14 December 2010

AGU Fall meeting day 1 round up

Posted by Dave Petley

So here is a round up of a pretty busy first day of the meeting. I started in the Haiti session – I  have already blogged on that. After coffee I moved on to a session on geophysical hazards and social/ecological vulnerabilities. There was some great material presented there, but as is so often the case with these types of sessions it was slightly depressing to realise just how far short we are of getting on top of the issues.

At lunchtime I went to the talk by John Holdren. Others have commented on this already, and I can only echo their thoughts. I recognise that he was talking to a US audience, and thus it was not aimed at me, and I also recognise that this administration has done more for science than any previous presidency. However, there was much to disappoint – in particular the lack of insight (it came over as a long and dull shopping list of projects and initiatives); the poor quality slides; and the poor timekeeping as a kick off.  Indeed I found aspects quite bizarre. First, if the Obama administration is investing so heavily in science, then surely the audience (a community of US research scientists) would already know that? Second, one of the pressing issues of the age is that of geophysical hazards, but as far as I remember there was not one mention of this to an audience of geophysicists, in San Francisco of all places. And finally, the key issue for me is not getting the science done, but in translating that to practice and policy. I would have liked to have a great deal more on this theme, and hence came away disappointed.  I guess I was hoping for insight, and got none.  Maybe it worked much better for US based scientists.

In the afternoon I took a time out for the first session, then went to a session on modelling, predicting and mitigating extreme natural hazards. The highlight was a wonderful presentation on landslide hazard evaluation by the ever impressive Fausto Guzzetti. From there I dashed over to the keynote presentation on geophysical hazards by the chief scientist at the UK Met Office, Julia Slingo, who both entertained and educated the audience. Her insights into the volcanic ash crisis of earlier this year, in which the Met Office played a leading role, were fascinating. I think sone of the mainstream media, and the bulletin boards, would be well served to hear what actually occurred, and why.

The day finished with the AGU social media soirée, which was excellent. I met with a number of people that I feel I know well but have never met. It is nice to see a community of geobloggers developing. We just need to persuade some more to move over to the AGU blogsite now.

I finally staggered back to my hotel (the wine was free after all) at 10 pm, realizing along the way that I had forgotten to have dinner.