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Marking Earth Day 2020 at DIAS

Today – 22nd April – is Earth Day.

Earth Day is an annual initiative that began in the US in 1970. It has now become a global environmental movement, working with more than 75,000 partners in almost 200 countries to drive positive action for our planet.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and the theme for this milestone year is “climate action”.

DIAS’s work on understanding the Earth

Here at DIAS, we’re also marking a significant milestone in 2020: the 80th anniversary of our establishment.  Throughout the year, we’re running our #DIAS2020 programme of activities and events to mark this milestone.

Over the eight decades of our existence, a key focus of our work has been on furthering our understanding of how the Earth’s systems operate. From deploying seismometers on the ocean floor to gaining new insights into how volcanoes work, our researchers have been at the forefront of studying the Earth since we were founded in 1940.

Views from the DIAS Community

To mark Earth Day 2020, we’ve invited some DIAS team-members and friends to share their views on relevant achievements to date; key priorities for the future; and their climate action heroes.  Here’s what they had to say…

Dr. Eucharia Meehan, CEO and Registrar of DIAS

Dr Eucharia Meehan DIAS

What do you think is the most significant contribution DIAS has made in relation to building a better understanding of the planet Earth?

“That is hard to answer, as contributions have been made in different ways . In the 1950s, there was detailed and complex mapping of the gravity field of the island of Ireland for the first time. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the study of the development of the Atlantic Ocean, which significantly underpinned the extension of Ireland’s national territory, was hugely significant. More recently, for example, seismic tomography work – where a worldwide reference model was developed… All these have contributed to us developing a clearer picture of planet Earth.  The most significant contribution, I think, has in fact been the conduct of detailed, complex, long-term research so as to get important data, key to building a better understanding.”

What single measure do you think would have most impact on climate action over the coming decade?

“A global meaningful sign-up and action on the Sustainable Development Goals, allied with each individual doing what they can locally.”

Who is your climate action hero?

“David Attenborough, as he is someone who really loves and understands the diversity of life on our planet. He communicates so clearly and passionately on behalf of life on Earth.”

Louise Collins, Technical Officer at DIAS’s Geophysics Section

Louise Collins DIAS

What do you think is the most significant contribution DIAS has made in relation to building a better understanding of the planet Earth?

“DIAS – and specifically the work of Professor Brian Jacob – contributed to changing and expanding the map of Ireland by adding evidence that our seabed is significantly bigger than had previously been thought. That led to the “real map of Ireland”, demonstrating that the Irish continental shelf extends out through the Porcupine and Rockall basins thereby enlarging Ireland’s zone of economic interest by a factor of ten.”

What single measure do you think would have most impact on climate action over the coming decade?

“We can already see, with the current Covid-19 situation, that pollution has decreased because of the decrease in fossil fuel burning. If we could completely get away from this form of energy to find a sustainable renewable one, we would be making a very large step towards lessening the impact on the climate.”

Who is your climate action hero?

“We can all be heroes if we actually do our very best to be more environmentally-friendly and kinder to our planet. However, Greta Thunberg fills me with such hope for the younger generation.”

Professor Luke Drury, Emeritus Professor of Astrophysics at DIAS

What do you think is the most significant contribution DIAS has made in relation to building a better understanding of the planet Earth?

“The early work by Leo W. Pollak [a professor at DIAS’s School of Cosmic Physics from the late 1940s to the early 1960s] on condensation nuclei and atmospheric physics is worth a mention. Cloud formation is still the biggest unknown in climate modelling.

“Pollak also gave a statutory public lecture back in the 50s on global warming… I remember being told that one of the Dublin evening papers covered it with the headline ‘Professor predicts that bananas will grow in Dublin’!

What single measure do you think would have most impact on climate action over the coming decade?

“We need to immediately stop all the explicit and implicit subsidies going to fossil fuel producers and consumers, and rapidly transition to an energy economy based around solar and wind, supported by electro-fuels, including hydrogen.  We could do it if the will was there.”

Who is your climate action hero?

“There are certainly many charismatic and important leaders, but we don’t need heroes – we need action. I do have a few personal anti-heroes though!”

Oisin Coghlan, Director of Friends of the Earth Ireland

What do you think is the most significant contribution Ireland has made in relation to building a better understanding of the planet Earth?

“Ireland is famously a ‘laggard’ on climate action according to An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and numerous independent expert reviews. Our biggest contribution to climate action is therefore probably the Citizens’ Assembly which showed that the public were ready for serious climate action. This charted a path forward for politicians to follow if they are serious about Ireland playing its part in fulfilling the Paris Agreement and containing climate breakdown.”

What single measure do you think would have most impact on climate action over the coming decade?

“Passing the new strong climate law, recommended by the all-party Oireachtas Committee last year, as soon as the Dáil is back up and running. It combines timely expert advice, with binding carbon budgets and stronger parliamentary accountability to drive across all Government departments over coming years.”

Who is your climate action hero?

“Professor John Sweeney, Professor Emeritus of Geography at Maynooth University. For consistently speaking scientific truth to power, with calm authority and ruthless integrity, long before anyone was ready to listen. And for communicating the climate crisis; Ireland’s ‘delinquency’; and the imperative to act, so ably to a wider public audience on radio and television over many years.”

Dr. Duygu Kiyan – Schrödinger Fellow in Geophysics at DIAS

Duygu Kiyan DIAS

What single measure do you think would have most impact on climate action over the coming decade?

