Pedagogic prize – teacher of the year in natural sciences

Each year Stockholm University invites nominations for the best teachers of the year. Employees and students can nominate a teacher, who has shown excellent pedagogic abilities, who has shown and demonstrated a strong interest in further developing teaching and who just is an excellent teacher.

This year and also last year teachers from the section of Earth and Environmental Sciences received the pedagogic prize among all natural science teachers. Clas Hättestrand from the Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology was awarded this year’s teacher of the year, and last year it was Alasdair Skelton from the Department of Geological Sciences, who received the pedagogy prize.

I did a rough calculation on how many teachers in natural sciences received the price over the years and came to 19 persons since 1992 (no prizes were awarded in the years 2005, 2006 and 2010 – maybe no one was nominated?). Of these Geosciences and Biology had obtained most prizes (six each), with the runner up being Physics.

This is a great achievement for Geosciences and shows that we have really good teachers, who have a strong interest in teaching and in developing their teaching, and who are very much appreciated by their students.

So, who were the other awardees in Geosciences? Here is the list of the geoscience teachers who received the prize:

2014 – Clas Hättestrand, Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology
2013 – Alasdair Skelton, Department of Geological Sciences
2009 – Ingmar Borgström, Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology
2004 – Otto Hermelin, Department of Geological Sciences
2001 – Eve Arnold, Department of Geological Sciences
1992 – Marianne Särkinen, Department of Geological Sciences

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The weeks after midsummer

Midsummer in Sweden is not only an important holiday, marking the longest day of the year; it is also the time of the year when life start to slow down. This is especially obvious when it comes to university life. The number of students decreases dramatically, the few campus restaurants gradually close, fewer and fewer people are at work and more and more offices remain empty. Each year geese take over all the green spaces where just a few days ago, students had celebrated the end of the term.

The weeks after midsummer are when most people in Sweden take their holidays, hoping for a nice summer with loads of sunshine and warm temperatures. Too often, however, the summer does not turn out as wished. Temperatures around 15-20 degrees C, rain and wind are a more normal Swedish summer than high temperatures and continuous sunshine. But – it does happen – we do experience gorgeous warm summers with little rain!

The weeks after midsummer and until mid August are special and are probably the quietest time of the year on campus; a perfect time to focus on research, and on all the unfinished work that had been piling up during the term. Time to read articles and to write manuscripts, and maybe prepare for the upcoming autumn term. Or time to relax, meet family and friends, go for long walks, take a sailing trip in the beautiful archipelago or pick mushrooms in the surrounding forests.

But for some the weeks after midsummer are still pretty busy. Stockholm University runs for example a few summer courses, mostly aimed at exchange students. And I know of several PhD students who will defend their work in autumn and who will need to work through the summer to get their thesis ready!

I wish all of you a really nice, relaxing and productive summer! Winter is not very far away!

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Where will they all go?

One of the larger events this year, at least for our Department, will be the SWERUS-C3 expedition to the Arctic. More than half of the researchers at IGV (Dept of Geological Sciences) will join the expedition, which is led by Martin Jakobsson (IGV) and Örjan Gustafsson (ITM). Our corridors and our department will feel empty with so many people gone! But then – who would not want to join this exciting Swedish – Russian – USA expedition with the Swedish icebreaker Oden from Norway through the Arctic Ocean to Barrow in Alaska and back again? For sure, the researchers will see icebergs and polar bears, but also a seemingly never ending ocean. It is however not the icebergs and the polar bears that are the focus of this expedition!

The expedition, which has been carefully planned for many years, aims at a better understanding of how global climate change will affect the East Siberian Arctic Ocean, a part of the world that is experiencing very fast rates of climate warming. The East Siberian Arctic Ocean is very special since it holds vast quantities of submarine (shelf, slope) and coastal permafrost and this permafrost in turn stores huge amounts of carbon and methane. What will happen to these greenhouse gases if (or when) the permafrost starts to melt? They will be released and will add considerable amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere! But how much and how fast? And how stable are these deposits, some of which are concentrated to the slope, i.e. the part between the shelf and the deep ocean? Up to now little is known about the stability of these methane bearing frozen layers.

The researchers joining the SWERUS expedition will certainly be able to watch polar bears, but they will probably be very busy most of the time during this three month long journey. They will continuously measure emissions of carbon and methane, will take sediment samples to investigate if some of the carbon may be buried, and they will take long sediment sequences to place the current warming in a longer time perspective. Maybe there has been a time interval in the past, when permafrost has melted and carbon was released into the atmosphere? Probably one will have to travel far back in time to find a situation similar to today’s rapid warming? The sediment cores will definitely tell us!

