Teaching 2011

Items of the month:

Activities I contribute to:

Selected Recent Presentations and Publication

Some recent reads:

The Committee on the Review of the Tsunami Warning and Forecast System and Overview of the Nation's Tsunami Preparedness; National Research Council, has released the study report “Tsunami Warning and Preparedness: An Assessment of the U.S. Tsunami Program and the Nation's Preparedness Efforts”.

US-GEO has released its national report on Earth observations, which identifies 17 critical Earth system parameters that must be observed from space. Among them are gravity, soil moisture, deformations, and sea level. See U.S. Co-Chair Shere Abbott’s blog on the White House Office of Science and Technology website for more information and a copy of the report Achieving and Sustaining Earth Observations: A Preliminary Plan Based on a Strategic Assessment by the U.S. Group on Earth Observations ...

The article "The global geodetic observing system (GGOS): detecting the fingerprints of global change in geodetic quantities" by Hans-Peter Plag et al. has been published in the book "Advances in Earth Observation of Global Change", edited by Emilio Chuvieco, Jonathan Li, and Xiaojum Yang. See Springer announcement for details.

The "GGOS 2020 Book" a reference: The book "Global Geodetic Observing System: Meeting the Requirements of a Global Society on a Changing Planet in 2020", edited by Hans-Peter Plag and Michael Pearlman, which was published by Springer in 2009, gives an excellent overview of what geodesy can do for science, society, and you. It also sets the frame for the development of the global geodetic infrastructure and what actions the global geodetic community needs to take in order to fully exploit the potential of geodesy in a modern society. See http://www.springer.com/978-3-642-02686-7 for details. See the On-line version. Read more on geodesy et al. at iag-ggos.org.


[25 December 2011] The decision makers don't want to have truth constrain their decisions: “We are changing the large-scale properties of the atmosphere — we know that beyond a shadow of a doubt ... You can't engage in this vast planetary experiment — warming the surface, warming the atmosphere, moistening the atmosphere — and have no impact on the frequency and duration of extreme events.” This is a quote from today's article in the New York Times, which reports that Benjamin D. Santer, a leading climate scientist who works at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, made this statement. The article indicates that decision makers in politics are not supportive of science in underpining this statement. Read the article ...
[2 December 2011] ESF Conference on extreme geohazards: The European Science Foundation (ESF) conference on “Understanding Extreme Geohazards: The Science of the Disaster Risk Management Cycle” was held on November 28 to December 1, 2011 in Sant Feliu de Guixols, Spain (near Barcelona). The conference brought together 55 leading experts and young researchers from four continents, who discussed scientific and societal aspects of the four phases of the risk management cycle (preparedness, early warning, response, and recovery) as they relate to disasters caused by extreme geohazards. The conference was organized under the lead of the GHCP. For details see the conference page.
[24 November 2011] Fourth IGCP 565 Workshop took place in Johannesburg, South Africa: The fourth annual Workshop of the IGCP 565 Project was held on November 22-23, 2011 at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. The workshop was co-located with the AfricaArray workshop, which took place on November 20-21, 2011. A joint session was organized on the afternoon of November 21, 2011. The IGCP Workshop focussed on Support for water management through hydrological models and data assimilation. For more details the here.

Some work I do:

I co-chair the Geohazards Community of Practice (GHCP) of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO). Visit the web site of the GHCP ...

The ESF Conference on extreme geohazards organized by the GHCP co-chairs took place in Sant Feliu de Guixols, Spain, on November 27 to December 2, 2011; see the Workshop page for details.

I co-chair the Coastal Zone Community of Practice (CZCP) of GEO. Visit the web page of the CZCP ...

I lead the IGCP 565 Project “Developing the Global Geodetic Observing System into a Monitoring System for the Global water Cycle.” Visit the web site of the IGCP 565 Project ...

The fourth annual workshop of the project took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, on November 21-22, 2011; see the Workshop page or the Detailed Program.

I maintain the pages at geo-tasks.org as a work space for the main activities I am involved in in GEO.

These activities involve the GEO Work Plan Task ST-09-02: Promoting Awareness and Benefits of GEO; the GEOSS Portfolio for Science and Technology; a calendar for S&T Meetings (please submit any meeting information to be included in this calendar to me); and the web pages of several workshops. From January 2012 onward, the web page for the new Task ID-03 will also be maintained there.

I am also involved in the design and population of the GEOSS User Requirement Registry (URR), including the compilation of a set of tutorials.

My page on geodesy, ggos, and GGOS is available here ...

Some timely (annotated) links:

Americans Denial of Global Warming: Do we really need to care about that? Seems like between one-third and one-half of Americans still believe that there is real evidence of global heating (they still call it warming), or that if some warming is happening, it would be due to "natural variability." Others believe that scientists are still debating the point. In this video, the USCD historian Naomi Oreskes discusses some of the reasons for the widespread misunderstanding or ignorance of scientific discourse and consensus (including organized campaigns aimed at the creation of public doubt and confusion concerning science; one of the "bad guys" being the George C. Marshall Institute: Science for Better Public Policy).

