Moonquakes and lobate scarps

By Eleanor

The surface of the Moon is covered in craters, which were formed by meteorite impacts. Meteorites have hit the Earth too, but you don’t see many craters on the surface of the Earth. That’s because the Earth’s surface is young – it is constantly shifting, eroding, crumpling and being recycled and regenerated. On the other hand, the Moon’s surface is old, and we see craters preserved from billions of years ago. Something I didn’t know until last week is that there is (probably) tectonic activity happening on the surface of the Moon to this day.


In a paper published last week (Geology, v. 43, pp. 851-854) Watters et al. describe landforms called ‘lobate scarps’ that are found all over the surface of the Moon.

‘Lobate scarp’ is a funny word, but it’s just a landform that develops when you compress the crust, a fault forms, and one side of the fault is pushed up. This creates a steep bank or escarpment (‘scarp’), and the morphology of these features is often ‘lobate’, or with lobes.


Development of a lobate scarp. Image from Smithsonian Institution.

Here are some images from the paper showing a lobate scarp feature on the Moon. Since we know lobate scarps form by thrust faulting, that means there has been thrust faulting on the surface of the Moon.

Watters et al. Geology, v. 43, pp. 851-854

Watters et al. Geology, v. 43, pp. 851-854

But how do we know when these faults formed?

The scientists who wrote the paper identified two features that suggest these faults must have formed quite recently.

  1. In the middle image, the lobate scarp cross-cuts small craters and deforms them slightly. This means the fault must have occurred after the craters formed, and the craters are thought to be no more than 800 million years old.
  2. In the right-hand image, there are some shallow, elongated troughs which were formed at the same time as the lobate scarp, when the crust got a bit bent. These troughs are no more than 1-2 m deep in some places. Dust and sediment would accumulate very slowly on the Moon, at a rate of about 5 cm per million years… but this means that the troughs can’t be more than about 50 million years old.

Plus, there are earthquakes on the Moon (moonquakes), some of which come from shallow levels and may be related to these faults.

So that’s exciting! Active faulting on the Moon… but… why? What causes this faulting? On Earth, faults are generally associated with plate tectonics, but the Moon doesn’t have mantle convection and separate plates… so what’s going on?

It turns out there are three main sources of stress that act on the crust of the Moon.

  • The Moon was once much hotter, so as it cools down it contracts (this creates compressional forces)
  • The Moon was once closer to the Earth, feeling a stronger gravitational pull, which made it bulge more. It’s been moving away slowly (a few centimetres per year) and so those stresses are relaxing
  • The Moon’s orbit is elliptical, so when it comes closer to the Earth, it feels a stronger gravitational pull which causes some bulging of the rock

If the only force at play was contraction due to cooling, the faults should occur with random orientations; but they don’t. The authors of the study show that all three of these sources of stress combine to generate these faults.

In other words: the tug of the Moon’s gravity on the Earth causes tides… but the tug of the Earth’s gravity on the Moon causes moonquakes!

5 things you may not already know about the “Water on Mars” story

There has been quite a lot of excitement recently in the planetary sciences. If you haven’t already heard (if not, where have you been!?), it has now been confirmed that liquid water flows on the surface of Mars – this is almost old news now with the speed things travel on the internet!

This discovery is so new and exciting as they believe water is actually liquid and flowing on the surface of the planet, right now. We’ve known for a while that water exists on Mars, frozen in its ice caps, and we’ve also known that water once flowed but has since evaporated, but flowing water today is new.


Dark streaks believed to be caused by the flow of brine (click for source)

Let’s get this right though, flowing water has not actually be “found”, but strange seasonal streaks on the planet have been interpreted as brine flows using high resolution spectral data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. In fact, the paper clearly states, “no direct evidence for either liquid water or hydrated salts has been found”, but it does say “Our findings strongly support the hypothesis that recurring slope lineae form as a result of contemporary water activity on Mars”. So they are pretty sure, but until we can get direct evidence it is still very much a hypothesis so lets not get carried away envisaging little green men, but this is definitely the beginning of something very exciting!


Dark streaks representing the potential flow of brine on Mars (click for source)

This somehow makes me feel quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things knowing that our Earth isn’t as special and unique as we are inclined to think. Also rather exciting (or scary?) is that the likelihood that we aren’t alone in our solar system is now pretty high!

