14 December 2010

AGU, Day 2

Posted by Callan Bentley

Man, this meeting is intense. There’s so much going on all the time that for every session or talk you commit to, you’re missing literally dozens of others. This is kind of like going to the library and picking out a book, knowing that there are many other books you’re not reading — but with the exception that every 20 minutes, the old choices are gone, and they’re replaced with another several dozen options. If the library evaporated every 20 minutes and re-congealed into hundreds of new books, that would give some of the flavor. And the posters! There are so many posters. My own back-of-the-envelope calculations (based on a 2 m long by 1 m tall individual poster area), coupled with a tally of the total number of walls (81 full walls, each double-sided and with 12 to 16 poster slots per side, plus 4 partial walls) suggest that there is ~4.5 km of available lateral poster space. That, my friends, is a lot. And they turn over completely every day… thankfully not every 20 minutes, but still, you can’t dawdle. See ’em while you can.

I went to sessions today on submarine landslides (very cool: a lot of different approaches, ranging from computer modeling to a physical model where a batch of gravel was dumped into a wave tank, to seismic imaging of actual submarine landslide deposits in the deep sea), geoengineering (title of session: “Can We Counteract Global Warming?”), and carbon sequestration by reacting CO2 with ultramafic rocks*. I was particularly struck during the day at how prevalent and accepted climate change is at this meeting. Among the specialists, the people who are trained to know how climate works, there is a remarkable consensus on the reality of this issue. I mean, could you even have a session called “Can We Counteract Global Warming?” if there was a debate as to whether global warming is real? Certainly there are sessions at AGU where scientists are teasing out attribution of warming due to various factors, including albedo, solar input, and individual classes of greenhouse gases. No doubt there are some good arguments there about why the change is occuring. But I have yet to see a talk title or poster which suggests that the troposphere isn’t warming**. Sadly, this profound misconception is still persistent among the general public. I encountered it again this evening on Facebook, where a friend of a friend commented along those lines. I don’t actually expect that individual to cite a specific dataset in support of his “marked cooling trend for the past decade” contention (he quoted something from the Bible at me instead, I think to indicate that science is hubris), but it drove home to me that somehow the acceptance of global warming as an issue isn’t fully leaking out of the Moscone Center.

Anyhow, enough about that. If it wasn’t a climate change denier, it would be someone claiming the Earth was only a few thousand years old, and that brings me to the next highlight of the day:¬† I attended a terrific talk in the afternoon by Sam Bowring of MIT, who talked about refinements in U/Pb dating of rocks in the Wopmay Orogen of northwestern Canada and the Bishop Tuff of eastern California. I ran into some old friends after Sam’s talk, and others in the poster session. All in all, I ended up feeling a bit burned out by the end of the day. It’s a long haul, this AGU Fall Meeting. I’ve got two more days to go, and maybe I would do well to heed Brian Romans’ advice to pace myself.

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* The fate of civilization could hinge on mineral physics? Whoa… I’ll admit I didn’t see that one coming.

**Although I did see some posters claiming that hot spots aren’t hot.