Musings on AGU in New Orleans and Funding Professional Societies

Funding Professional Societies

I didn’t attend the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Society (AGU) this year, but my graduate student, Gina Pope, went and had a fabulous time in New Orleans despite continuing worries over the pandemic. But something Gina reported resonated with me. She said that many virtual attendees resented paying hefty registration fees to present their talks online, with some protesting by uploading their presentations to YouTube to make them free to all.

While Gina was at AGU, I joined an online discussion on the future of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG). SEG has traditionally served petroleum geophysics, but the rapid growth of their near-surface geophysics section in recent years, particularly its student membership, makes it clear this model is not sustainable.  Young geophysicists prefer careers where they can apply geophysics to problems in hydrology, agriculture, infrastructure — anything but fossil fuels. But I digress…SEG is also concerned that they will not be able to fund their society with registration fees from their big annual meeting.

Annual meetings are make-or-break events for many professional societies. When I served as president of the Environmental and Engineering Society (EEGS), I quickly discovered that membership dues were only a small fraction of the society’s budget. The lion’s share came from the annual Symposium on the Application of Environmental and Engineering Geophysics (SAGEEP).  Historically, it took years for EEGS to recover from a single year with low meeting attendance.

Covid has changed professionals’ views toward conferences. While undoubtedly some scientists will prefer to return to in-person meetings when the pandemic fades, others will demand a virtual option. Why pay to travel halfway around the world to present your paper when you can attend online? Why interrupt your research when you can listen to the recorded talks at your convenience? And as Gina reported, no one wants to pay full registration to attend virtually.  Conferences will no longer be a reliable revenue stream. Professional societies will have to change their budget models or face insolvency.

Here is the abstract for the poster Gina presented at AGU:

Spatiotemporal Patterns of Soil Electrical Conductivity in a Highway Stormwater Catchment Implicate Deicing Salts in Impaired Vegetation Performance 

Authors: Gina Ginevra Pope, Joshua S. Caplan, Jonathan E. Nyquist, Laura Toran, Sasha W. Eisenman 

Urban stormwater runoff is increasingly being addressed through the installation of stormwater management practices (SMPs). In regions with cold winters, stormwater flowing into SMPs adjacent to roadways may carry high concentrations of deicing salt, which can impede or delay spring vegetation growth, or cause early fall senescence.Salt may remain in soil at sufficient concentrations to affect plants during spring leaf-out. To determine where and how long deicing salts persist, we investigated patterns of soil conductivity and plant performance in an SMP that receives runoff from Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, USA. We used time lapse electrical resistivity tomography surveys and soil conductivity sensors to track salt accumulation within the SMP and evaluated plant size, leaf chlorophyll, and tissue sodium. Time lapse resistivity surveys were conducted daily from February through July, with background surveys taken prior to the winter months. The resistivity surveys were conducted using three, 8-m long cables buried directly beneath the monitored plants to target the root zone. Soil conductivity sensors recorded pre-winter values of 0.17 – 0.53 mS/cm. Bulk electrical conductivity spiked to values of 1.0 – 10.0 mS/cm immediately after winter snow events in February, with higher conductivity values in the topographically low portions of the SMP. Conductivity levels remained elevated through the period of leaf-out in April, with maximum conductivity readings of 1.0 mS/cm. Both plant taxa we monitored (Hemerocallis spp. and Calamagrostis acutifolia) showed significantly impaired height and leaf growth in the topographically low zone, accompanied by elevated tissue sodium. Given that deicing salts remained in the soil long enough to affect plant health, we recommend using salt-tolerant plant species within roadside SMPs. Our results will be used to guide plant selection and placement in future SMPs designed for the I-95 project, with the goal of improving plant survival and reducing maintenance costs.

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