There are lots of great articles, blogs and other resources available online if you want to find out more – a google search brings up a lot of things, but the actual paper will be your best resource.  So with the risk of just repeating others, I thought I would bring to you a few interesting/amusing things you may not know about the discovery of water flowing on Mars.

Without further ado:

1. NASA’s Mars rovers are banned from touching, analysing and even going near the flowing water, so for the moment we aren’t able to confirm the existence of such rivers. If you think about it this does make sense – in the search for life, how will be know that potential organic material was found on the planet, not just brought there from Earth by the rover.  In the search for life this may become an issue however!

2. You can view satellite images of Mars on Google maps and try to spot these streaks yourself. Just go here – pretty cool.
3. Shortly after the announcement by NASA, US conservative radio host, Rush Limbaugh stated that he believes it is a left wing conspiracy and all data used in the research has been made up. No good science story is complete without equally good conspiracy theories it seems…!

4. Ridley Scott, the director of the new film “The Martian” stated, “I knew this months ago” in response to the discovery. However he was told too late to incorporate this finding into the film.

5. A likely* cause and origins of such flows:

* By likely I mean 100% certainly the truth…

What is modeling and how does it work?

I’ve noticed in a lot of RSES Thursday seminars and generally in the media that people often ask why is a particular model showing something but not something else. How is it that it is showing this phenomenon but not that other phenomenon. Or they point out how something can’t be because their data are not showing the same thing.

This goes in general for any model… whether it’s a climate model, a model of ocean currents or a combination thereof, a geodynamic model… anything.

In my work I deal more with inversions (which is a somewhat opposite process to modeling) but in order to test my inversions I also had to do some modeling. In this post I will concentrate on what modeling is and how it works and then you can extrapolate this to any scientific model you are looking into.

What does it mean to model something? Some of you have probably had various earth science courses where you were forced to derive a particular set of equations that you were told describe a certain process.

Shallow water equations? Navier-Stokes equations? Equations of conservation of mass/momentum/energy? Water salinity equations? Some of those most certainly sound familiar (I hope). They are partial differential equations describing how a certain medium (air, water, solid or not solid earth) behaves in equilibrium and when there are any forces applied. You have probably discovered for yourself, or you were told, that these equations are difficult to solve… and they are. Usually in academic courses they are solved for specific extreme cases – when there are no forces acting on a medium, assuming no turbulence, no external or internal heat sources of any kind, and they are solved either for a specific location in space and we are observing how this changes through time (Eulerian approach) or we pretend that as observers of some fluid we follow a fluid parcel around through space and time (Lagrangian approach).

To solve these equations analytically (meaning using the mathematical rules for solving them) would take a lot of time and effort. To do so for many locations in space and/or for a long time period is a known torture technique in Guantanamo prison (not really). We use computers to solve these equations. However, as I always like to point out computers are (for now) utter idiots, dumb machines that only do exactly what you tell them to do. Computer CANNOT solve partial differential equations exactly (the way you would do on a piece of paper using mathematical rules). These equations are solved numerically, using iterations and approximations. One of the most common ways to solve them is to use a finite-element technique. This means that instead of treating a derivative as infinitely small change of some property (which it is by definition) you treat it as a small finite quantity. Summing a lot of small finite quantities along a given contour approximates an integral for example.

An example of how this works: I’m a seismologist and I use seismic waves and their corresponding raypaths to infer on the structure of deep earth. Given a source – the location of the earthquake – and a receiver – a seismic station that recorded it – I can easily get the great circle along which seismic waves propagated for this particular combination of starting and ending points (figure 1). I use a little piece of software that does this for me and within a matter of seconds prints out a number of points through which this wave passed. These points are characterised by their angular distance from the source, their location (latitude and longitude) and radius within the earth. That’s all I need to know where the front of the wave is as it propagates through time. Now, I need travel times through a particular part of the interior, in my case the inner core. I don’t care about the total travel time, or travel time through the mantle, I just need the travel time through the core.

All I have is those angular distances, radii and assumed velocities of propagation within the inner core. How do I get travel times? And better yet how do I get an integral of a travel time along a contour that is part of the seismic ray within the core? Time is distance over velocity. My point A is at an angular distance alpha1 from the source and the point B next to it is at an angular distance alpha2 from the source. The difference of these two angles gives me an angular distance between points A and B. I have the radii of these points as well. I can now use the angle between A and B and the average radius of the two to get a circular sector, which is the distance between points A and B. Given some velocity assumption for this part of the Earth I can now easily get the travel time between points A and B. Doing this for all the points within the inner core, following them along the propagation path (remember this is given to me via radii, location and angular distances from the source) and summing each segment gives me the integral of total travel time through the core. This has finite-element written all over it.


