Division who fought in World War I, but it has a history of its own: The base is 3.5-billion-year-old Morton gneiss from Minnesota. Get closer to spot flowing bands of mafic minerals and pink feldspar.

The distinct color change about one third of the way up the Washington Monument marks the transition in marble sourcing around the time of the Civil War. Credit: Lily Strelich Stop 6: Washington Monument

Turn to face southeast and look up to see this D. C. landmark. Note the color transition about one third of the way up the obelisk.

The bottom portion was constructed using Texas marble (from the town of Texas, Md.), but funding ran out around 1854, and the outbreak of the Civil War delayed construction. When it resumed, the original marble was no longer available, so the monument was completed with Cockeysville marble, also from Maryland.

Like an unconformity, the transition from dark to light stone is a kind of geologic boundary: a major event in human history preserved in the rock record.




Stop 7: Smithsonian Castle The Smithsonian Castle is built from Seneca red sandstone, also found in other distinctive buildings in Washington, D. C. Credit: Lily Strelich

Looking farther southeast, you’ll see the Norman-style architecture and red towers of the Smithsonian Castle. The headquarters of the Smithsonian Institution is composed of Seneca red sandstone, quarried roughly 32 kilometers (20 miles) north of D. C. and brought here on the C&O Canal. The rich color is a product of oxidation.

If you want to see more of the Seneca red sandstone, look for it in the stately brownstones around Dupont Circle (about 4 kilometers to the northwest). If you’re lucky enough to get a tour of the Capitol Building, you can see brightly polished samples in the floor of the Rotunda.

A close-up view of a nautiloid in the Tennessee limestone flooring in the National Gallery of Art (ruler for scale). Credit: Lily Strelich Stop 8: National Gallery of Art (West Wing)

Walk east along the Mall to 7th Street NW to reach the National Gallery of Art. Enter the West Wing from the Mall side (which faces Madison Drive) and head left toward the 13th–16th century Italian paintings.

The border of these rooms is made of Tennessee limestone, featuring nautiloids and bryozoans. Keep your eyes sharp as you continue; the floor is covered with fossil masterpieces.



Stop 9: National Museum of the American Indian The limestone facade of the National Museum of the American Indian (left). A close-up of fossiliferous worm burrows (right) in the building blocks of the National Museum of the American Indian. Credits: Lily Strelich

Walk southeast to 4th Street and Jefferson Drive to reach this relatively new addition to the city’s collection of museums. The museum strikes a unique profile next to the brutalist and neoclassical architecture of the other museums. On a sunny day, its buff facade catches the light like the cliffs of the American Southwest.

Look closely to discover trace fossils and fossilized worm burrows in the Kasota limestone of the lower panels. And if you’re hungry, this is where to stop for lunch: The cafeteria serves the cuisine of indigenous people from every region of the United States.

Stop 10: Capitol Reflecting Pool A closer look at fossiliferous Indiana limestone along the rim of the Capitol Reflecting Pool (ruler for scale). Credit: Lily Strelich

Continue heading toward the Capitol and pause to admire the edge of the Reflecting Pool. Like many of the federal buildings in the neighborhood, it’s constructed of fossiliferous Indiana limestone. Constant weathering reveals tiny shells and exoskeletons in beautiful high relief.

Stop 11: Rayburn House Office Building A close-up of a crinoid joint in gray limestone in the Rayburn House Office Building (ruler for scale). Credit: Lily Strelich

While you’re in D. C. to share your science with other AGU members, why not share your expertise with your congressional representative? A short walk eastward along Independence Avenue will bring you to the Rayburn Building, where many of the members of the House of Representatives have their offices.

Most offices are happy to meet with constituents. Afterward, pop into any of the Rayburn bathrooms to take a look at the gray limestone lining the walls and stall dividers to see stylolites, crinoids, and a variety of trace fossils.

The Geoscapes of Buildings

These are just a few places where you can see the evidence of geologic history preserved on a human scale in Washington, D. C. You can also look more closely for fossils in architecture around the city, spot other building stones at popular sites, or stray farther afield on local hikes to see D. C.’s building stones in situ (thanks to Callan Bentley and Ken Rasmussen for sharing their expertise).

