I just logged on to do a final post, summing up my Goldschmidt “take home lessons” and my experiences.  So it is indeed timely that Alex posted the link below, as I can use it to structure my Goldschmidt experiences (read on):

I think that the world of blogging, Facebook, Twitter etc can add so much to science.  Of course there is always a danger of over-reliance on virtual worlds at the expense of the conversation.  And honestly, the abovementioned tools do occasionally merit their reputation as a way to waste time.  But they can also be powerful ways to communicate with the masses and extend the reach of your message.  The case of Twitter and the Iranian elections are testament to this.  Beyond external communication, canny scientists and conference organisers can use blogging and social network sites as a way to enhance their own community.  New community members can be attracted, sub-communities can form, and debates can continue when face-to-face meeting is not possible.  In this way, the conference and the virtual world can complement each other (and carbon emissions can be saved).

Blogging for Goldschmidt has certainly enhanced my experience of the conference.  It made me pay more attention, probably helping me to stay awake at 2pm in a warm conference room after a good lunch.  I have ventured into sessions that I wouldn’t normally have gone to, and it has provided a good opening line when I wanted to speak to someone I didn’t already know and was mildly over-awed by.  But most importantly, blogging has kept me critical about what I have been learning.  I have been asking myself questions such as:  so how does this tie together?  What does this mean overall?  Didn’t X’s presentation feed into Y’s?

All of which leads me to my “take home lessons”.  Some of the work presented was micro-level, highly detailed research.  At the other end of the spectrum, presentations were given on macro-level, bigger picture work.  But all of it plays a role in managing the Earth’s resources (and securing the Earth’s future).  Everyone is writing a part of the story; either a whole chapter, or providing a detailed paragraph within that.  I think perhaps we all just need to be a little reflective and critical about how our own research fits.  And we need to be clear about communicating our work, where it feeds into the story, and where we need further detail to fill in to ours.  I think ultimately, we all implicitly know this, but it is good to be explicitly reminded sometimes; and the Goldschmidt conference reminded me.  This ties quite neatly back into the linked article from Alex; our science should be rigorous enough to withstand scrutiny (peer and public).  And scrutiny and critique by people outside our own sphere, via the internet, will help us to remain awake to our role in this bigger picture; it can only help with innovation and progression.

So, one week after I began my Goldschmidt in Davos, I am home and ending my final post.  Thank you for reading, I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.

As the conference winds down, Geoff Brumfiel asks some timely questions about blogging conference proceedings.

The final day

The whole of the Congress Centre here in Davos seems to be gearing down now as the conference comes to an end.  Stands are slowly being packed away, and there are a steady stream of people heading to the train station…but the science program continues and is very well attended.

I headed this morning to a packed session on Biogeochemical Processes at Redox Interfaces.  I am frequently impressed at the amount of detail which is being entered in to in this field.  I am also taken with the amount of creativity that goes into designing the methods to study these processes.  Like a few others, I was caught out by the change in time slot for Jon Lloyd’s invited presentation on Reductive Microbial Transformations of Iron Oxides; Engineering Biominerals for the Remediation of Metals and Organics.  I hear it was very good…

Many of the faces from the sessions on Geogenic Chemicals in Soils and Groundwaters were also present in this session.  And outside the presentation room discussions were continued along this theme.  As the conference comes to an end, I guess everyone is using the last minutes to catch up with those speakers who have inspired them.  I was very fortunate in being able to eat my lunch with Linda Roberts, a PhD student who won a prize for her presentation in the Geogenic session on Wednesday.  Her paper on Arsenic Remobilization from Paddy Soil during Monsoon Flooding in Bangladesh had some really interesting detailed science.  Her study seemed to be really well informed by how the land was actually being used, and presented some interesting “real world” lessons. 

I will head off to catch my train home in a short while (probably via the poster session).  I have some overall thoughts on the conference, what I have learned and how I will apply it in my own research.  But I think these are better posted tomorrow when they have had time to become coherent.  So, watch this space for my final post…

What an experience.