Figure 1 – Model of ray propagation through the Earth. The ray propagates from the source towards receiver – a station on the surface of the Earth. In order to model the propagation we are tracing the ray along a finite number of points. r is the radius from the centre of the Earth to discrete points A and B. Notice that this radius changes along the ray path, but in this case if points are very close their radii are almost equal and that’s how they are shown here for simplicity. Angular distances are also shown (see text for explanation). Also I love my hand drawings. I’m sorry if you don’t.

And this is a very trivial example of how you solve a partial differential equation – you divide elements of it into small finite parts and you sum them, or you subtract them…. You do what is required in your specific problem. In my case, I have about a 100 points that stretch through the inner core so the above procedure is on average performed a 100 times per ray. I have about 500 rays in my current dataset, so to get travel times through the core for all my seismic rays this simple procedure described above needs to be repeated about 50 000 times. It takes about half an hour on my computer. And this is modeling. It is modeling the propagation of a seismic ray through the inner core.

This was a simple example and is easy to check – if I do this for the entire ray path, not just the inner core, and if the travel time thus obtained matches the travel time recorded at a seismic station – my model is correct.  This means the assumption on the propagation velocity within the medium (inner core or otherwise) was good too! It is also possible to use data to infer on the deviations of real Earth from some velocity model. An example of that is shown in figure 2. Ray tracing is used in this kind of procedure too.

Now imagine modeling something more complicated. Tsunami for example is described by shallow water equations which are a set of three fluid equations under certain conditions. There are also boundaries (sea floor and sea surface) that need to be taken into account. To model a tsunami propagating from somewhere in the ocean (where an earthquake occurred) towards a coastline is no small deal. All these equations need to be solved simultaneously over a large portion of space and time with the initial conditions included (this includes knowledge of the earthquake source, what kind of sea floor displacement this earthquake caused, what is the resulting amplitude of the tsunami wave etc etc). The run time of one such model can easily take anywhere between 4 and 48 hours.


Figure 2 – The result of an inversion of seismic P-wave velocity deviation from the AK135 reference model from approximately 20,000 tele-seismic arrivals. Red regions represent slower velocitys and blue faster. Regions in good agreement with the reference model are made transparent. (Rawlinson et al, “The structure of the upper mantle beneath the Delamerian and Lachlan orogens from simultaneous inversion of multiple teleseismic datasets”, Gondwana Research, 2011; Hawkins and Sambridge, “Geophysical imaging using trans-dimensional trees”, GJI, 2015). Courtesy of Rhys Hawkins

Modeling anything in geodynamics is even more difficult because you can’t really see what is happening in the mantle for example – so you have to rely on known physics/chemistry and see whether your models in general predict something (anything) that you can observe (a surface manifestation maybe?) but at the same time not violating the properties of the mantle (buoyancy, continental drift, accepted temperatures within the mantle….). Check out an example of some mantle modeling in figure 3.

Figure 3 – To model convection of viscous fluids, like the mantle, you must solve the equations governing the conservation of mass, momentum and energy. Modern modelling frameworks typically use the finite difference method or the finite element method. The image is a temperature isosurface (surface connecting points of equal temperature) taken from a 3D box model. The isosurface provides an outline of a mantle plume that has risen form the core mantle boundary, passed through an upper mantle phase transition and begun spread out across the base of the lithosphere. Courtesy of Tim Jones

This can tell you something: if your model is not showing a particular phenomenon that you’re expecting to see, it means that you either don’t have the equations that govern this process included in your model, or if you think you have equations that do govern this process/phenomenon than those equations simply do not predict it.

This is a simple way of looking at it. You can also be looking at wrong scales… Is your phenomenon some sort of a blob of high temperature cruising through Pacific? Is this blob 50m in diameter and you are modeling the behaviour of Pacific every 200m? You will not see it – in order to see something that is 50m in diameter, you need to have the points of your model spaced at least every 25m.

Is this a phenomenon that occurs every 10 days but you are running your model in steps of one year in time? Or is it a phenomenon that occurs every 1000 years but you ran your model in such a way that it shows only the prediction for 700 years in the future?

