Asteroids, volcanoes, and rising seas: SciCom students blog from AGU

December 14, 2012

A hidden rocky ridge holds Antarctica's massive Thwaites Glacier in place, as Laura Poppick reported in a blog post from the American Geophysical Union meeting. Photo: NASA/Jim Yungel
Spikes in electric fields within clouds could presage tornadoes, as Thomas Sumner reported for AGU's "GeoSpace" blog. Credit: Justin Hobson/Wikimedia Commons

SAN FRANCISCO—The annual deluge of research about planet Earth at the American Geophysical Union meeting offered a blogging bonanza for SciCom students in early December.

Nine students in the class of 2013 wrote about studies presented at the massive conference for "GeoSpace," an ongoing blog about new findings within the fields covered by AGU. The fall meeting blog, edited by program graduate Kate Ramsayer '03, featured 20 stories based on posters and talks during the first three days of the meeting.

About 20,000 scientists attended AGU, which took over San Francisco's Moscone Center complex December 3-7.

AGU's press officers asked the students to find studies unreported by the large media corps at the conference. By prowling poster sessions and scouring abstracts of talks, the SciCom gang came up with these stories, among others:

"Meteotsunamis" produced by severe weather in lakes and seas, such as a surprising 7-foot wall of water in Lake Erie in May 2012.

A volcanic caldera in the Chilean Andes, dormant for 2,000 years but now inflating at the startling rate of about one foot per year.

Distinctive electrical spikes within funnel clouds, which could provide warning signals just before tornadoes touch down.

Asteroids that survive fiery passage through the atmosphere, thanks to egg-shaped bodies that withstand severe shocks.

Heightened threats to low-lying islands from sea-level rise, taking surging waves and seawater intrusion into account.

An Antarctic glacier held in place by a rocky ridge, preventing a retreat and catastrophic melting that would worsen sea-level rise.

Refuges for light-dependent bacteria during "Snowball Earth," a postulated era 600 million years ago when Earth was encased in ice.

Aerial LiDAR surveys of snowpack depths, which could save time in the tundra and other remote areas critical to climate modeling.

GeoSpace provided a national blogging platform for the students, enhancing their fall-quarter work in social media. The class launched its own group blog, called "Out of the Fog," in a course taught by journalist Erika Check Hayden of Nature. "Out of the Fog" will continue to showcase research based in central California for the rest of the academic year.

SciCom graduate Larry O'Hanlon '93, who now manages the AGU blogosphere, also edited the GeoSpace stories. Program alumnus Peter Weiss '90 runs the overall AGU news operation.