“Working on the transition to clean energy, tackling climate change! The single measure that will have the most impact on climate change is the acceptance that fossil fuels need to be part of our human history. Society, as a union, must identify and harness renewable sources of energy to continue progressive civilisation and make these resources accessible to all populations on the planet. One of these resources is the heat beneath our feet in terms of geothermal energy. Classic heat sources on the Earth’s surface, such as volcanic regions (e.g. Iceland) where possibilities to generate power and heat are easy, are only available to a small percentage of the planet’s population.

“DIAS Geophysics is active in exploring new methodologies to identify low-enthalpy (low thermodynamic potential) sources of geothermal energy in Ireland to reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels. DIAS Geophysics is now leading  a project, also involving the University College Cork, DIG (De-risking Ireland’s Geothermal energy potential), funded by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and Geological Survey Ireland. This project will address a key knowledge gap in geothermal energy with research that will provide a better understanding of Ireland’s deep geothermal resource potential.”

Jef Bucas,IT System Administrator at DIAS

What single measure do you think would have most impact on climate action over the coming decade?

“We see with the [Covid-19] virus crisis that we have a daily report on RTÉ. We should have the same thing for climate, to educate the population about the complexity of the events. RTÉ did a week-long focus on climate action in November, but it wasn’t enough.

“The challenge with galvanising support for climate action is that our climate is changing too slowly to capture people’s attention, but too fast for us to just ignore or forget about it.”

Who is your climate action hero?

“There’s a French guy, Jean-Marc Jancovici, who is quite good at communicating and is leading the Shift Project to decarbonise the economy. Here is one of his presentations at the OECD.”

Dr. Haleh Karbala Ali, DIAS Postdoctoral Research Fellow on time lapse geophysical monitoring in karst systems

Haleh Karbala Ali DIAS

What do you think is the most significant contribution DIAS has made in relation to building a better understanding of the planet Earth?

Although the earth system consists of seemingly different components, such as solid earth, atmosphere and oceans, they are all integrated and interrelated. DIAS has a successful track record of research over diverse earth-related research areas like global seismology, which studies several hundreds of kilometers deep within the earth. Volcanology is another popular field of research in DIAS.

New advances in this field in terms of early warning helps protect the society in case of volcanic eruption.

“A new field of research in DIAS is ambient noise seismology, meaning the use of any type of noise to study the earth. These noise sources include ocean waves, storms, turbulent waterflows in surface rivers and subsurface glaciers and karsts, and cultural noises like traffic, trains, etc. to better characterise the subsurface and atmosphere in case of ocean waves.”

What single measure do you think would have most impact on climate action over the coming decade?

“Reduce unnecessary trips via planes and stop eating too much meat.”

Who is your climate action hero?

“Any vegetarian person who practices vegetarianism to help climate change and reduce global warming.”

Dr. Maria Tsekhmistrenko, Geophysics Researcher at DIAS

Maria Tsekhmistrenko DIAS

What single measure do you think would have most impact on climate action over the coming decade?

“If all of humanity could actually understand, accept and internalise that climate change will kill millions of people in the future – maybe slower than a car accident, cancer or a pandemic, but just as effective – then, from this point onwards, implementing climate actions would be easier.”

Who is your climate action hero?

“Everybody who bends down and picks up trash from the street and throws it away in a bin.”

Professor Zdeněk Martinec, Geophysics Section at DIAS

Professor Zdeněk Martinec 1

What do you think is the most significant contribution DIAS has made in relation to building a better understanding of the planet Earth?

“In my view, it is processing and understanding GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) and GOCE (Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer) satellite gravity data, which contain significant information on what is going on with water and ice in the Earth system. DIAS has been contributing to research on this topic.”

DIAS’s Work with Schools

Of course, DIAS’s work on understanding the Earth extends beyond the confines of the Institute and into community settings. One example of this is our work on the Seismology in Schools programme, which is run in primary and secondary schools around the country.

Using seismometers and associated software distributed through this programme, students are able to record and study earthquakes from the other side of the world in real-time.

One school participating in the programme is St. Columba’s College in Stranorlar, Co. Donegal. The earthquake monitoring station at St. Columba’s is designated Station DL02, and the seismometer is located in the school’s physics lab.

Brendan O’Donoghue, Physics Teacher at St. Columba’s College

Brendan O’Donoghue

The school’s participation in the Seismology in Schools programme is led by Brendan O’Donoghue, Physics Teacher and DL02 Administrator, who also shared his thoughts with us for Earth Day…

What do you think is the most significant contribution Ireland has made in relation to building a better understanding of the planet Earth?

“I have to say Robert Mallet‘s pioneering work in controlled source seismology.”

What single measure do you think would have most impact on climate action over the coming decade?

“I feel this will have to be the implementation of new technologies, e.g. use of batteries and next generation photovoltaics. I am unimpressed by social/political progress, so it will have to come down to physicists, chemists, engineers etc. to solve the problem. Maybe fusion will finally be made practical?”

Who is your climate action hero?

“Charles David Keeling, without whose dedication to continual measurements of atmospheric CO2 over the decades at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, we would not have had early evidence of anthropogenic CO2 changes. The Keeling Curve is so simple, yet so powerful.”

We also spoke to Brendan in greater detail about the Seismology in Schools programme and its educational value to students and the community. Listen to what he had to say here.