Do you see how complicated it can get? Not only do you have to solve complicated equations but you have to worry about boundary conditions, time steps, spatial steps (the resolution)… And the more spatial and/or time points you have the longer it takes for a computer program to finish and it consumes more power. This is when people doing the modeling say it is ‘expensive’ to run something – they don’t (necessarily) mean that it is financially expensive – it is computationally expensive – it takes computer power and time to run a model.

Next time when you wonder about a particular model and why it does or doesn’t show something think about all of that – ask yourself (or better – the presenter!) what set of equations are used, what approximations and assumptions are controlling them (there always are approximations and assumptions, turbulence is one of many examples that is nigh on impossible to describe/model), what are the boundary conditions, what is the resolution of the model, for which period of time had someone run it… Then also think about what was the primary purpose of creating this model? What was it meant to show? Is it not showing something because it’s not there or is it because the authors of the model are not even trying to see that particular thing so maybe they deliberately disregarded it to save on computation costs? Or maybe the model is showing something that no one expected? If the model is confirmed through actual data it is probably a good and to an extent correct model. If the data from different sources are consistently showing something that is not in the model (but we made sure that it should be there!) then models need changing….

And remember, as my good friend Rhys pointed me to the quotes by George Box:

“Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful”.

“Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.”

[gemstones] Beryl

by Louise Schoneveld

Out of “the big 4” gemstones, we’ve already learnt about the two corundums; ruby and sapphire, now it’s time to go green with emerald.

Cut gemstones of Emerald Image from -

Cut gemstones of Emerald Image from –


Emeralds are a variation of the mineral beryl with the formula Be3Al2(SiO3)6. Pure beryl is colourless however trace amount of elements can cause beautiful colourations. Fe2+ within a beryl can make an aquamarine gemstone (fig 2.) while Fe3+ causes a golden variation known as “golden beryl” or “Heliodor” (fig 3.). The classic green colouration of emeralds are given by inclusions of chromium and occasionally vanadium.

Fig 2. Aquamarine variation of Beryl. Image from

Fig 3. Heliodor gem Image from

Hardness and crystal habit:

On the Mohs scale of hardness emerald ranks a 7.5-8, which is harder than quartz, and equal with Topaz. Beryl usually grown as prismatic hexagonal crystals and can be striated lengthwise as displayed in fig 2.

Cheeky gemstone tricks:

As only the deep green beryl has a high value as an emerald, the light green variations are often heat treated to produce more valuable aquamarines. These gems are usually heated at between 400-450 C to ensure a beautiful blue. [1] This is much lower than the heat treatment required to improve sapphires.


Good quality emeralds range from US$7,500-$15,00 per carat

Good quality aquamarine are roughly US$200 per carat

Good quality beryls range from range from US$33 for colourless to US$171 for light green coloured per carat.

Where to find:

Sadly, you cannot find emeralds in Australia, not even in Emerald, QLD. The largest producers of emeralds are Colombia (80%) and Zambia.

The more you know about the gems you buy, the most interesting they are…


Exfoliate, rinse, pollute

By Eleanor

What’s worse: letting a plastic bag fly away into the ocean, or washing your face?

Everyone I know, and hopefully everyone you know, would chase after a plastic bag if it blew away. We do this because we know plastic in the ocean is bad, and littering is illegal in Australia, and anyway, beaches covered in rubbish aren’t very nice to be on.

Jakarta Post / Agung Parameswara

Jakarta Post / Agung Parameswara

But letting a plastic bag fly into the ocean might not be as bad for the environment as washing your face every day, if your product of choice happens to contain microbeads.

Polluting, sorry, no, "energising" microbeads

Polluting, sorry, no, “energising” microbeads

Microbeads are tiny little balls of plastic that are put in exfoliating facial scrubs, body washes, toothpastes and household cleaning products. They’re designed to be rinsed off and washed down the drain. From the drain, they end up in sewage treatment plants, but not all of them get captured, so the rest go into waterways and oceans.

Last week, a group of scientists published an opinion piece in which they estimate that every day, eight trillion microbeads enter waterways in the U.S.

This is a problem because microbeads have two alarming properties:

  1. they absorb pollutants like motor oil and pesticides
  2. they look like fish food, because they’re about the same size as tiny sea creatures that fish like to eat

This means that fish eat these little bits of plastic that have absorbed all these toxins… then bigger fish eat lots of the little fish… and really big fish eat lots of those fish… and then humans eat the really big fish.

