6 December 2011

AGU 2011, day 2

Posted by Callan Bentley

In the interest of conveying a sense of the sort of stuff that goes on a large science conference like the AGU Fall Meeting, I’ll resume my narrative where I left off with yesterday’s description.

I began by swinging by the press room where I grabbed a complimentary breakfast, then headed down to the “early earth” session where I got a review on zircons of Hadean and Archean age. Then I went for a couple of talks in the two-year-college session, then down to the poster hall, where I ran into Dave Mogk of Montana State University and chatted with him a bit about social media stuff, upcoming Cutting Edge workshops, and Rockies plans in general. Then I plunged into row #1 of something like 100, each lined cheek to jowl with posters. I made it about 3/4 of the way down before I ran into someone else I knew: the convivial Bill Hooke of the American Meteorological Society and the blog Living on the Real World. Though I disagree about some fundamental stuff with Bill, I think he’s one of the kindest and most interesting people I’ve ever met. I waved, he beckoned me over, and brought me into the conversation that he was already having with John Reisman of the OSS Foundation. John has written a book called Exposing the Climate Hoax (with the scientists who deny climate change being the propagators of the hoax) and he was discussing with Bill (and then with me) about how an economic system approach is key to solving the climate change crisis. As with yesterday’s discussion with Dan Kahan, this was a new perspective to me. I didn’t find it as inherently fascinating as Kahan’s work, but maybe I just need to read the book. I moved on eventually down to Rob Simmon’s lovely poster (which every scientist should look at and contemplate). Then, 10 feet further on down, I ran into Andrew Alden of geology.about.com, and together we checked out a poster on strained metaconglomerates (of apparent Timiskaming type). Then I had to scoot – I had an appointment in another part of town – but as I left I noted to myself that I had only made it through a single aisle of posters. I wonder what would have happened if I had made it into the 32nd aisle? The 11th? Oh, the possibilities.

My appointment was with the editor for the book project that I’m going to be involved in. We got lunch at the publisher’s offices in Telegraph Hill, and then had a conference call with the other people on the project. I’m not sure how much I can talk about the project at this point – so I’ll just leave it at that. It was a productive and insightful session, and I feel excited about the work I’ve committed to doing for them.

I walked back to Moscone, noting how very redolent a city San Francisco is. There are so many smells on the street: sewage, funk, patchouli, pot, diesel, more sewage, food, more funk. It’s a real olfactory journey to stroll ten blocks through Frisco. It’s also a feast for the eyes – there’s a much larger diversity of people and fashion here than in DC – lots of fascinating people watching.

Back at the conference, I fortified myself with caffeine, then went to a session on studying a potential case of lithospheric delamination in Bolivia. This is what possibly happens when a chunk of the lower part of a tectonic plate (the lithospheric mantle, not the crust) drops off and sinks into the deeper, squishier part of the mantle (the asthenosphere). Bolivia’s altiplano has exceptional exposures of rocks, so the scientists in this session were presenting their work studying the area from geophysical, sedimentological, volcanological, and structural perspectives. It was cool.

The latter part of my afternoon was in the Virginia earthquake session, which wasn’t as insightful as I had hoped. A lot of it was seismological processing of aftershock data so that it could be compared with a couple of models for how seismic waves propagate through old, cold crust. Didn’t light my fire, but that’s okay.

I finished out my day with a trip to the Social Media Soiree that AGU hosted for the second year in a row. There, I was able to catch up with a suite of fun people who commit their time and energy to communicating geoscience via blogs and Twitter. I feel fortunate to count myself among their ranks. AGU fed us a suite of salted meats and cheeses, olives and figs, and many tall flutes of lager. I got back to the hotel by 9pm, and got a decent night’s sleep, though once again was up early (4am San Francisco time, 7am east coast time), which suits me fine because that’s about when I want to wake up tomorrow, back on the east coast.

I’m leaving AGU this afternoon for the return journey, and getting back into my classroom for the final lectures of the semester, and exams next week.