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Plenary Session with Stefan Bengston
Plenary speaker Stefan Bengston, Senior Curator of Paleozoology, Swedish Museum of Natural History, on "Biominerals, Skeletons, and Rocks Through Time"

Session breaks
Session discussions continued in the hallways during breaks

GSA booth
Perusing the latest publications

Poster session
Fifteen poster sessions generated discussion in a relaxed setting

Scenic field trip
ESP2 offered three field trips in the spectacular Canadian Rockies

Peyto Lake
Field trip participants view Peyto Lake in Banff National Park

Athabasca Glacier
Field trip leader Nat Rutter of the University of Alberta and three participants on the toe of Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park

Meeting in Review

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Media Information

Approximately 300 geoscientists, biologists, physicists, and others from around the globe explored new developments in earth system science at Earth System Processes 2, co-convened by the Geological Society of America and the Geological Association of Canada. The meeting was held in August in Calgary, Alberta, with additional support from the NASA Astrobiology Institute, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, and Blackwell Publishing.

While the geosciences have fragmented and become more specialized, the need for re-integration of disciplines and integration with other sciences is becoming increasingly apparent. Earth's surface environment, once considered vast and unconnected, is now seen as finite and highly interconnected by a complex web of feedbacks among the biota, oceans, atmosphere, lithosphere, and cryosphere.

As a result, "ESP2" attendees heard talks ranging from how impact craters may have nurtured microbial life on Earth to the use of tree-ring isotopic data to track hurricane activity through history. Linkages were a common theme, such as those among soil, hydrologic, and geochemical systems during periods of rapid climate change, and the relationship of biodiversity dynamics and global change.

The outstanding technical program consisted of 4 plenary talks, 32 oral and 15 poster sessions, and 3 field trips. A 2-evening education workshop focused on teaching earth system science concepts in the classroom.

Morning plenary sessions brought all participants into the same forum to discuss the frontiers of earth system science:

  • A beautifully illustrated presentation by Stefan Bengston of the Swedish Museum of Natural History addressed the rapid diversification of animals and their intricate and ornate skeletons in the Cambrian, focusing on environmental vs. ecological drivers of biological innovation.
  • Dianne Newman of the California Institute of Technology provided an elegant demonstration of how advances in geomicrobiology (itself a highly interdisciplinary field) may provide breakthroughs in the treatment of disease. Her work on electron transport in mineral-surface biofilms is suggesting treatments for cystic fibrosis.
  • Fred Mackenzie of the University of Hawaii emphasized the profound impact humans have had on global biogeochemical cycles, including reversing the net direction of sulfur transport between land and sea and doubling the flow of nitrogen to the coastal ocean.
  • Shawn Marshall of the University of Calgary used numerical models to highlight the self-destructive nature of large ice sheets. He attributed this behavior to melting that takes place at the base of very thick ice sheets, and speculated that it might pace the recurrence interval of northern-hemisphere glaciations and impact our predictions of ice sheet response to global warming.

Public interest in topics related to earth system science was high. Talks drew media coverage from print, broadcast, and Web outlets representing both the science and general press in the U.S. and Canada, as well as in the U.K., Germany, India, Nigeria, Australia, and Taiwan.

ESP2 followed the groundbreaking Earth System Processes meeting held in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2001. That meeting was co-convened by GSA and the Geological Society of London. ESP2 generated a good deal of excitement, and before the meeting ended, discussions of a third Earth System Processes meeting were already underway.

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