Steve Greenberg

Steve Greenberg

The scientists who wrote the article called for a ban on microbeads:

“The probability of risk from microbead pollution is high while the solution to this problem is simple. Banning microbeads from products that enter wastewater will ultimately protect water quality, wildlife, and resources used by people.”

The good news is that a handful of U.S. states are already starting to ban microbeads. More good news is that some companies are taking notice, and avoiding the use of microbeads even without a ban.

I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of plastic I use for a while, but I kept my head in the sand about my toothpaste. So after reading the article, I spent about 30 seconds googling to see if my toothpaste of choice contains microbeads. The company website states:

“Some groups have raised concerns regarding the potential contribution of microbeads to pollution of the world’s oceans. Recognizing that consumers have questions, as of year-end 2014 we are no longer using this ingredient.”

Great! I can brush my teeth guilt-free! I’m quite pleased to see that consumer concern and public dialogue is putting pressure on companies to avoid microbeads.

Let’s keep this up. By talking about it, and by avoid buying stuff containing microbeads, it seems that companies and governments will get the message!

If you really like those exfoliating face-washes though, don’t worry – there are alternatives! Some products contain crushed up walnut or apricot shells, or even sea salt, for exfoliation without the pollution.

P.S. For more information on the issues around plastic getting into the oceans, check out some of the other posts on this blog on the same subject.

P.P.S. A colleague came into my office as I was writing this post, and told me how they had run over their letterbox this morning because they forgot to put the handbrake on when they got out of their car to pick up a plastic bag. So people, pick up plastic and don’t forget the handbrake!

[gemstones] Corundum

Ever heard the words “I would like a corundum ring please”? Probably not. Maybe because when corundum found in gem quality it is often called sapphire or ruby.

Ruby and Sapphire Image from -

Ruby and Sapphire Image from –

Colourations, crystal habit and hardness

Corundum is an aluminium oxide (Al2O3) and in its pure form is transparent. The impurities in the mineral give it the spectacular colourations; iron(III) creates yellow or green sapphires, titanium(III) gives pink colourations, chromium makes rubies (red) and titanium (IV) and iron (II) give sapphires (blue). [1]

Occasionally sapphire contain both yellow and blue and these are known as parti sapphires.

It grows naturally hexagonal crystals (fig 1.). There hardness is a 9  and is a defining minerals on the Mohs hardness scale which makes them the 3rd hardest mineral known to science.

Formation and Deposits

Corundum is formed in igneous such as; syenite, nepheline syenite and pegmatite and metamorphic rocks such as; schist, gneiss or marble, with marble usually containing the higher quality gems. However, when fossicking for rubies and sapphires you generally look in alluvial deposits as these gems are so hard they resist weathering and get plucked out of their host rocks and washed into streams.

Ruby in metamorphic rock - photo courtesy of True North Gems

Fig 1 – Ruby in metamorphic rock – photo courtesy of True North Gems


Good quality blue sapphires can range from US$1000-$3000 per carat. Rubies are more expensive as they are rarely good enough quality to facet, with deep red stones selling for over US$10,000 per carat.

Even in you do not have ruby of sapphire jewellery you may have corundum in your house as Emery boards and sandpaper are often made from grains of (synthetic) corundum. Synthetic corundum is now making its way into the jewellery market as well as the demand for natural flawless rubies and sapphires far outweighs the supply.

Cheeky gemstone tricks

As deep colours and clarity are desirable for jewellery, many of the stones cut for this purpose have been heat treated to intensify the colour. The corundum must be heated to >1400 C which removed the “silk” and clarifies the stones. This silk is often inclusions of rutile (TiO2).

Some lower grade sapphire can be artificially coloured using heat treatments in the presence of beryllium which diffuses into the sapphire, colouring it yellow or orange.

Where can you find them?

In Australia, Queensland has many gem fields were you can find your own sapphires ( Anakie, Rubyvale, Sapphire, Glenalva, The Willows, Inverell, Glen Innes). Sapphires are quite common throughout the world however rubies are primarily sourced from Myanmar (Burma).

If you are interested in fossicking you should contact your local fossicking or lapidary club. 

What’s you’re favourite gemstone?

[1] Rock-Forming Minerals: Non-Silicates: Oxides, Hydroxides and Sulphides edited by J. F. W. Bowles, R. A. Howie, D. J. Vaughan, J. Zussman


INQUA Congress in Nagoya, Japan*: A week of science, sushi and shinkansen (bullet train)

By Jen Wurtzel

*This travel was funded by an AQUA Student Travel Prize with additional support from the RSES D.A. Brown Travel Scholarship.

