Outreach: bringing science to the next generation

Outreach is fun, at least for me. You are going to an event, present what you do in easy terms and discuss with people about science, what you are working on or why what you do matters at all. These events are usually quite relaxed, filled with young people and a good break out of your usual day job. That is why I was happy to volunteer when we got as a group the question whether we would like to present our field at “Highlights der Physik” (Highlights of physics), a science fair held every year on a market place in a minor town somewhere in Germany.

All started with the question whether we want to do it and what we would like to show. As a meteorologist, I had done several of these events, and the usual stuff to show are measurement instruments and some experiments with water, because that works for 10-12 year old and this is usually the general target group to be able to catch everyone. This time the target group was given by the organizers with 13-15 years old, so the instruments would do it (especially as we are not a working group of meteorologists). Back in the days when we did these shows I always wanted to show something like statistics and ensembles at these events, because that is may daily job, but quite hard to boil down for little kids. This time the chance opened up with some reasonable budget to get it done.

As a group we decided to show the difference between weather forecasting and climate prediction, and of course our group topic, seasonal and decadal prediction. After several brain storming events we decided to develop a Galton board and try our luck how far we can go with it. With a lot of practical help of the one who finally build it, we designed it in a flexible way, so that we can show many different topics with it. Little barriers allow us to deviate the little wooden balls at any place on the board in the direction we want them and having a lot of little balls allow us to make impressive statistical experiments. So all in all, this little toy got us really exciting for the event and of course it helped us to get over the not so funny parts of organising our appearance there (posters, questionnaires, travel etc.).

When the time came, I had a beautiful week in Münster, a university town in the western part of Germany. Within a tent, surrounded by many other physics groups we showed our experiment and talked a lot about the wide field of climatology and weather. We are used to get questions about politics and energy as well, as many connect nowadays with climate the changing environment we are living in. And of course there is the main motivation for founders to send us to such events: talking with pupils, students and teachers about the great career opportunities, when you choose a geoscientific field for study. It also gave us this time again the opportunity to show that geosciences are part of the physics community, which also lead to interesting discussions with other physicists.

Being back I got contact with our PR department and they wrote a lovely piece for their web presence (unfortunately just in german). So all in all it was a lot of time, half a year of preparation and a lot of communicating science. And yes, I am happy that it was with such simple means possible to explain a lot of people a statistical topic in a physical environment.



ICON Course 2017

A decade ago the German weather service DWD and Germany’s leading climate institute MPI started to develop a new model for climate and weather. It bases on a new type of triangular grid and in the past years the model was designed and programmed to be the future model for most activities of climate and weather research in Germany.

As I currently start to work with this model within my research activities, it was a welcomed chance to visit the training course on ICON by the MPI last week. In this week-long course we focused first on the theory of the new grid, which has many implications for the dynamical core of the new model. Afterwards, we looked at running and modifying the code and including new processes. The course itself was quite hands on, discussed the programming paradigms used by the developers and showed the structure of the model in many exercises.

As it is a new model, which just started to get operational in the weather community and is still under development in the climate parts to replace one day the MPI-ESM, many things seemed to be still not finished within the model. I also hope that it will get more user-friendly, as currently modifying the model seemed to be quite complicate. On the other side it is a quite quick model so we will see what the future will bring.

A look at lecturing: Do we talk about the history of science?

History is important: it explains us how we got to the place were we are and interferes more with our future than many would admit. This is true in life, but also in science. In lecturing we usually teach concepts and methodologies, many developed in the last five centuries and they are all developed with a background. This background tells us a lot about why these methodologies gained its importance they nowadays have and only when we understand them we understand why they are so highlighted compared to other methodologies, which we do not necessarily teach nowadays. Nevertheless, usually we keep the mentioning of this background quite brief and when at all, some words about it can be found in books. But is it the right way?

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EGU 2017: Final day

It’s over. Five days of interesting talks, posters and discussions are finally done and the EGU 2017 has reached its end. The final day was for me the only one where I had some contributions on my own and so it was a busy one.

After I have hung up my posters (yes, I had two to cover today), I went to a palaeo-session and listened to many talks about ice sheet modelling and data collection in Antarctica. After lunch I had the session in which I had to give my talk on the seasonal prediction of the SNAO.

The session lasted two slots long and the final talk on the supermodel reminded me of the SIRF I applied in my last paper. Interesting to see it applied to a full-scale model. Finally the day ended with the poster session, but this time I had my two posters and a lot of talking to do (and yeah, EGU finally retweeted a tweet of mine ;)).