From human wars to fossil remnants from ancient seas, the city’s buildings and monuments hold the hidden echoes of Earth’s history. What will you discover?

—Lily Strelich (lstrelich@agu.org; @lilystrelich), Freelance Writer

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White House Releases STEM Education Strategy

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 20:20

A new White House strategy for improving science education is receiving high grades for its emphasis on inclusion, diversity, and workforce development.

The 5-year strategy for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education released on Tuesday sets a vision “where all Americans will have lifelong access to high-quality STEM education and the United States will be the global leader in STEM literacy, innovation, and employment.”

The strategy calls for building a strong foundation, equal access to  education opportunities, and preparing the “STEM workforce of the future.”To reach that vision, the strategy includes three main goals. First, it calls for building a strong foundation for all Americans to gain STEM literacy, so that they can be better able to handle the rapid pace of technological change and be “better prepared to participate in civil society.” The strategy also calls for equal access to STEM education opportunities across the country for a more diverse and inclusive STEM “ecosystem” and for preparing the “STEM workforce of the future.”

The 36-page strategy is laid out in Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education, which was prepared by the Committee on STEM Education of the White House’s National Science and Technology Council. It follows and covers much of the same ground as a 143-page STEM education strategic plan issued in 2013 by the Obama administration, and it was issued in response to requirements of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010.

The new document incorporates four approaches to meeting its goals, including developing and strengthening strategic STEM partnerships, engaging students where various disciplines converge, and building computational literacy. A fourth approach, to operate with transparency and accountability, calls for developing a federal implementation plan and tracking progress by federal agencies in meeting the strategy’s goals.

In addition, the strategy also hopes to serve as an inspiration for state and local STEM education efforts. The document states that “beyond guiding the Federal agency actions over the next five years, [the strategy] is intended to serve as a ‘North Star’ for the STEM community as it charts a course for collective success.”

White House Rollout

At a White House event to roll out the strategy, Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president for technology policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), called it “a milestone for the nation.” He said that despite some success in the past regarding STEM education, “we are not yet where we need to be, and in order to produce a wave of homegrown STEM talent capable of taking on the complex challenges of our time, we need a lifelong approach to skill building.” Kratsios is cochair of the Committee on STEM Education along with NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine and National Science Foundation (NSF) director France Córdova.

“Other world powers have noticed the American connection between STEM and prosperity, and they are working to catch up.”Córdova said the report highlights the need for the United States to maintain its leadership in STEM, which has driven the nation’s economic development, national security, and job growth. “Other world powers have noticed the American connection between STEM and prosperity, and they are working to catch up,” Córdova said. “China, India, and others are in a race to build scientific enterprises that can match ours. That race is largely one for talent, and our lead is slipping.”

She continued, “Our workforce has been growing steadily. In contrast, some of our competitors have been growing explosively.” A 7 February statement by the U.S. National Science Board indicates that if current trends continue, the board “expects China to pass the United States in [research and development] investments by the end of this year.”

Córdova also focused on the inclusiveness aspect of the strategy. “A critical part of the plan is harnessing one of our nation’s greatest strengths: its diversity. We are unique in our ability to bring new people and new ideas to the activities that will propel this country forward.”

At the White House event, several agencies, including NSF, announced some specific commitments to supporting the White House strategy. Among the commitments is expanding NSF’s program to broaden participation and diversity in STEM, which is known as INCLUDES, to other federal agencies. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s acting director Tim Gallaudet also outlined some specific STEM commitments, such as ocean exploration and marine sanctuary education outreach, scholarships and fellowships, and support for the National Ocean Sciences Bowl high school competition.

Investing in the Next Generation

“This today is about a strategy for investing in the next generation.”Speaking at the rollout, NASA administrator Bridenstine said that the agency’s achievements—including the dramatic Apollo missions and this week’s arrival of NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft at asteroid Bennu—are due to investments in STEM education. “These stunning achievements are happening really for one reason: because this country has made investments into its next generation, going back in time,” he said. “This today is about a strategy for investing in the next generation. NASA is going to continue to have these stunning achievements, but not if we don’t have that next generation coming behind.”

