This week I spent four days in Vienna at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly. Although I attend about a dozen research meetings a year, this was the first big meeting I’ve been to for several years having been put off them by one which was very strangely organised. The EGU meeting is enormous. Because it happens at the same venue each year it has evolved into a model of organisation. To give you an idea of the size, the meeting was divided into 23 scientific themes (Atmospheric Sciences; Biogeosciences , Climate: Past, Present, Future; Cryospheric Sciences; Earth Magnetism & Rock Physics; Energy, Resources and the Environment; Earth & Space Science Informatics; Geodesy; Geodynamics; Geosciences Instrumentation & Data Systems; Geomorphology; Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Petrology & Volcanology; Hydrological Sciences; Isotopes in Geosciences; Natural Hazards; Nonlinear Processes in Geophysics; Ocean Sciences; Planetary & Solar System Sciences; Seismology; Stratigraphy, Sedimentology & Palaeontology; Soil System Sciences; Solar-Terrestrial Sciences; Tectonics & Structural Geology). There were also 15 other ‘Union wide programmes’ which I won’t list. On any one day at any one time, just one of those themes (e.g. Climate) had about 12 parallel sessions of its own. The hard-copy of the conference programme comprised some 200 pages and it simply listed the session titles, venues, convenors and times and none of the papers themselves. The title of the papers were only available electronically on a flash stick. The parallel session I was involved in was on aerosols. Two of my doctoral students and two of my postdocs were with me in Vienna. One of the research projects I run (Fennec – the Saharan Climate System) accounted for about 20 papers alone – which made the trip to Vienna worthwhile. Next week I travel to another research meeting – a small one with only 25 people and no parallel sessions – in Lille. To some extent, the success of the big-science meetings rests in being able to create small-parallel sessions which are similar to the focussed research meetings that I normally attend. But the added bonus of the big meetings is the opportunity to hear from other researchers and their projects and, of course, the chance to attend sessions in areas that a researcher may not be currently active in but wishes to keep an eye on. The EGU also has many tens of stalls showing the wares of the latest instrumentation, job placements, latest text books and journals from publishers as well as a large media centre – which had the best cakes and coffee in the conference centre, part of the reason I succumbed to an hour long interview on the Sahara project. The disadvantage of big meetings is mainly the expense. Registration fees at EGU were 420 Euros plus 40 euros admin charge for submitting an abstract. Hotels, food and flights are all extra. There are normally no fees for small meetings.
It has been more than 20 years since I was last in Vienna. That was on a lone hitchhiking mission from Scotland to Turkey at the end of my first year as an undergraduate in Durban – and in January (don’t ask). April was a whole lot more pleasant as in 20 degrees and cloud free. I’m not drawn to cities but Vienna is as nice a capital city as I can imagine.