So all in all it was a great conference. I enjoyed Vienna once again, met many interesting people and saw so many interesting talks and poster that I look forward to the next time. The hottest topic in my view was the warning of the observationalist that there is really a problem building up in Antarctica. I saw two medal lectures on this topic and the claim that models currently underestimate the potential sea level rise are quite worrisome. The thing I was not so happy about was the provisional building in front of the main building as it covered the meeting place and changed the atmosphere of the breaks. But to answer the question of my first post from this years EGU, it seemed as the resources for beers and wine for the poster sessions were alright, as the complaints were relatively quite during the days. At the end it is time for me to say goodbye from Vienna (I will do that with another day here) and taking all the new ideas home and hopefully having the time and opportunity to make something out of them.

EGU 2017: Preparation for the last day

It was the fourth day and at this time a conference gets a bit exhausting. I started the day with a visit to statistical post-processing and walked then on to the sea level session for the rest of the morning. As I have worked in my past position in sea-level science the topic is still very familiar for me. Especially the large range of topics, from palaeo-reconstructions to engineering advice makes a visit to such a session always an interesting adventure. After lunch I switched to the precipitation databases session, which was after the break followed with homogenisation approaches. The end of the day was as always filled with the poster session.

Tomorrow, I will finally have the opportunity to show my own work. In the afternoon I will have my talk on seasonal prediction and in the evening a poster on past sea-level change. Traditionally, the friday tends to be quite empty and it is usually not so good to have the contributions so late in a conference, but I am sure it will still be an interesting final day.

EGU 2017: Complications of interdisciplinarity

The third day of the EGU is over and my day got busier than yesterday. It started with a look into a sea-ice session with an interesting view of predicting its decline. A key is not to look at the time as the decisive variable, but on the development of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The second half of the first session I went into a more applied geological session, which mainly asked questions about how boulders get onshore. Quite interesting were the implications on potential storm climate during the last interglacial. The second session I paid a visit to precipitation its retrieval and the resulting products. Precipitation is one of the most complicated variables to predict as well as to measure and has therefore always interesting developments to offer.

After lunch my next stop was again a medal lecture, this time on chaos and the presenter had some really nice examples. The remaining session was on ENSO, before I decided to visit the open session on ocean science. Some interesting talks, for example on the uncertainty of deep ocean heat content made it an interesting session. The final of the day was as always the poster session.

Conferences like the EGU are always great for researchers like me, who prefer to take look into different fields (as I personally focus on the developments of statistical methodologies, which do not require to stick to one field). Unfortunately, this leads even more to the problem that you have to decide what you would like to see. While often schedulers take care to give a consistent schedule for one discipline (even when it does not really work every time),  having several different divisions to follow needs some extra care. When I look onto the first three days, I have visited sessions of the following divisions (only the first division on the list): OS, GM, G, CL, AS, GI, CR, NP and NH. I am not quite sure, which division I belong to myself, but I have learned that it would be simpler to stick to one division only. Often the computer systems/apps are not designed to assist in the search of session of many (or all) divisions and it requires some extra work to do it properly. There is always a session you felt you have missed. Anyway, it is worth the effort and everyone has problems to get their ideal scheduling done. The current app is a nice feature, but there is still the question on how it will get better to really assist every type of scientist at such a huge conference.

EGU 2017: Medal lectures

The second day of the conference was a quiet day for me, as no must see sessions were scheduled for me today. It started again with the North Atlantic session, which this time focussed more on the oscillations, like NAO. Afterwards, I visited a medal lecture on SAR. This topic is quite far away from my daily work, but such conferences are always a chance to see things you are usually not confronted with. Important for me was the statement that in times in which data can be generated in huge numbers, data management gets more and more important. Big data requires new ideas on workflows, might have to include cloud services and poses new questions on data availability.

After lunch I visited a palaeo session on the common era, which also addressed in many points the long-term variabilities of our climate system. In a last session another medal lecture was scheduled and again the southern ocean was the topic. This time it was the circular current and a good overview on the methods used to understand this important part of the global circulation was illustrated in this talk. A good thing about medal lectures is that you can see in a compact way a whole topic. Even when you now bits and pieces about it, it helps to get deeper into it to by getting it introduced by a real expert of the research field. The final stage of the day was then the traditional poster session. Tomorrow will be half time, and it will start the busy part of this week for me.