What a week it has been. I am sitting at the internet centre trying how best to communicate my first Goldschmidt experience.
I will begin with what the conference in based upon……the science. I have been overwhelmed by the amount of cutting edge research presented over the past five days. Being my first Goldschmidt conference, I was not entirely sure what to expect, however my expectations have been well and truly exceeded in every respect. There were too many excellent presentations and posters to single any one out, so I thank everybody whom I saw for conveying their science to me.
But this week was more than just the Science. I cannot begin to convey what it is like being in Davos with 2000 peers. The poster sessions were a great way to meet the other attendees, share research outcomes and possibilities, and most importantly drink beer and eat pretzels.… The results indicated a strong correlation (R2 =.999) between free beer and geochemist enjoyment. The banquet was a highlight with some interesting fashion sense and excellent dancing making for a great time.
A big thank you to all the organizers for such a great conference. I hope to see you next year in Knoxville.

The Pages of History

For what will probably be my last blogging post (my train leaves Davos this afternoon!), I’d love to throw another question out there to the group.
I spent this morning at the Oxygen over Earth History session, which included some great presentations by some top names in the field – Lyons, Poulton, Kirschvink, and Konhauser, just to name a few.
But as someone with a background in mathematics, I can’t help but wonder about the interpretation of proxies such as Mo, Fe, Si, Os and S quantities and isotopes.  As David Raup has shown, as well as has been shown by the work of Micheal Foote, the geologic record is incredibly biased.  Most of the geochemical work that has been done on the Proterozoic has been influenced by two things: first, the sparsity of the record and, second, the draw of big-name sections in important time intervals.
Is it possible that our entire dataset for the geochemistry of the Proterozoic is biased?  That preferential preservation has limited our view of the chemistry of Proterozoic oceans?  I don’t know myself, but I would like to quote the metaphor Darwin used in “On the Origin of Species”, which he attributed to Lyell:
“… I look at the natural geological record, as a history of the world imperfectly kept, and written in a changing dialect; of this history we possess the last volume alone, relating only two or three countries.  Of this volume, only here and there a short chapter has been preserved; and of each page, only here and there a few lines.  Each word of the slowly-changing language, in which the history is supposed to be written, being more less different in the interrupted succession of chapters…”

I’d also just like to say I’ve really enjoyed blogging at Goldschmidt; it’s been fun thinking about the science of the day and trying to say a few words about it.  I hope I’ve done an okay job, and I know that the other  bloggers have written some great stuff.   See you all at the next Goldschmidt! – Chris

 On Thursday I attended the plenary talk that was given by Prof. Susan Stipp: ‘Cleaner water, more oil and taking out the garbage‘. I loved it. She started from a planetary point of view, showing how we have contaminated our home, the Earth, since the beginning of time. The rest of the talk was focused in the science that her group is carrying out to be able to solve different environmental problems and other society’s challenges. The examples she gave (ensuring cleaner water, storing waste safely, discovering the mysteries of biomineralization, getting more oil from reservoirs and immobilizing CO2) were based on the research work she is carrying out in the the Nano Science Center. They know how to deal with a scientific problem; they use really useful techniques and are an interdisciplinary group from many countries and different scientific backgrounds. That is the best approach -in my opinion- to succeed.
 At this point I would like to say that I have met some of the people from her group and also had the opportunity to work some time with one of her PhD students. I have also visited her group in Copenhagen and I found a really good and constructive working atmosphere; I was really feeling like ‘at home’ after half an hour in there. By the way, Susan is offering several positions in this website.

It’s good to share

In session 19i: Bioenergetics in Geochemical Modeling today, Marc Alperin put forward the provocative idea that methane-cycling ANME archaea in consortia with sulfate-reducing bacteria are not oxidizing methane, as commonly presumed, but producing it.


Boetius et al., 2000 Nature

The hypothesis comes from modeling the consortia in a diffusion-reaction model. When archaea (red cells in the figure) are modeled as methane-oxidizers, predicted rates of methane oxidation and sulfate reduction are orders of magnitude short of what is actually observed. However, if the model allows the archaea to produce methane instead, predicted rates of sulfate reduction are close to observed rates. The new model predicts that sulfate-reducing bacteria (green in the figure) will even have higher energy yields. They do even better by sharing H2 with methanogens.

Talks that challenge dogma are always attention-getting and provoke new thinking. Now the onus is on everyone to go out and test the new model – and to determine how the methane is being oxidized if not by ‘reverse’ methanogenesis.

