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Fjord focus

All roads lead to the IGC (past Dolly Dimple with the Big Horn)

Ted Nield witnesses over six thousand geologists at work, rest and play at the 33rd IGC in oslo, Norway.

Geoscientist 18.10 October 2009

Over nine rainy days in Oslo, Norway, 6260 geoscientists from 113 countries participated in sessions covering almost every conceivable aspect of geology at our science’s greatest international festival – the International Geological Congress. Since it coincided with the Beijing Olympics, it seems right to begin by recording that, leading the attendance medal table was Russia (505 attendees); followed by team USA (394) and China (316). Of European countries, Italy boasted the largest contingent, coming fourth with 267 delegates. The exhibitors numbered 85 (Society Publishing House among them). The congress witnessed 6000 presentations, including 2200 posters. The 33rd IGC was, in fact, the largest academic congress ever held in Norway.

The Congress began fittingly with the origin of life, featuring a keynote address by former GSL President Richard Fortey, and closed with extraterrestrial geology. On the way, delegates discussed everything else – taking in climate change, natural disasters, medical challenges and the future energy mix. Thirty seven excursions visited all the organising Nordic countries affording opportunities for exploration in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark before, during and after the Congress itself.
• King Harald V of Norway (centre) with IGC President Arne Bjørlykke (right) and Secretary General Anders Solheim. Oslo is famously expensive: “It would drive you to drink, except you can’t afford it” as one delegate put it. So, to help young researchers make the trip, the “Geohost stipend” made it possible for 577 from all over the world to take part. Of this total, 351 stipends went to men and 226 to women from 71 countries - or 61% of total applications. All were granted free registration, while 469 also received free accommodation.

One man without accommodation problems in Oslo is His Majesty King Harald V of Norway, who opened the Congress. The ceremony itself, witnessed by over 4000 delegates, included a vivid and dramatic musical tableau, described in the press handout as “a grand experience of music, rhythm, illusion …and a handful of beautiful video postcards from Nordic countries”. It also featured a local choir, and a singer called Giselle Jackson, of whom one was clearly supposed to have heard. This reporter (one among 56 accredited press attending) was lucky enough to be spared almost the entire thing through having to linger at the airport and help the Society’s previous President locate his missing suitcase (which, it turned out, had taken itself off on an unscheduled spree to Bratislava.)

The inflatable dinosaur, after treatment for rabies But all was not missed. Dr Eduardo de Mulder Hon FGS, Chief Executive of the International Year of Planet Earth (around whose 10 themes the 33rd IGC’s sessions were loosely arranged) told the audience that IYPE “wished to emphasise positive news about planet Earth”. Right on cue, everyone moved outside, to watch His Majesty (King Harald) “blow up a dinosaur”. Reading this, some thought of dynamite. Others, mindful of the Norwegian monarchy’s becoming modesty, thought “bicycle pump”. In the end, King Harald pressed a button - inflating a blow-up plesiosaur (picture), representing a dramatic recent find in Svalbard, as Prof. Jørn Hurum (Natural History Museum, University of Oslo) explained in a short presentation. But in the worsening rain, the model began to foam at the mouth and had to be temporarily deflated and quarantined.

In his welcome speech to King Harald, Arne Bjørlykke – wearing some quaint local togs - pointed out that the geosciences are vital to society; and as though to prove it, showed King Harald a large and clearly labelled abstract sculpture in larvikite - the rock that props up a million banks the world over. Larvikite was recently elected Norway's “national rock”, as part of the IYPE.

• Simon Winchester: Most geologically exciting however was the presentation, at the opening ceremony, of OneGeology, an IYPE flagship project coordinated by the British Geological Survey. This aims to create an online geological map to rival Google Earth; making existing geological map data accessible to all, and transferring know-how to those in need. Presenting the initiative, best-selling author and IYPE Goodwill Ambassador Mr Simon Winchester FGS (picture) recalled William Smith. “He changed geology by drawing a map of the hidden landscape underground in parts of England” he said. Painting the present generation as Smith’s successors, he proclaimed: “We will strip the world; we will see the clockwork behind the clock”. So far 79 countries are supporting the OneGeology initiative.

The young ones (l to r): Dr Luca Micucci, Eylvin Nkhonjera, Dr David Govoni.

While we’re still young

Observant delegates may have noticed, around the exhibition or in the interstices of the congress, three businesslike young geologists in earnest conversation with such luminaries as Sir Mark Moody Stuart (Anglo-American), Robert Missotten (UNESCO) or Edmund Nickless. They were Dr Luca Micucci, Dr David Govoni (Italy) and Ms Eylvin Nkhonjera (University of Malawi – picture), representing a new international movement calling themselves the “Young Earth Scientists”.

Growing out of the IYPE opening ceremony in UNESCO and the highly successful student writing competition earlier this year, Young Earth Scientists are on a mission, and aim to hit the ground running. Micucci explains: “The problems facing us on this planet require long-term, largely geoscientific solutions. This generation is going to have to find those solutions, and put them into effect. We cannot afford to wait until we are in our fifties before we start to engage with politicians, social scientists and economists, whose help we will need. We need to start young. We need to start now.”

Just as they themselves will one day be grand professors and survey directors and IGC presidents, the Young Earth Scientists aim to build bridges with those who will become the opinion-forming politicians and economists of the future. Micucci: “Cultural change is what is needed, and this takes decades. We in Earth science know that an end point to progress - as it used to be defined at least - has been reached. The change in outlook within society will also require a change in science and the way it relates to politics.”

Stop Press:

As Geoscientist went to press we learned that the YES Congress will be held in China.  The organisers received a letter dated 28 August, from Wu Ganguo, President, China University of Geosciences (Beijing).  The letter reads:

"As a leader of the university, I am so honored to agree and invite the First World Young Earth Scientists Congress 2009 to be held in our university----China University of Geosciences (Beijing).

"China University of Geosciences (Beijing) is the cradle of Chinese young earth scientist. During the 50 years’ practice, we have gained a reputation as academy for geology, developed a glorious motto as “Work Hard, Keep Modest, Flexibly Unit, and Pursue Progress”, attempting to be the leader in China’s geology education, and educated a lot of excellent earth scientists for our country even the world. Now we hope more and more young people will grow up and come to learn the geosciences, to understand our earth and protect it. Young Earth Scientists Congress will exclusively bring young scientists from different part of the world to discuss the future of geosciences and some of today’s challenges. It will establish strong networks of young professors and researchers, and must be a great help for the development of the earth sciences.
Young earth scientists represent the future and hope of our cause. We will try all best to support First young Earth Scientists Congress 2009.

I am confident that through our efforts together. We can have successful meeting for young earth scientists.

Wu Ganguo
China University of Geosciences (Beijing)