PHD: Epilogue

By Evan

Last time I posted on this blog, I was in a pretty stressful state of being. Deadlines were piling up, as I was preparing for a presentation at the AGU Fall Meeting (BTW, the presentation was a success). At the end of the post, I concluded by saying:

I think the best cure is to work hard and get things done!

Well, it is late April, and here I am sitting in Japan, a week removed from handing in my PHD thesis (note, this post was written April 25). I have spent the past week not thinking about it! I have to say, I had hoped that I would have completed things at least a month earlier than I did, but that is not how things worked. It came down to the wire, and the hours piled on much more than I would have liked. For those of you who are in a PHD program, but not yet at the end point, here are some comments on my experience. Continue reading “PHD: Epilogue”

High anxiety


By Evan

As anyone who closely follows the this blog might have noticed, my blog output has dropped considerably in the past few months. This is, of course, related to the fact that I want to be done my PHD in the next few months. During the past few weeks, I can noticeably feel the levels of stress increasing past thresholds never experienced in the past.

When doing my masters thesis, I cruised to an easy victory, so it seemed. I finished on schedule and my defense went off without a hitch. When the biggest criticism from your external examiner was failing to put scale bars on maps, I think it was a good indication of success. My current supervisor told me recently that he would never have accepted a student who had to work extremely hard for their honours/masters.

A PHD is a different beast. You have much longer to finish relative to a masters degree, though the expectations are far higher. There is no course work to help you along, so you must be self motivated to learn all the skills required to finish on time. Things don’t always work out as planned, and delays inevitably happen. At the end, there are things that conspire to raise stress levels: running out of money, the need to find a job, deadlines for graduation, summer holidays. Will I be able to go on a holiday this summer? That is a question I will not be able to answer right now. Will I find a nice post-doctoral fellowship somewhere? Can I finish my thesis before my money supplies start depleting, and to get my graduation papers by June 2014? These are all things that drive me right now. And of course, there is always that lingering feeling of imposter syndrome.

To compound the problems are computer troubles. Because of limited time, I needed to change scripts that run programs. Of course, nothing ever works perfectly first time, but it can be extremely frustrating to track down mystery bugs. I got it working, but it took nearly three work days. I am going to the AGU Fall Meeting in December, so I need results! It is getting close, but I think it is possible to get the required results by then.

What possible way is there to get out of this period of high anxiety? This is a fairly new experience for me, but I think the best cure is to work hard and get things done! Ultimately, finishing solves all the problems. I think it is a good idea to step out and breathe some fresh air sometimes (and maybe play some ultimate frisbee!)

US Government Shutdown Claims Antarctica Field Season

By Evan

By the time this is posted, I hope that the US government shutdown is old news. Though I vowed to not read the news, something this big is hard to not hear about. Plus there is the fact that pretty much every government website, include those with geophysical and geological data, are completely shut down. Recently, I have been studying the tilting of large lakes due to post-glacial rebound, and a bunch of the data are on the NOAA website. Of course, when you go to website now, you get this:


Unfortunately, most geophysical data are not considered to be necessary to protect lives, so they are down. I am very lucky that I downloaded the data that I needed before October 1st, otherwise I would be out of luck! Continue reading “US Government Shutdown Claims Antarctica Field Season”

No News is Good News

Early news story on climate. From the August 30, 1884 edition of the New York Times.
Early news story on climate. From the August 30, 1884 edition of the New York Times.

By Evan

As with many people, I always had a ritual of sitting down to read or watch the news in the morning. This has been something I have done for the past 13 years, when I was in my first year of university (showing my age here). Whether newspapers, TV news programs, or news websites, I usually spent an average of one hour a day absorbing the events of the world.

One day back in August, I decided, no more. I think that the constant load of bad news had led me to have a negative viewpoint in life. Since that day, I have not read news websites or newspapers, and I no longer turn on the news while having breakfast in the morning, opting instead to listen to the great radio station, ABC Dig Music (seriously, it is one of the greatest music stations ever). Continue reading “No News is Good News”

Terror Birds

The terror bird, Gastornis (from Wikipedia)
The terror bird, Gastornis (from Wikipedia)

By Evan

I actually wanted to start making a post about terror birds last week, but I am glad I didn’t. According to ABC Science, one of the presentations at last week’s Goldschmidt conference (tea time in our department has been somewhat depleted by the amount of people who have gone to it), the mighty terror bird Gastornis was probably a vegetarian. Gastornis lived in the early Paleogene  (about 55-40 million years ago), and is thought to have been a plant eater based on its lack of claws, its large size, and calcium isotopes – which matched closer to herbivores than carnivores. Continue reading “Terror Birds”

