December 17, 2010

AGU Wrap-Up

Posted by Evelyn Mervine

San Francisco sunset, December 2010. Picture taken by my friend Kyle.

I am currently in the San Francisco airport waiting to fly back from the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting to my home base in Woods Hole. My flight back to Boston was supposed to leave an hour or so ago, but the flight has now been delayed by several hours due to “severe weather.” The weather didn’t look so bad when my fiance and I left our hotel this morning, but I guess that there are some bad clouds and high winds up where the airplanes fly. Looking outside the airport window now, the fog is producing pretty much white-out conditions.

Oh, well. Hopefully, we’ll be able to rebook our connection in Salt Lake City and make it to Boston sometime late late late this evening. I have the best fiance ever- he flew in from South Africa (about 30 hours of traveling) on Saturday night and left with me for AGU Monday afternoon (another 13 hours or so of travel). He sat patiently through a full day of AGU on Tuesday and partial AGU days on Wednesday and Thursday. Fortunately, since he’s also a geologist his company paid for him to attend AGU as well, so he was able to go off to some interesting sedimentary talks while I met up with colleagues and attended the CO2 sequestration talks which are related to my research. Now that we’re looking at a very long trip home, my fiance is still being very sweet. He’s been standing in line for about 30 minutes waiting to rebook our flight. I definitely have found myself a keeper.

On Wednesday morning at AGU, I presented a poster about my thesis research on dating carbonate alteration products forming in the mantle (ultramafic) section of the Samail Ophiolite in Oman. Formation of these carbonate alteration products is interesting because they naturally remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in solid mineral form. In my thesis, I want to understand how quickly (naturally) these carbonate alteration products form and, after they form, how quickly they erode. My poster session went well, I think. I certainly had plenty of visitors to my poster- I talked for about 3 hours straight before taking a break. I really enjoyed meeting all sorts of scientists interested in my research, including many people who work on carbonate formation in other ultramafic rocks and other environments, such as serpentine mines. 

In addition to attending sessions related to my research, I attended the AGU Sciences Meet Hollywood event, which was FANTASTIC. I’ll probably blog more about this event later, but the speakers were excellent and the room was packed full. Clearly, many scientists are very interested in how science in portrayed on TV and in the movies. Similarly, many Hollywood people are interested in meeting scientists- to “get the science right” as best as possible and also to be inspired by science. As one panelists put it, Hollywood needs some new plot ideas for science fiction movies and what better place to go than real science!  There was much discussion about “story verses science”, reasons to “get the science right” in movies & TV, and  ways for scientists and Hollywood types to interact. I think that everyone really enjoyed this session.

Overall, my first AGU meeting went very well. As I expected, I found the meeting somewhat overwhelming. With about 20,000 scientists and thousands of talks and posters, I was not able to see everything that I wanted to see. I had to choose the most important (relevant to my research) and interesting events, and I had to be okay with not seeing everything that I found interesting. A part of me wishes that I had been able to attend AGU Monday-Friday, but in some ways I’m glad that I only went to AGU for 3 days (really about 2 1/2 days). I was able to pace myself and really focus on the talks and posters that I considered most important. One thing that pleasantly surprised me was how well-organized the AGU meeting was. The meeting worked like a large but well-oiled, well-maintained machine. The conference facilities were very nice, and since many AGU attendees had been to AGU many (often countless) times before, most of the 20,000 attendees knew where they were going and what they were doing and were very helpful with directions.

If I attend AGU for the full week next year, I will be sure to take some time off here and there- I think trying to attend all 5 days of AGU is too much. In addition to talks and posters, there were all kinds of other activities such as lunches, drinks, and dinners with colleagues. I even attended a wedding reception on Thursday evening for two good geologist friends! Even with 20,000 or so attendees, I was surprised at how many people I knew and ran into in the exhibitor hall or on the street or in a poster session. I ran into old friends from undergrad, many friends from grad school, and even some geologists my fiance knew from South Africa! San Francisco, I have to say, is a wonderful city. Despite the risk of earthquakes, I think this is a great place to have an annual conference. I hope to attend many more AGU meetings here. And a geophysicist friend of me explained why AGU is held in earthquake-prone San Francisco every year: the geophysicists are all secretly hoping that there will be a big earthquake so they can run around and observe everything.

Okay, time to see if my fiance has managed to rebook our flights… I hope so!

Update: Looks like we will be spending the night in Salt Lake! Hope that we can find a hotel. I also hope that other AGU-goers have smoother journeys home. Now I guess we can see a little of Salt Lake, which is nice.