Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Christmas is a time for...conferences.

By Rebecca Williams (@volcanologist)

Christmas for academics is a time for family, eating a bit too much and relaxing before the inevitable marking chaos starts during the January exam period. Some use the time away from teaching to go on field trips or to write a paper that’s been neglected during a semester. For many, it’s also conference season.  Many of the Geological Society of London’s specialist groups hold their conferences during the Christmas ‘vacation’. This year for me was a double whammy, kicking off the holidays with the British Sedimentological Research Group (BSRG) meeting here at the University of Hull, and then heading up to Edinburgh to start the New Year at the Volcanic and Magmatics Study Group (VMSG) meeting.
Left: The BSRG field trip to Flamboro Head (photo credit to Dan Parsons @bedform)
Right: The BSRG conference dinner at The Deep, Hull (photo credit to Rob Thomas)
It was quite poignant to have BSRG here at Hull. In 1989, the Annual General Meeting (AGM) was planned at Hull, but the Geology department fell foul of the Government’s Earth Science Review and was closed. BSRG instead went to Leeds. This year, Geology is back in Hull. 2013 saw the start of BSc Geology with Physical Geography and 2014 will see the start of single honours BSc Geology. The conference kicked off with an excellent keynote speech from Dan Bosence who summarised a lifetime’s work on Carbonate Depositional Systems and our latest knowledge on these systems. That started a session of plenary lectures on novel advances in Sedimentology. This was my first BSRG conference and so it was great to listen to the latest cutting-edge research on such a wide range of sedimentological settings: from submarine channels to microbial biofilms to mass extinctions related to Chinese volcanism via drones (sorry, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). The plenary set the tone for the rest of the conference. Given that I was still teaching during this week and that I was swamped in marking, I missed the apparently brilliant ice breaker in the Brewery Wharf microbrewery on Wednesday night and the conference dinner in the The Deep Aquarium, Hull’s premier tourist attraction. I was able to present some of my work on pyroclastic density currents (essentially, a summary of my latest paper – blog coming soon!) in the “Turbidites, Debrites and Mass Flows – dynamics and deposits” session. It was the first time I’d presented this work to sedimentologists, which was a bit nerve wracking. I got some great feedback though so it was worth the nerves! I also missed out on the field trip to the spectacular exposures along the Yorkshire Coast between Bridlington and Scarborough, led with help from the Hull Geological Society.
Top left: One of the groups on the VMSG field trip at Holyrood Park, on their way to Salisbury Crags
Top right: Hutton's section at Salisbury Crags, note the broken sedimentary 'bridge'.
Bottom left: The winning University of Hull duck - see this Storify/Twitter summary of the Volcanic Duck Race
Bottom right: VMSG conferences (and geologists in general?) now go hand in hand with a good Ceilidh.
This year is VMSG’s 50th Birthday and the anniversary year started off with a bumper conference in Edinburgh. This year saw 5 days of volcanology and magmatic conferencing, starting off with a trip to blustery Arthur’s Seat. We got to see some classic geology including Salisbury Crags and Hutton’s section where he demonstrated that intrusions were once liquid magma that had forced their way into surrounding sediments and then crystallised, leading in part to his 1788 book Theory of the Earth and his recognition as the Father of Geology. The conference itself was opened with the Hallimond Lecture given by Sally Gibson on ‘Continental rifting and mantle exotica’ as part of a session on Intraplate and Continental rifting dedicated to the late Barry Dawson. The theme of the conference was 50 years of VMSG and so the sessions followed those at the very first VMSG conference (then VSG) with some modern sessions such as Planetary Volcanism and Volcanic Hazards and Risks, reflecting some of the new directions the science is now going in. I presented my on-going work on the Louisville Seamounts, drilled during IODP Expedition 330 (some of which I’ve blogged about before). Highlights of the conference included the VMSG Award Lecture from Jon Davidson on ‘Interrogating crystals to understand magma systems’ with a plea for people to not forget and abandon fundamental petrology, and the VMSG Lifetime Achievement Award Lecture from Steve Sparks on a lifetime’s work of ‘Integrating disciplines, models, experiments and observations to understand volcanic processes’ with a special shout-out to all the young researchers who will be the future of VMSG research. The ice breaker saw the official launch of Volcano Top Trumps with the excellent Volcanic Duck Race which was won by our University of Hull duck! We were also treated to a dinner and ceilidh at Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh’s excellent interactive exhibit about the planet we live on. To finish up the conference, the microanalysis facilities at the University of Edinburgh opened their doors to us and delivered an excellent workshop on techniques such as the Ion Microprobe (SIMS) and the Electron Microprobe.

Both of these conferences have the same ethos at their heart: they showcase outstanding UK research on an increasingly international stage, are supportive of the student members with significant proportions of oral presentations given by students, and they are always full of social occasions in which to meet with old and new colleagues. Whilst they seem to cover completely different specialisms, for a volcanologist who looks at volcaniclastic deposits, there is a strong cross over...perhaps in the future there is potential for a joint session at one or the other of these conferences? I certainly hope so.


This is a fantastic video of the Volcanic Duck Race filmed by Thermal Vision Research Ltd.

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