Bridenstine also put the need for STEM education into a national security context, stating that “the balance of power on Earth depends on who controls the technology, who has the most advanced technology.”

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, cochair of the federal interagency Committee on STEM Education, speaks during an event at the White House on Tuesday about NASA’s commitments to the White House–led strategic plan that focuses on strengthening STEM education. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Bridenstine elaborated to Eos on the connection of STEM to national security. “When you think about national power, technology is a big piece of it. Science is a big part of it,” he said. “When you think about national security, it means everything from economics all the way to national defense. We’re not going to be competitive economically unless we have that next generation of scientists and engineers advancing technologies that will improve the human condition. That’s our goal as a country: to be as strong as we can possibly be economically and as prepared as we can be for the future.”

Bridenstine told Eos that he is optimistic that the strategy can make a difference in improving STEM diversity and inclusiveness. “We can’t turn this on a dime, but we have to start today making sure that young folks in those underserved communities are preparing themselves for the future. That’s really what this STEM report is all about,” he said.

An Equity Issue

The roadblock to STEM inclusiveness “has been a reluctance to recognize that the ecosystem does have to be expanded, that we can’t get there with just the suburbs alone.”At the event, Vince Bertram, president and CEO of Project Lead the Way, an Indianapolis, Ind.–based education organization, told Eos that the report helps to even the scales. “It really is an equity issue in ensuring that all students have access to high-quality STEM education,” he said. It’s also “a call to action around being inclusive and making sure that underrepresented students are no longer underrepresented,” said Bertram, a member of the interagency STEM Education Advisory Panel.

The roadblock to STEM inclusiveness “has been a reluctance to recognize that the ecosystem does have to be expanded, that we can’t get there with just the suburbs alone,” Larry Robinson, president of Florida A&M University and a STEM Education Advisory Panel member, told Eos. To compete with other nations such as China and India, “it’s going to take finding and developing talent throughout this great nation,” he said. “There are a lot of communities and individuals who haven’t been duly considered in that process.”

Sending a Message Across the Political Spectrum David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, at the White House STEM education rollout. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association and vice-chair of the STEM Education Advisory Panel, told Eos that the new strategy “is a real accomplishment.” He said that the strategy highlights the importance of having a literate citizenry. The strategy leads with the knowledge that you have to understand [STEM] just to be a functioning citizen. And it assumes that that applies to every citizen.”

He also praised the report for dealing with equity and diversity issues “head-on, instead of just having [them] around in the margins,” and for tracking agency commitments to advancing STEM education.

Evans said he hopes that this strategy can help to counter an antiscience climate that he says is present across the political spectrum and includes antiscience stances on climate change, evolution, and genetically modified organisms, among other topics. The fact that this administration “has come together and put a strong emphasis on STEM education sends a message across the political spectrum that says [STEM education] is actually important and we need to pay attention to it,” he said. “The fact that the report came out from this administration may actually provide a little more weight than if it had come out from an administration perceived to be more science friendly.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

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Improving Retrievals for Partially Cloudy Pixels

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 12:27

Clear-sky contamination, where a pixel is only partially cloudy, is a challenging and long-standing issue when estimating cloud properties from satellite observations. Werner et al. [2018] demonstrate that if a pixel includes contributions from a darker surface the clouds appear thinner, while seemingly containing fewer and larger water droplets. However, many satellite instruments include a single channel with a higher horizontal resolution. The authors show that these observations can be used to estimate the different contributions from both the cloud and the surface within a pixel. As a result, only the cloudy part of a pixel is used to derive cloud properties. The techniques introduced in this study are validated for different satellite sensors, cloud types and observational conditions. These findings address common concerns about the quality of satellite observations over complex cloud fields and will greatly increase the reliability of the estimated cloud properties.

