State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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If You’re Not Going to San Francisco

Remember when you were in grade school and you participated in a science fair? Perhaps you did an experiment involving a paper mâché volcano. And perhaps your volcano project didn’t win a prize, but you still had a terrific time building the volcano and making a mess of your parents’ kitchen and describing your project to anyone who would listen.

Those science fairs still exist, and not just in school auditoriums. Professional scientists frequently present their research at science fairs, now known as scientific meetings. The world’s largest meeting for Earth and space scientists, the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, hosted by the world’s largest Earth and space sciences organization, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), begins Monday in San Francisco. More than 20,000 scientists, students, educators and policymakers from all over the world attend this annual weeklong event to share the results of their research in the form of talks and posters. And yes, some of these presentations are about volcanoes — real volcanoes.

For scientists, presenting research at a major scientific meeting is an extremely important part of the process of doing science, representing the final step of the scientific method: communicating your results. Two ways to accomplish this are to publish results in a journal or give a formal talk on project findings (or both). At the AGU Fall Meeting, countless research findings will be presented and many amazing new discoveries announced, then scrutinized, debated and celebrated throughout downtown San Francsico. Discussing and being exposed to new research also keeps the spirit of scientific exploration alive, as spending a week immersed in the exciting discoveries of 19,999 of your peers can easily inspire ideas for future investigations and collaborations.

This year, some 200 scientists and students from Earth Institute’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) will attend the AGU Fall Meeting. Each will present original research on a wide array of Earth science topics, from the implications of Greenland’s “ice quakes” to the use of climate data to monitor and forecast risks of meningitis and malaria epidemics.

Among the Lamont-Doherty researchers presenting is Sean C. Solomon, director of the observatory and principal investigator of the MESSENGER spacecraft mission to Mercury. “The AGU Fall Meeting is the premier meeting of the year in the Earth and space sciences,” said Solomon. “It is the meeting at which many students give their first professional presentation, and it is a meeting at which senior scientists strive to give their most interesting new findings. The meeting grows in size every year, and many participants complain that it has become too large, but few in the community elect to stay home.”

Attending the AGU Fall Meeting is quite an experience: the maze-like poster exhibition hall, the teeming masses of scientists lining up for afternoon coffee, filling the streets of San Francisco with science chatter. But most exciting is the opportunity to attend talk after talk by top scientists and those who will follow in their footsteps.

In an earlier blog post, Lamont-Doherty and IRI’s media teams outlined key presentations being given by their researchers at the AGU Fall Meeting to provide an idea of each institution’s contributions to the meeting and the field of Earth science. While their list isn’t all-encompassing, it demonstrates the vast breadth, global scope and importance of Lamont-Doherty and IRI research.

For more information and updates from the AGU Fall Meeting, visit State of the Planet again in the coming week and follow Lamont-Doherty and IRI on Twitter.


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