It was a hot and humid week at the end of July 2015 when nearly two thousand scientists from all over the world gathered in Nagoya, Japan for the INQUA XIX Congress – the first to be held in Japan since the organization’s 1928 inception.   Nagoya is located in central Japan and is easily accessible by shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo and Osaka.   Though there weren’t many accommodation options in the immediate vicinity of the Nagoya Congress Center, there were a number of bustling neighbourhoods within 2-3 short stops on Nagoya’s efficient subway system.

Nagoya Congress Centre. Photo by Len Martin.

Nagoya Congress Centre. Photo by Len Martin.

A few of us RSES students found ourselves staying at a ryokan (Japanese-style inn) in Kamimaezu.

Our room at the Ryokan Meiryu, a Japanese style inn. Photo by Jen Wurtzel.

Our room at the Ryokan Meiryu, a Japanese style inn. Photo by Jen Wurtzel.

Exploring the surrounding area on Sunday morning led us to discover that we were within a few blocks of the Osu shopping district, a large arcade-style mall filled with a wide range of shops, including tiny 5-person sushi bars, vintage clothing, Japanese street food, traditional craft stores, and ¥100 (dollar) shops.

Osu Shopping District, Nagoya. Photo by Jen Wurtzel.

Osu Shopping District, Nagoya. Photo by Jen Wurtzel.

While the main streets were mostly modern, on some of the back streets, rice paper lanterns and wooden sliding doors which marked the entrances of many shops made you feel like you were walking down an Edo-period street.   Despite the oppressive heat, we enjoyed wandering and cooled off with a pineapple-flavoured shaved ice from one of the local shops.

Waiting for shaved ice! Photo by Jen Wurtzel.

Waiting for shaved ice! Photo by Jen Wurtzel.

The conference kicked off on Sunday evening, 26 July, with an icebreaker, where attendees had the opportunity to catch up with old faces and meet some new ones, all while sampling Japanese beers and snacks.  Following the icebreaker, AQUA members proceeded to dinner at a local izakaya (Japanese bar and grill), where communal dining and unlimited drinks led to an inevitably good time.

AQUA dinner at an izakaya. Photo by Len Martin.

AQUA dinner at an izakaya. Photo by Len Martin.

On Monday morning, at the Opening Ceremony, delegates were honoured and awed by the presence of Their Majesties, the Emperor and Empress of Japan, as well as Guests of Honor, the Minister of Science and Technology Policy and the Governor of Aichi Province.   After brief speeches by the Local Organizing Committee, the conference was underway, starting with business meetings in the early afternoon.

The Emperor and Empress of Japan at the Opening Ceremony. Screenshot from:

The Emperor and Empress of Japan at the Opening Ceremony. Screenshot from:

Oral presentations began that evening with the plenary lectures.  The honour of the first talk went to Georgia Tech’s Kim Cobb, who gave a brilliant lecture on Holocene ENSO variability in the tropical Pacific.  This was followed by plenary talks on climate impacts on biodiversity, and biomarker proxy development.

After that, delegates broke off to listen to the first sessions on a wide range of Quaternary topics, including paleoclimate, human dispersal, tephrochronology, archaeology and much, much more.

The first evening ended with a welcome function that featured greetings from Nagoya’s mayor and traditional Japanese taiko drummers.

Taiko drumming at the Welcome Function. Photo by Len Martin.

Taiko drumming at the Welcome Function. Photo by Len Martin.

The conference schedule was intense; the day regularly started at 9am with two oral sessions separated by a 30-minute tea and coffee break (which didn’t include biscuits, much to the dismay of the Brits and Aussies who cherish their proper morning tea).   While the morning tea left something to be desired, I was personally delighted with lunch.  Though there were a few options including Japanese style pork or veggie sandwiches, my absolute favourite was the onigiri, which is a Japanese rice ball containing varieties of seafood or vegetables wrapped in nori (seaweed).

The hour break for lunch was followed daily by plenary lectures and the poster session, before oral sessions resumed at 5pm, running until nearly 7pm.   Throughout the week, up to 14 sessions could be running concurrently, leading to some difficult decisions about which sessions to attend.  I thought the poster sessions were well-sized for the allotted time.  It was also nice to not have to choose between attending talks and wandering the posters.

