Sea Lions at San Francisco's Pier 39, with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in the background (Photo by K Hendry)

Sea Lions at San Francisco’s Pier 39, with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in the background (Photo by K Hendry)

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) holds their Fall Meeting every year in December in the bustling city of San Francisco, California. This year, as ever, it’s huge.

It’s probably difficult to imagine quite what it’s like to have 20,000 geoscientists in one convention centre: this year there were 23,000 abstracts submitted for posters and talks.

It’s certainly quite a sight to see swarms of waterproof-jacket-clad, poster-tube-wielding geologists fight their way through the Christmas shoppers of the City’s busiest streets.

Kate at the AGU Fall Meeting 2014 (photo by D Lash)

Kate at the AGU Fall Meeting 2014 (photo by D Lash)

As I haven’t attended for a couple of years, and I was very kindly invited to talk in a couple of the sessions, I decided to head over to the West Coast this year. Although initially overwhelming – the sheer number of experts in every field is mind-boggling – it’s a fantastic opportunity to catch up on the latest research (there are lots of science correspondents here, and you can catch up on some of the latest findings, for example, on the BBC website).

Not only have I been able to get up to speed on what people are doing in my field (chemical oceanography and palaeoceanography), I’ve been able to chat to people at their posters about rivers, ice, earthquakes and the deep interior of the Earth.

As well as catching up on the most recent geoscientific news, the meeting is an ideal opportunity to hear about high-impact policy-relevant studies. For example, there was a whole session dedicated to agriculture in an “uncertain future”, with talks and posters about the resilience (or not) of agriculture to extreme climate events.

And it couldn’t have been better timed given the release of the Royal Society report ‘Resilience to extreme weather report’ aimed at how society should respond in order to safeguard lives and livelihoods.

The AGU Fall Meeting is also a great chance to network, with a wealth of receptions for different subject areas, academics institutions and other groups. For example, I attended an inspiring meeting for early career women in geosciences, which was held in a neighbouring room to a reception to promote diversity in the sciences.

This year, I took the decision to arrive a little early on the West Coast, to get over jet lag and to visit some academic institutions in California. As well as enjoying some spectacular scenery and iconic attractions, I presented my research at the University of California Irvine and the University of Southern California.


Kate Hendry is a Royal Society URF, and was funded as part of a Royal Society research grant to travel to California to talk about her work.