Making science – with all its complexities, uncertainties and nuances – palatable for the general public presents many challenges, and what better place to try this out than the Cambridge Science Festival.
The Archean Eon (4–2.5 billion years ago) is one of the last great frontiers in our knowledge of the Earth. Plate tectonics is considered to have initiated during this time period, and large volumes of the continental crust formed, but fundamental questions remain regarding the timing, mechanisms and drivers of these transitions.
It began with coffee.
Like so many things in life, the Sedgwick Club Conference 2018 started with a healthy dose of caffeine. The doors to the Cambridge Earth Sciences department were nearly ready to be opened and the masses allowed to flood in for the annual speakers’ event.
Geophysicist Professor Nick Rawlinson recently moved to Cambridge to take up the BP McKenzie Chair in Earth Sciences. During a career in Australia and the UK he has specialised in observational and theoretical seismology. Nick discussed his life and work with Greg Palmer.
Hippos from Barrington, woolly mammoths from Barnwell and beavers from Burwell Fen help tell the remarkable story of Late Ice Age Cambridgeshire. A new ‘Ice Age’ exhibit in the Sedgwick Museum displays spectacular fossil finds from local villages that show how life, climate and the environment of the region have changed dramatically over the last 125,000 years.
Last year I travelled out to Ethiopia for fieldwork twice, quite a feat considering it had taken two years of broken limbs and civil unrest causing setbacks. Avoiding the rains and unseasonably hot conditions of the summer (although I didn’t quite manage to avoid the heatstroke) I visited the Butajira volcanic field in April and Fantale volcano in November.
This year, in a rare turn of events, the AGU Fall Meeting took place far away from the West coast of the USA. The Golden Gate Bridge and steep streets of San Francisco were replaced with alligator-filled swamps and Creole cottages.
The Earth is a very blue planet, with almost three quarters of the surface covered in water. It seems perverse, then, that there should ever be water shortages. However, only 4% of Earth’s water is freshwater, and there are seven billion people dependent on this resource for domestic, agricultural and industrial use. Hence, the apparent oxymoron: the Blue Planet has serious water issues.
The field of hydrogeology is one not greatly studied within Cambridge Earth Sciences. However, it is a subject of increasing global importance in the 21st century. As rainfall patterns become less predictable and populations increase, we are increasingly reliant on our ‘backup supply’ of water: groundwater, stored in the pore spaces within rocks, and hidden beneath our feet.