Citation: Werner, F., Zhang, Z., Wind, G., Miller, D. J., Platnick, S., & Di Girolamo, L. [2018]. Improving cloud optical property retrievals for partly cloudy pixels using coincident higher‐resolution single band measurements: A feasibility study using ASTER observations. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 123. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018JD028902

—Zhanqing Li, Editor, JGR: Atmospheres

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Plasma Activity Around Sunspots May Foreshadow Solar Storms

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 12:27

At some point in late 2018, the Parker Solar Probe will begin its first orbit around the Sun. The probe, which launched in August 2018, will fly through the Sun’s corona and maneuver closer to the star than any spacecraft has before.

The probe is venturing to the Sun to help scientists understand solar storms and space weather. These cosmic phenomena stem from magnetic fluctuations on the Sun’s surface and wreak havoc on Earth’s magnetic field. The storms impact agriculture, military activity, navigation technology, the electrical grid, and many other industrial sectors. Accurately predicting these events could help stave off the worst impacts of solar storms—and new research suggests there may be a way to do just that.

Images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory capture blasts of plasma that emanate from the Sun. The colored “coronal loops” shown here trace out the magnetic field lines on the Sun’s surface. The black and white features represent magnetic flux at their foot points bursting out from the solar interior. Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory/HMI/AIA

In a new study, Attie et al. describe a series of observations captured from 1 to 3 September 2017 that foreshadowed heightened solar and space weather activity. Looking in solar active region AR12673, the researchers noticed disturbances to the moat flow surrounding the region’s main sunspot several hours before the telltale magnetic flux that spawns solar storms. The moat flow is an outward flow of plasma that encircles a sunspot and forms a sooty shadow around its darkened core: The flow moves away from the center of the sunspot, like pancake batter expanding and flattening on a frying pan.

Using data from the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager on board the Solar Dynamics Observatory and an automated algorithm applied for the first time, the researchers reported breaks in the moat boundary as its radius expanded prior to magnetic fluctuations around the sunspot. In some local instances, the moat radius expanded by 20% to 35%. The expanding moat boundary was also accompanied by a reduction in the velocity of escaping plasma. In the study’s focal zone, the changes to the moat boundary occurred between 2 and 12 hours before the magnetic disturbances.

These promising—but still exploratory—findings suggest that the topology of the moat may serve as a compass that points to regions of emerging magnetic flux. The authors were keen to note that they examined only one active region and that their hypothesis is still speculative. Nevertheless, the findings offer a new avenue of inquiry and may point to novel analyses of the Parker Solar Probe data. (Space Weather, doi.org/10.1029/2018SW001939, 2018)

—Aaron Sidder, Freelance Writer

The post Plasma Activity Around Sunspots May Foreshadow Solar Storms appeared first on Eos.

Tracing the Path of Carbon in North America

Tue, 12/04/2018 - 12:33

The same day that the National Climate Assessment was released last month, a different report was quietly released by its side: the Second State of the Carbon Cycle Report. The report tracks carbon as it moves through ecosystems, from forests to cities to coastal waters and more, and the report serves as the most comprehensive evaluation of carbon cycle science in North America for the past decade.

“Carbon is the basis of life on Earth,” Gyami Shrestha, director of the U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Program and an editor of the report, told Eos. “When it binds with oxygen, hydrogen and nutrients, it creates the basis of all living beings on Earth, and it’s essential for human activities.”

“It’s important to know how we are impacting Earth, and how the carbon cycle is impacting Earth.”Additionally, said Shrestha, humans are affecting the carbon cycle by burning fossil fuels, and the report seeks to pinpoint humans’ fingerprint in the present and in years to come.

“Carbon is very critical in regulating climate,” Shrestha said. “It’s important to know how we are impacting Earth, and how the carbon cycle is impacting Earth.”

The report, the second iteration published by the intergovernmental U.S. Global Change Research Program, includes research since 2007 across the United States, Mexico, and Canada. More than 200 scientists from across research institutions, national laboratories, government agencies, universities, and the private sector served as authors, pulling from research spanning more than 3,000 publications. The result is a comprehensive assessment of carbon cycling in land, air, and water in North America.