SWERUS will for sure provide updates on the expedition. Until now one can join them on Facebook and get first hand information on who, when, where and what.

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Good prospects for geoscience students

The June issue of EOS featured a short article, which summarizes “The Status of the Geoscience Workforce 2014 Report”. This report, although based on a survey in the USA, is really good news for all geoscience students, because it predicts that there will be enough jobs available by the end of the next decades.

Of course it is hard to know how this survey translates to Europe, but given that most of our students easily find jobs today, prospects for the future may not be too bad. Energy and energy supply, raw materials, ores, water, natural hazards and environmental issues will certainly remain at the forefront and all these form part of geosciences.

For those of you who would like to read the full article and maybe even read the full report, here is the link:

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How a small peatbog reached fame

The small peatbog of Hässeldala in southern Sweden is located in the middle of a mixed forest, fringed with blueberry shrubs and boulders, and almost impossible to find. I stumbled upon the site more than ten years ago and was surprised to find a beautiful lake sediment sequence below the peat. About one meter of sediment contained a story of how climate and environment changed at the end of the last ice age.

One of the first to work with the Hässeldala sequence was Siwan Davies, who is now professor at Swansea University. Siwan discovered several ash layers and could show that ash from volcanic eruptions on Icelandic had reached as far as southern Sweden multiple times between 14000 and 10000 years ago. This discovery and the subsequent pollenstratigraphic work by Mamite Anderson propelled Hässeldala into fame.

Today the site and its sediment sequence is one of the most investigated in southern Sweden! Hässeldala has become an excellent example for the application of an array of different physical, geochemical and biological tools to study and refine our knowledge on the environmental impact of dramatic shifts in climate. The geochemical record (studied by Malin Kylander and published a few years ago), the diatom stratigraphy (studied by Linda Ampel; publication in press) and the investigation of midges and beetles (Jenny Watson, Nicola Whitehouse) all contribute to a better understanding of how climate shifts led to changes in the surroundings of the former lake and in the lake itself.

However, the story does not end here. New cores, a new age model (done by Maarten Blaauw) and fossil leaves extracted from Hässeldala’s sediments provide detailed information on past atmospheric carbon dioxide levels (study by Margret Steinthorsdottir, published recently). And, biomarker analysis (in progress) will help to better understand past atmospheric moisture patterns (PhD by Francesco Muschitiello). A new pollenstratigraphic study is in progress (MSc work by Artemis Charalampopulou) to refine how fast the vegetation around the former lake reacted to warming and cooling.

The different analyses of Hässeldala’s sedimentary record have resulted in a number of publications already. However, it would be great to combine all the available data sets into one single story, a story that will tell us how fast climate changed in the past, how large these changes were and how the sequence of events unfolded. Keep fingers crossed that someone finds the time to write the final story of Hässeldala!

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Not lazy, just too busy!

I know that I should have reported more from this year’s EGU meeting in Vienna, which for us was a really successful meeting, with many posters and a talk, and many people interested in our research! Camilla, Moo and Kweku were busy non-stop during the poster sessions talking and explaining to all the people who looked at their respective posters and wanted more information. Of course this gave a real boost to all of them, and showed how much interest there is for their research and for our monsoon project.
EGU is a great venue for listening to interesting talks, meeting colleagues and friends, for networking and for discussing new projects. Maybe next year we can be present with even more posters and talks?

I know that I should also have blogged and told tales about the two weeks of excursion to Les Eyzies in France, which followed right after the EGU conference. But I have written so much already about the Les Eyzies excursion that I would just have repeated myself. Each year and with each excursion, we visit the same wonderful sites: Abri Pataud, Le Moustier, La Ferrassie, Laugerie-Haute, Rouffignac, Cap Blanc, Abri du Poisson, Pech Merle and Cougnac. This year we moreover had the possibility to visit Font de Gaume, one of the last caves with polychrome paintings open to the public.

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EGU 2014

When I attended last year’s EGU meeting in Vienna I was shocked to see so few women among the medalists. The situation has slightly improved this year, with 5 women out of 36 scientists receiving a medal. But honestly, this number is still screamingly low and is in no way representative!

I can already hear (male) colleagues argue that there are not many women who could be nominated, but that the number will certainly increase in the future. This argument has been used for a long time and although it still may be partly true, it clearly fails when it comes to nominating Outstanding Young Scientists, of which all four a men! Although I am really happy for the four young male scientists, I would have wished that two of them were young women! What kind of future prospect does this signal to young outstanding women? Does this not convey the message: You are not good enough, not now and not in the future. Which of course is not true. The only truth of the whole business is that neither women nor men nominate fellow female scientists for a medal.

Will this ever change?

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