Poster session. Photo by Jen Wurtzel

Poster session. Photo by Jen Wurtzel

Thursday served as a reprieve from the overwhelming schedule talks, with some delegates participating in mid-conference field trips to various geologic sites around Japan and others venturing off on their own.

Friday saw the resumption of presentations, as well as a number of business meetings.  One major purpose of the business meetings was to vote on the location of INQUA’s next congress.  Zaragoza (Spain), Rome, and Dublin all put in bids.  The Irish wandered around in bright green INQUA Dublin 2019 t-shirts, while the Italians tried to win us over with wines and cheese during one of the poster sessions (it worked on me, at least).  In the end, Dublin was the winning bid.

9 poster session

Zaragoza, Rome, and Dublin try to convince delegates why the next conference should be held in their cities. Photo by Jen Wurtzel.

It was obviously not possible to attend all the sessions, and I tended to stick mostly to the paleoclimate topics.  I attended a number of sessions on the Asian Monsoon, interglacial climate, Holocene climate, and Southern Hemisphere paleoclimate.   Some of the highlights were hearing UC Berkeley’s John Chiang talk about the role of the westerlies in monsoon dynamics, Pedro DiNezio from the University of Hawaii speaking about the Indo-Pacific in models and proxies during the LGM and the role of sea level, and Simon Armitage of Royal Halloway telling us about a new record to help constrain the timing of the onset of the African Humid Period.  These are just a few of the dozens of memorable talks I attended during the conference.

Even though I mostly attended the paleoclimate sessions, I did venture out of my comfort zone a bit by attending a session on human activity in paleoecology records.  When I wasn’t being overwhelmed by pollen diagrams, I found the human aspect very interesting.  Many of the talks were related to the identification of fire in the record, and whether or not spikes in charcoal could be related to human activity.

My own presentation was given Saturday morning in the SHAPE (Southern Hemisphere Assessment of Paleo-environments) session.  I was a bit nervous as the previous talks had been really well-presented and featured cute pictures of small, furry creatures (of which my cave contains none).  However, the talk went off without a hitch and while I didn’t receive a whole lot of useful feedback, I felt the talk had been well-received.  Relieved to be done, I was able to enjoy that night’s conference dinner (yakiniku! (grilled meat)) with the knowledge I had just one more days of talks to attend.  Interestingly, a lot of the most interesting paleo sessions were scheduled on the last two days, which meant things didn’t exactly wind down until the very, very end.  That was on Sunday.  Two more excellent morning sessions, a few more plenary talks, and a farewell function brought the conference to a close. My group opted to pass on the function in order to get a head start on our post-conference trip, but not without a fond farewell to Nagoya, which we had really enjoyed.

Claire Krause, Jen Wurtzel, and Ali Kimbrough bid farewell to Nagoya and the XIX INQUA Congress. Photo by Kelsie Long.

Claire Krause, Jen Wurtzel, and Ali Kimbrough bid farewell to Nagoya and the XIX INQUA Congress. Photo by Kelsie Long.

From the start, Nagoya reminded me a lot of Canberra.   Just like when I told people I was moving to Canberra, when I mentioned I was going to Nagoya, people would ask ‘Why would you go there?’  And to be fair, it’s probably not a city that would have made the itinerary had I been planning a non-conference-related trip to Japan.   Yet, when I arrived, I found that Nagoya had plenty to offer.   There were really cool shopping districts, gardens, shrines and castles, and a number of museums (including a Questacon-like science museum boasting the world’s largest planetarium).

Nagoya Castle. Photo by Len Martin.

Nagoya Castle. Photo by Len Martin.

Nagoya Science Museum. Photo by Claire Krause.

Nagoya Science Museum. Photo by Claire Krause.

We enjoyed trying all the local family-run restaurants, where the owners were often friendly and welcoming, despite the language barrier.  I would definitely consider Nagoya an underappreciated city, much like Canberra.

From Nagoya, we met up with friends and fiancées in Osaka, and spent a fun week travelling through the country.  Below are a few of our favourite photos from our travels.  Enjoy!

In front of Mt. Fuji. Photo by Mochan Wishclub.

In front of Mt. Fuji. Photo by Mochan Wishclub.

Kimono experience provided by our Shimizu hosts! Photo by Mochan Wishclub.

Kimono experience provided by our Shimizu hosts! Photo by Mochan Wishclub.