Here are some of the main findings from the more than 900-page report:

Since the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide (CO2) has increased in our atmosphere by 40%. Methane concentrations have skyrocketed in the same time period, increasing by 160% in our atmosphere. North America reduced its global fossil fuel emissions from 24% to 17% in the time span between 2004 and 2013. Industries switching energy sources to natural gas instead of coal and improvements in vehicle efficiency largely explain the drop, as does the increase in emissions from other continents. Forests, grasslands, and other land ecosystems have been sucking up carbon to the tune of 600–700 teragrams of carbon per year in North America (for scale, that’s about a third of the continent’s annual fossil fuel emissions). The data on how much carbon our coastal waters take in and lock away still have large uncertainties. But researchers did highlight how much gets absorbed by certain ecosystems, such as tidal wetlands and estuaries, which suck up 17 teragrams of carbon per year and bury the majority in their sediments. Although methane continues to build up in our skies globally, North America is not increasing its emission rates, even though it has been amping up natural gas use. Cutting emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in North America by 80% of 2005 levels will cost $1–4 trillion from 2015 to 2050. The number may pale in comparison to how much climate damage could cost in the future. By 2050, for instance, the bill for climate change damages may amount to $170–206 billion in that year alone. Urban areas in North America burp out the most carbon of any locations, yet those sources are among the hardest to track. Frozen soil in the Arctic is melting and could release 5%–15% of its carbon stores by the end of this century. The waters off Oahu, the Aleutian Islands, and the Gulf of Maine are acidifying, and the low pH is already altering ecosystems.

The report sees some paths forward: “Recently, many U.S. states, led by their governors, have made state-level commitments to reduce GHG emissions,” the authors wrote in the report’s executive summary.

In addition, scientists should work toward resolving open questions, including how CO2 feedbacks could tweak terrestrial ecosystems and how humans are precisely shaking up the carbon cycle. More research, says the report, is yet to come.

“The U.S. has been able to decrease its emissions. But it’s not been enough.”Still, the authors behind the fourth edition of the National Climate Assessment (NCA4) wrote in Eos that current global and regional efforts to mitigate the causes of climate change are not drastic enough to avoid “substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades.”

“Instead, more immediate and substantial global greenhouse gas emissions reductions and more regional adaptation efforts would be needed to avoid the most severe consequences in the long term,” the NCA4 authors wrote.

Shrestha agrees, reminding us that the United States contributes the majority of emissions for North America.

“The U.S. has been able to decrease its emissions,” Shrestha said of the past decade. “But it’s not been enough.”

—Jenessa Duncombe (@jenessaduncombe), News Writing and Production Intern

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Hello, Goodbye: First Interplanetary CubeSats Zip Past Mars

Tue, 12/04/2018 - 12:33

Mars was rapidly receding into the distance as NASA’s Mars Cube One B (MarCO-B) took this image of one of its own solar panels and the Red Planet. Last week, MarCO-B, nicknamed WALL-E, and its twin CubeSat MarCO-A, nicknamed EVE, successfully completed a 7-month journey to Mars alongside NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander. WALL-E turned back to Mars after its flyby and captured this image at a distance of 7,600 kilometers from the planet.

EVE and WALL-E, which each measure just 24.3 by 11.8 centimeters, are the first CubeSats to travel to another planet. The two spacecraft fulfilled their mission goals on 26 November when they transmitted data back to Earth during InSight’s descent and signaled the lander’s safe arrival on the Martian surface. In addition, WALL-E took a series of flyby images, and EVE transmitted radio signals through Mars’s upper atmosphere to help scientists better understand the atmosphere’s interference.

MarCO and InSight launched on 5 May 2018 aboard the same rocket. InSight will conduct a 708-sol (roughly 2-Earth-year) mission studying Mars’s seismology, tectonics, heat transport, and interior structure. The MarCO CubeSats demonstrated that small, affordable satellites can participate in high-quality space missions and may help us explore space in new ways, mission scientists said in a statement.

—Kimberly M. S. Cartier (@AstroKimCartier), Staff Writer

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