National Science Week – Social Media Event

national_science_weekBy Evan

As part of National Science Week, there is a public event being held at the ANU all about social media. The title of the event, Memes, blogs and videos: how social media has transformed the way we communicate science is quite a mouthful, but it features some of the biggest names in scientific social media. Among the participants are those involved in Bad Astronomy, I Fucking Love Science, and Science Alert. As a blogger for the past couple of years on this site, I found it to be a very good way to discuss interesting geoscience news that I found. It is also a great way to practice writing about science. As they say, the best way to get good at something is to practice! I don’t know if our little corner of the Internet has changed the paradigms of society, but it has been a lot of fun. Continue reading “National Science Week – Social Media Event”

Publishing a paper – Accepted!

Went to a baseball game in Fukuoka last night (Monday - Hawks win!). This is what I it feels like now.
Went to a baseball game in Fukuoka last night (Monday – Hawks win!). This is what I it feels like now.

By Evan

A couple of months ago, I wrote at length about the trials and tribulations of revising a paper. Though it was a stressful, difficult time to get through the revisions, it is all worthwhile after receiving this email:

Dear Mr. Evan James Gowan,

I am pleased to confirm that your paper “An assessment of the minimum timing of ice free conditions of the western Laurentide ice sheet” has been accepted for publication in Quaternary Science Reviews.

Of course, publishing a paper, even as sole author, is not possible without the support and advice of colleagues, supervisors, fellow students, and of course, the people who did the peer review. Words can’t describe how happy I am right now, though I am reminded that there is at least one or two more papers that must be done before the end of the PHD!

Publishing a paper is a long an arduous process. The seeds for this paper were planted approximately one year ago, according to the date stamps on some of the files in my analysis folder. I actually started writing in late August last year, while attending an ANU Academic Skills and Learning workshop on publishing papers. I recommend attending such a workshop if you have never been through the process of publishing. I submitted the first draft of my paper in late November, and received a response by late January. Though it was tough to read the reviews, my supervisor told me “either they say ‘major revisions’, or they will reject the paper, and the better of the two options happened”. It was exactly what I needed to hear. I already outlined what revisions were like, but the second round, which I received in late April, were much more manageable.

Having this published is a huge weight off my shoulders. Hopefully it won’t be long until I write about the “in press” draft. 😉

Volcano Tourism – Mt. Aso

Aso Caldera
Aso Caldera

By Evan

As mentioned in my last post, I currently am spending some time in Japan, in Kumamoto, Kyushu (i.e. southern Japan). The major attraction of Kumamoto, besides the ubiquitous Kumamon, is without a doubt Mt Aso. The Aso caldera (essentially a giant hole caused by the collapse of a volcano after an eruption, or more violently from an actual eruption) is one of the largest in the world. The signs on the volcano claims this is the largest caldera in the world, but I suspect that Toba is actually larger. Being inside of the caldera is impressive, like the inside of a steep bowl. The caldera formed in four major eruption episodes between 300,000 and 90,000 years ago, with the final eruption causing the majority of it. Here are some pictures of my visit from last weekend. Continue reading “Volcano Tourism – Mt. Aso”

Particles in the Air

Hazy Kumamoto
Hazy Kumamoto

By Evan

Some might have noticed (particularly Claire, sorry!) that my postings have dropped quite a bit during the past month. The reason for this is that I have been on a world tour during the past month. I have literally flown through every major time zone in the world. Due to this, my 2013 has 364 days!

Right now, I am having an extended stay in Japan. It is exciting to experience this country, which is quite different than hanging out in the Commonwealth. I struggle a bit with Japanese (i.e. I can say hello, good evening and thank you, and that is about it), but everyone is so friendly.

japan_air_qualityOne thing that isn’t so nice about Japan is particulate matter in the air. My girlfriend came home last night and said “it isn’t cloudy, there is just a lot of particles in the air!” Sure enough, going outside it smelled like smoke. The imagine on the left is a capture of the air quality readings in Japan on Friday morning, taking from this website. Orange values indicate that people with breathing problems should take precautions when outside. As I write this, the region I am in, Kyushu, has low values, but that is because it is raining out.

It is not an uncommon sight to see people wearing face masks while walking around. They do this to try and protect themselves from the particulate matter. However, people generally wear surgeon masks, which according to the air quality website, are inadequate to protect yourself from the particles, because they do not completely seal off the mouth and nose. The only effective masks are the ones that strap on to the back of your head.  Continue reading “Particles in the Air”

The Art of Presenting

Springtime in Vienna - an invasion of geoscience!
Springtime in Vienna – an invasion of geoscience!