I think everyone agrees that we had some very inspiring presentations yesterday at the Earth’s future panel. Here’s what I retained:

Dr Bill Chameides said that, as a “lobbyist” for the environment, explaining complex issues about climate changes to elected peoples in positions of power is good, but that explaining simple issues to a lot of voters is even better. He joked that his “impact factor” was surely higher when he appeared on a cooking TV show to explain the meaning of “carbon footprint” than when he was publishing scientific papers. He warned that people from outside science, when they listen to scientists, are all too often left with the impression that while scientists are very intelligent, people can’t understand what they are talking about. Tackling climate change is all about communication, he said, and a scientist that takes a position on an environmental issue is not necessarily losing his or her credibility. His motto: Education, Communication, Multidisciplinary. I met him randomly today and he asked me put up a link to his blog.

Dr Veerabhadran Ramanathan warned about removing pollutant sulfur dioxide from the atmosphere without removing twelve times more CO2 at the same time. The calculation is simple: sulfur dioxide has a cooling effect on the earth climate twelve times more powerful than the warming effect of CO2. Along the same lines, he explained that emissions of other gases and particles that have greater warming effects that CO2, such as black carbon, should also be reduced. He said that global warming is about to reach thresholds that will bring iconic changes to the Earth surface. Here is the list in order of manifestation: i) the ice age oscillation switches off (this threshold is already reached; we will have no more ice ages), ii) the melting of the arctic ice cap, iii) Greenland melts, iv) the Amazon rain forest disappears, v) El Nino southern oscillation stops, vi) thermo-haline circulation shuts down, vii) the Antarctic ice cap starts to melt and viii) the Antarctic fully opens.

Dr Janet Hering also referred to three important events:

Galileo stated that the earth revolves around the sun (1610)
Darwin wrote that humans descend from apes (1859)
The term anthropocene was coined by Nobel prize winner Paul Crutzen, meaning that humankind has entered a new geological era (2000 – see his paper in Nature).

What are her solutions? We need to participate in local efforts on the community scale and focus on education, outreach and the empowerment of women.

I refer to Julia’s post for comments on Sir David King’s speech

• Many scientists spend their entire careers focusing on one portion of the Earth System and the majority probably retire not grasping it as well as they would have liked. A smaller portion of scientist worry about larger reservoirs; be it the oceans, the climate, mantle heterogeneities or core formation and it I think most would agree there is not a lot of consensus on processes that may have formed or modified those systems. Those who are truly, some might say out of their minds, or just have an imagination that allows them to go even on step farther ponder questions regarding the processes that formed our Solar System and planets, subsequently. With limited samples, a small amount of analyses on those samples and definitely no agreement on any single process has not slowed down researchers such as Fred Ciesla who seems to be making great strides in this area of research. I attended his Keynote talk today entitled “Reconciling Models of the Solar Nebula with the Chondritic Record” in which he attempted to do just that. Again, with a simple yet stellar (no he was not modeling stellar evolution) modeling this presentation definitely left a mark with the audience. In his model he showed the migration of large CAI-like objects that tend to be found in CV chondrites from time zero to a few million years after formation of the Solar System. With much of the debri being sucked into the young sun, he showed that the largest and oldest objects in our Solar System would be the most likely to survive and arrive in our inner Solar System quick enough to be incorporated into the CV chondrites. It will be really fascinated to see if this model can accurately predict the CAI size distribution, modal abundances and ages of other chondrites. If this is a new subject to a reader, Fred Ciesla and his work is what I would reference you to.

Today’s lecture on the Ocean Anoxic Events (OAE’s) and the geochemistry of extinction begged the question: who controls the Earth?  Are the combined anoxic events and associated C13 events imply that geology – for example, magmatism – is a driver of primary production, or are the events evidence of the evolution of key characteristics in phytoplankton and other organisms?

This is an important question for my work on the Proterozoic, especially the Neoproterozoic.  During the Paleoproterozoic and Neoproterozoic, large d13C isotope excursions are seen in both the organic carbon and carbonate records.  But do these reflect novel characteristics of organisms – for example, increased sinking of organic matter in the form of feces, or the rise of oxygenic phototrophs – or are the organisms being driven by forces outside their control?

Generally, I support the idea that the biology of Earth is at the mercy of Earth’s geology – that major events in the evolution of life and the chemistry of the oceans was driven not by new characteristics in the constituent organims, but by things such as magmatism and climate.  However, this is obviously a heuristic argument – climate, for example, is driven not only by the release of CO2 and methane from hydrothermal vents, but also by the amount of CO2 sequestered by organisms dying, sinking and being buried in the ocean.

So I’m leaving this question open to others: who is the real strongman of Earth?  Biology or geology?