The European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly is an annual scientific conference that has been hosted in Vienna for the past 12 years.
This was my first year attending the General Assembly, and I was initially overwhelmed by the vast number and variety of sessions; the 2016 General Assembly hosted 863 oral, 10,320 poster, and 947 PICO presentations (a type of interactive poster which is introduced by means of a two minute oral presentation) arranged over all four floors of the Vienna International Centre. There were 619 unique scientific sessions together with 321 side events which created an interesting and highly varied programme. The EGU General Assembly 2016 was in fact the biggest yet, as 13,650 scientists from 109 countries participated, of which 25% were students and 53% Early Career Scientists.
The first session I attended focused on hydrological extremes, and an interesting oral presentation discussed the interaction between hydrological extremes, water management and society. The presenter argued that human and societal memory is short, and that the human response to droughts can exacerbate the impacts of floods. The case study was the Brisbane floods in 2011; these floods occurred after a 10-year period of drought, and the operation of a reservoir (which was optimised to retain water during the drought period) was blamed for exacerbating the flooding.
Another talk explored the possibility of improving the frequency estimation of flood events by using historical evidence to build up a catalogue of extreme floods spanning 500 years. Data were collected for the River Elbe from sources that included newspaper articles, historical flood marks on castles, artwork and songs, and agreed well with instrumental data from the past 50 years.
A theme that permeated multiple sessions and presentations was that of climate variability and climate change. One presentation detailed the method of extending the historical flood record by examining sediments in oxbow lakes in the Mississippi which were deposited after large flood events. It is possible to date these sediment deposits in order to construct a picture of the frequency and severity of events that occurred before the start of historical documented evidence. Another presenter had applied a similar method in the UK after the December 2015 flood events in Cumbria. Again using sediment paleorecords, the presenter was able to identify flood rich and flood poor periods in the Lake District over the past 600 years. An interesting conclusion was that the period 1990 to 2016 contains four of the largest floods in the past 600 years, implying that we are currently in a flood rich period. Whether this period of increased flood occurrence is attributed to anthropogenic climate change or to natural climate variability is still open to debate.
As well as learning about the research of others, I was able to share my own research via a poster presentation. I enjoyed the lively debate that this sparked, and highly appreciated the feedback, suggestions, and recommendations from academics and industry professionals alike.
With such a wide range of topics explored at the EGU General Assembly, it was impossible to attend all presentations that interested me. However, the 15-minute oral sessions I did attend were fascinating, and were long enough to give me an interesting overview of the research, but short enough to hold my attention on a topic that wasn’t in my field. The poster presentations were equally interesting, but also provided the opportunity to discuss the research in further detail and exchange contact details for potential future collaboration. They were also a social occasion for many scientists, and as one person told me, with a glass of red wine in hand, the EGU General Assembly provides the perfect opportunity to catch up with old friends.
Author: Jessica Boyd