By Evan

As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel room in beautiful Vienna, recovering from the after party of the European Geophysical Union General Assembly 2013. The conference is one of the largest meetings of geophysical sciences (with a large helping of geochemistry!), with over 11,000 participants.

My session on glacial isostatic adjustment brought out some of the big shots of the discipline, something I was warned about before arriving (egos abound!). It was great to meet all these people who have published influential and important papers on ice sheet models, sea level change, and the rheology of the Earth (i.e. how the Earth deforms under the shifting loads of water and ice). It was interesting to get people’s views on these matters, and have feedback on my own work. Luckily, everything went smoothly!

Now, onto the matter of the art of presenting. I went to many sessions on tangentially related subjects, and sometimes the talks were not as good as the ones in my own. I have some advice for those who want to have an effective presentation. Continue reading “The Art of Presenting”

Giant Camels in Canada!

Camels enjoying the high Arctic.
Camels enjoying the high Arctic.

By Evan

Once upon a time (3.5 million years ago), the barren wasteland of Ellesmere Island in northernmost Canada was covered in vast forests, and animals like beavers, deer and giant camels. The National Post is reporting on a study just published in Nature Communications on the discovery of a mid-Pliocene camel.

Camels are commonly associated with the deserts of Africa (and now Australia), but they actually evolved in North America. They only made it over to Asia and Africa during the ice age, when glaciations caused sea level to drop and a “land bridge” emerged in Beringia, between Alaska and Siberia. The authors suggest that the modern camel evolved from these high Arctic camels, and the hump and wide hooves that are associated with the them were actually well suited for the long, cold winters that they would have experienced on Ellesmere Island. Continue reading “Giant Camels in Canada!”

Mission to Mars?

inspiration_marsBy Evan

Private exploration of space is becoming all the rage now a days, after cutbacks to agencies like NASA have stifled government based programs. On Thursday, Dennis Tito (a former astronaut himself when he paid is way to space back in 2001) announced an ambitious plan to send a couple to rocket to Mars and back to Earth during an optimal orbital alignment in 2018. The plan does not include landing on Mars (which I find unfortunate), but it perhaps is the only way to bring the people back with the gravity assist of slingshotting past the planet. Most plans to land people on Mars do not involve a return trip, due to the inability to carry enough fuel to get back. As it stands, Tito’s plan is to send a married couple, with the assumption that they will have a better chance of getting along during the five year trip. For more information, here is a link to the mission’s website.

Tito compared the trip to the Lewis and Clark Expedition (which lasted over two years). I think a more apt comparison might be the Franklin expedition. That mission was truly in an isolated environment through the Canadian Arctic, and was expected to take several years (they had five years worth of food supplies). The last known note from the Franklin Expedition was dated nearly 3 years after it started, after the crew became stranded after their boats became stuck in ice. A slingshot mission to Mars will be a test of the resilience of the human spirit in isolated conditions, with the very real possibility of disaster (over half of the missions to Mars have ended in failure). It would take a very sound mind to tackle this long journey, and I have to say it would be very difficult for just two people to do this. I will be excited to see this happen, though. If successful, I think it will lead to future missions, and possibly a landing on the planet. I think you would need an armada of unmanned ships to build a base with adequate supplies for years if the were to do this.

A Busy Weekend for Meteors

By Evan

Ah meteors, the great pieces of rock that fall from the heavens to wreck havoc on the world (rarely). Just a week after a study came out about to confirm the role of a massive impact wiping out the non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago, we are reminded that we are not immune to meteors, and they are always a threat. The meteor that exploded above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk caused injuries of over 1000 people, probably caused when people went to their windows to see what had happened, only to find them shattering due to the blast. Russia Today has a great compilation of videos of the blast (I was informed most Russian cars have dashboard cameras to record road rage incidents, which ended up being beneficial to capture some great views of the explosion):

Continue reading “A Busy Weekend for Meteors”

Kiribati – A disappearing country

Location of Kiribati (from Wikipedia)
Location of Kiribati (from Wikipedia)

By Evan

Sea level rise is a threat to any human settlement close to sea level. No place is more aware of this than the Pacific islands nation of Kiribati. This country, a member of the British Commonwealth, is expected to be inundated by the sea if sea level continues to rise.

