More science than you shake a stick at! Day 1 at #EGU15

So, where do I begin? Today (well yesterday now) was the first day of talks at the EGU General Assembly. There was no messing around either, with talks beginning at 0830 (Vienna time) and going through until 2000ish. As I hinted to yesterday, I apparently want to see everything according to my personal planner! However, it soon dawned on me that this would not be humanly possible. Therefore, I decided to spread my time over talks relating to Soil System Sciences and Natural Hazards as well as a short course or two. I will aim to briefly give some highlights of my days events, which involved a lot of dashing around, in this blog post. There was simply too much information to share all and keep it succinct; my brain hurts from all the amazing science that I have heard about today!


This is me, and its only Day 1!

Right. Well, my morning started by seeing several talks as part of the session; ‘Statistical, computational and visualisation tools for assessing and communicating soil complexity and variability’. A good example was Tomislav Hengl’s talk, which is available to view as a pdf from his own Google+ site (see here). Tomislav described the R package, GSIF (Global Soil Information Facilties) to which he has co-developed and which may be useful for those of you embarking on geostatistics in your associated soil surveys.

To let you know, speakers get 15 minutes (12 mins for presenting and 3 mins for questions), so it is fairly quick paced!

Following this I dashed over to another session regarding ‘the use of high resolution topography in the geosciences’; primarily talks that I saw were related to the assessment of erosion rates. Poomperm Vardhanabindu, a 1st year PhD student from the University of Liverpool. Poomperm was testing the use of affordable imaging techniques to assess the micro topographic changes due to soil erosion by water, with reference made to its applicability in Thailand. However, of interest was his approach to validating his method, which involved the use of Lego blocks to create a surface and test if the cameras (a Nexus mobile phone, an Apple iPhone 5s and a compact camera) could adequately map the surface once images were uploaded as a set of ASCII files into Autocad software. Lego was chosen as the manufacturing process means that every block is near perfect (within 5 microns), as well their being Lego CAD models available for download. Interestingly, the Nexus mobile phone camera appeared to produce better results than the dedicated camera technology! The next talk that I saw was in the same session and a Defra funded project on monitoring soil erosion given by Miriam Glendell. Interestingly, a Cranfield academic, Prof. Jane Rickson is involved in this project also. The talk also considered cost-effective ways of monitoring the uplands of England and Wales for their susceptibility to erosional processes by creating high resolution digital elevation models (DEMs) of particular catchments. Terrestrial Laser Scanning was undertaken by the British Geological Survey to give a benchmark DEM. From this DEM, methods of using a Canon 600d DSLR camera and a camera mounted to a fixed wing, and a quadcopter Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) were trialled.

At lunchtime, after grabbing a curry from one of the many stands (although a bit pricy!), I attended a short course on the use of SciPy in ArcGIS Pro. Now, I had heard ArcGIS Pro mentioned before, but wasn’t quite aware of its capabilities. For those of you who don’t know, ArcGIS is a Geographical Information System developed by ESRI. ArcGIS Pro is 64 bit, meaning that it has quicker processing capability. Moreover, it also allows the user to view data in 3D and 2D side-by-side – In other versions of the program, (i.e. ArcMap and ArcScene) you would need both to view 2D and 3D data, respectively. To note, I hope to do a separate post in the near future on GIS technology use in soils research, so keep watch for that!

After this, I rushed over to another session regarding Natural Hazards education. There were a great range of talks here, primarily about teaching local people, especially children, about the dangers of natural hazards in their countries. This was achieved through a variety of ways; Matthieu Kervyn showed their board game, KAZAN and how this has been used to educate people, not only about hazards, but also mitigation practices.

Ivan Marchesini then showed us an interesting collaboration between high school students and CNR IPRI, Perugia. This involved the development of software by students to aid the increase of risk perception to landslides and flood events in Italy. The picture below, courtesy of Hazel Gibson shows the disproportionate risk perception of geo-hydrological hazards in Italy compared to actual mortality rates. The students used Mixare, an augmented reality app for mobile platforms to allow the visualisation of where flood and landslide events had occured. They also were using FormHub to create fillable forms in which they could glean crowsourced data on geo-hydrological hazards.


Source: Twitter – @iamhazelgibson

As well as the many talks throughout the day, academic poster presentations also form a large part of the conference. The Soil System Sciences were well presented, alongside the Natural Hazards. Following the talks above, I wandered over to the vast poster hall(s) where as this year is the International Year of Soils, the EGU is helping celebrate this fact. They have put on a wonderful display (see picture below) where a number of soil profiles from around the world are documented with related information boards alongside.

Soil profiles from around the world: Celebrating IYS 2015

Soil profiles from around the world: Celebrating IYS 2015

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Some of the Soil System Sciences poster offerings

Following on the #IYS2015 theme, I then went to see a talk by Professor Pablo Tittonell on the role of soils for food security in developing countries. He opened with the fact that we are eating fossil fuels, relating to the fact that large amounts of energy are required to feed the planet. Alarmingly, to have increased yields by almost double in the last several decades has resulted in;

  • x7 Nitrogen fertiliser application
  • x3 Phosphorous fertiliser application
  • x2 amount of irrigation water

However, often farmers in developing countries cannot afford expensive fertilisers, and simply relying on foreign imports is not reliable as in North America for example, demand is high for foodstuffs which dont all simply enter the food chain (i.e. biofuel production). Prof. Tittonell pointed to a great quote from Justus von Liebig (see picture below). Although, organic matter (often would be sourced from cow manure) is difficult to find in some developing countries. Cows normally only being kept by the richer farmers. Therefore, other sources of organic matter are required. Tittonell explained that Conservation Agriculture and Agroecology was being used to grow shrub-based species amongst fields and crops, which were then reincorporated as organic matter mulch to aid the bolstering of soil quality.

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So, I hope that I have given you a flavour on what my first day at EGU entailed. Today (tuesday) will likely be as hectic and informative. Plus, hopefully I’ll be picking up an award for Cranfield Soil and Agrifood Institute!

Stay tuned for more!

But for now, auf widersehen!

Author: O. Pritchard

Follow tweets throughout the day by @olly_pritchard and @DirtDocs

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