Saturday, December 19, 2015

Hanging with the geophysicists

I spent yesterday at the last day of the humongous AGU (American Geophysical Union) conference in San Francisco. The AGU consists of scientists who do an amazing range of work... from planetary evolution to atmospheric and ocean science to climate impacts on agriculture. I was there for my small contribution to the last of these issues, with lead author Chris Bacon and legit geophysicist (hydrologist) Iris Stewart-Frey.

Some observations:

1. You have literally thousands of super-smart people, and hundreds of poster presentations and sessions, and you don't hear people debating the reality of anthropogenic climate change. You do see a lot of interesting work on understanding climate systems and the effects of warming on other earth systems, including human society and wellbeing. These people inhabit a different cognitive planet from the Republicans who play a big role in deciding climate policy.

2. My time was limited, but my favorite presentations were at a session about planetary structure and evolution. Is the core of Mars liquid or solid? We don't really know(!), but another Mars lander (InSight) is going to be sent on its way come March, and it should be able to help answer the question. Bruce Banerdt, the PI on the project, gave a nifty little talk and explained how you can learn a lot about the interior of Mars from one seismograph placed on the surface, without having to triangulate. You can get the gist of it from the video on this page, starting around minute 39.

3. We don't have much of a tradition of poster sessions in economics, but they are a really interesting and remarkably low-tech mode of knowledge transmission. Ten minutes of talking to someone one-on-one about their research is probably a lot more productive than ten minutes of listening to a talk with powerpoint slides. Scalability is an issue, of course.

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