On Monday, the Australian government pledged $15 million to help Kiribati rebuild a road damaged by sea level rise. The article suggests that rising sea level could make the nation uninhabitable by 2030, due to erosion and contamination of fresh water sources by salt water. There certainly is some politics involved in this decision. Should Kiribati become uninhabitable, one of the most likely place for the people to go is Australia. There are over 100,000 people who live on the islands, which will only increase in the next 20 years. Having 100,000+ refugees coming towards Australia would definitely put a lot of pressure on the political establishment. The country of Maldives, another archipelago that is under threat of sea level change, has already indicated that Australia was a likely candidate for relocation should the country become inundated (they started a fund to be able to purchase land for settlement). Kiribati announced last week that they are planning to purchase land on Fiji to grow food because the arable land on the islands was diminishing. Continue reading “Kiribati – A disappearing country”

Lake Winnipeg – Most Threatened Lake

Lake Winnipeg algae in 2010 (CBC)
Lake Winnipeg algae in 2010 (CBC)

By Evan

World Wetlands Day happened on February 2nd. The non-profit Global Nature Fund marks the day by naming the most threatened lake in the world. This year, they picked Lake Winnipeg, a large freshwater lake in the province of Manitoba in Canada.

Lake Winnipeg is the 10th largest freshwater lake in the world. Despite it’s great geographical extent, it is actually quite shallow, and therefore prone to pollution and surface weather events. A dam at the northern outlet of the lake was constructed in the 1970s to regulate the water level of the lake. Continue reading “Lake Winnipeg – Most Threatened Lake”

Slurping slimey fish!

By Evan

This week’s interesting science news story comes deep from the sea. A 14 year old Ukrainian boy with an interest in marine science was looking at a live streaming video from an undersea camera, and saw a frightful sight – a snout showed up and slurped up the fish he was watching! The video is below:

Continue reading “Slurping slimey fish!”

Galactic Collisions and Radiocarbon

collisionBy Evan

Several of the regular contributors to this blog deal with radiocarbon dating on a regular basis. The concentration of radiocarbon in the atmosphere is not constant – something that proves to be a major headache when trying to precisely find the age of your sample. For example, events that happened during the cold period known as the Younger Dryas (which happened between 12,900 and 11,500 years ago) cannot be precisely dated using radiocarbon because the concentration in the atmosphere increased rapidly. Potential causes of changes in atmospheric radiocarbon concentration include increases in carbon dioxide due to vegetation changes and ocean-atmosphere interactions, changes in the production rate (radiocarbon is produced by the bombardment of nitrogen gas in the upper atmosphere by cosmic rays), changes in the earth’s magnetic field (the magnetic field protects the Earth from cosmic rays), and more recently, nuclear weapons testing and fossil fuel burning. Changes in the concentration of radiocarbon for the past 12,400 years or so is fairly well known from measuring it in trees preserved in swamps. This allows for matching the concentration of radiocarbon through time with tree rings, an absolute chronology.

Apparent radiocarbon age versus real age (top plot), and the atmospheric concentration of radiocarbon during the Younger Dryas.
Apparent radiocarbon age versus real age (top plot), and the concentration of radiocarbon (bottom) during the Younger Dryas (from the INTCAL09 calibration curve). Note that a sample that grew any time between 12,200 and 12,600 years ago would give an apparent radiocarbon age of about 10,400 years.

Continue reading “Galactic Collisions and Radiocarbon”

Mars’ Glacial Past

Topographical relief of the stream-like feature on Mars.
Topographical relief of the river-like feature on Mars.

By Evan

The National Post has put up some of the latest ESA pictures that reveal Mars’ glacial past. Included is a large, 7 km wide river valley, and what appears to be a cirque, a mountain scooped out by a glacier. The river valley shows evidence of braided streams, which are common in glaciated regions. As noted by some of the commentators, this feature is relatively young on the Martian surface, and there are few craters that have damaged the geomorphology.

Martian cirque?
Martian cirque?
A cirque near Jasper, Alberta (I apologize for the darkness, I need a better camera!).
A cirque near Jasper, Alberta (I apologize for the darkness, I need a better camera!).
A braided stream bed on Mars?
A glacially related river bed on Mars? The ESA scientists believe the linear-style features formed long after water flowed to create the valley, possibly by glacial activity.
A braided stream in the Icefields Parkway in Alberta. These are broad, sinuating rivers that are constantly evolving.
A braided stream in the Icefields Parkway in Alberta (if you ever get the chance to go to Alberta, it is one of the most amazing places on Earth). These are broad, sinuating rivers that originate from melting glaciers, and are constantly evolving.


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