"We are as gods and have to get good at it": Listen to Stuart Brand, whose sequence of arguments at a first look seem to make sense, but if you think about, you might agree with me that his thinking is fundamentally flawed. And to a large extent his thinking is opposed to the deep thinking that James Lovelock (see also wikipedia) puts on our table in "The Vanishing Face of Gaia," although Lovelock's ideas about nuclear energy being the only green solution are flawed, too. If you want to discuss these issues with me, send me a message (see at the end of the page).

Here is some more substantial thinking: Can we save civilization? Read Lester R. Browns "Plan B 4.0 - Mobilizing to Save Civilization" available at the Earth Policy Institute ...

For geophysical and geodetic details on recent earthquakes in Northern Mexico (Baja), Chile, and Haiti, visit the SuperSite Page ...

Picture of the month ...

July 2012: Is success a reason to be cut? The Dilbert Strip illustrates nicely the dangers of being successful. In many parts of life, similar storries can be told. This month is the first month for me at UNR without state funding. After seven years of excellent merit rating, the university administration reasoned that I am old and good enough to get my funding externally and don't need any statefunding any more. They took it and gave it to a younger colleague. “Hypothetically, if I would have done my job poorly, would that be good or bad for me?”

Story of the month ...

May 2012: Are the best building Earth's cockpit? We agree, I believe, that only the best engineers should be engaged in building the cockpit of a modern airplane intended to carry some 800 people across the Atlantic Ocean. Wouldn't it be even more important that only the best are engaged in building the cockpit of Planet Earth? By now more than 7 billion passengers of this unique spaceship, our home planet, depend on the pilots to be informed about the current and future trajectory of the planet so that they can react in a timely manner if things are tending to get out of hand.

The Global Earth Observation System of System (GEOSS) is intended to provide this cockpit. It is the mandate of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) to implement GEOSS. The minsters of an illustres group of countries came together in 2005 and endorsed the Ten Year Implementation Plan and established GEO to implement this plan. And we tried. The ministers forgot that a poor man's cockpit might not be a good choice, and they left the finding of resources to a voluntary effort of a few enthusiasts - one of them being me.

However, I don't believe the best of the world are still on board in this adventure of building Earth's cockpit. I just participated in the Board meetings and can assure (or worry) you with the fact that most Board members are engaged in looking at themselves. After the recent reorganization of the GEO, the new Boards are in a process of self-finding, and they showed little considerations for the needs of the Tasks or the users. All they were concerned with is whether the ExCOM will be satisfied with their monitoring of the Tasks. More than half a year has passed since the new structure was decided, and little has been achieved in implementing the structure. And the world continues to travel on its trajectory without sufficient monitoring and without the “pilots” having the information they would need to make informed decisions. Not a good perspective for humanity ...

Thought of the month ...

November 2011: Controlling overpopulation: In my presentations on natural disasters, sustainability, etc. I have often mentioned that humans cause the largest natural disasters through wars. Today's New York Times Data Point shows how correct my statement was: “Population Control, Marauder Style” by Bill Marsh presents the number of death and the percentage of humanity killed in human atrocities. Based on material published in the book “The Great Big Book of Horrible Things” by Matthew White, he points out that the deadliest events “are more plentiful in recent centuries, given that there were more people to kill and better ways to kill them on a grand scale.” In percentage of all humanity, it may be that the size of the events are probably declining, showing that the marauder style of population control no longer keeps up with the growth. Which means, either mother Earth or we ourselves need to take control and keep the numbers at a reasonable and sustainable level (see also my October 2011 thought of the month on the fact that we celebrate overpopulation instead of serious controlling it).

The two events largest in the absolute death toll are Genghis Khan and the Second World War. From 1206-27, Genghis Khan caused the death of 1.8 million per year, reaching a total of 40 million at the end. At that time, he had caused the death of 11.7% of all humans living at that time on Earth. The second world war from 1939-45 slaughtered 9.4 million per year and reached a total death toll of 66 million at the end. Around the time of the Second World War, this amounted to 2.6% of humanity.

Interestingly, among the natural disasters, only the biggest floods and droughts would have made it into the list of the top 100: The Huang He 1931 flood killed between 800,000 and 4,000,000, and droughts and famines repeatedly killed millions in different parts of the world, often intensified by institutional oppression. Extreme geohazards, which are much feared and receive a lot of scientific attention (see, for example, the conference on Extreme Geohazards), have been a minor contribution: even the biggest events in the history of humanity, including the extreme volcano eruption in Santorini about 3600 years ago, the 2004 Sumatra Tsunami, and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti would not have made the top 100 of human atrocities. This may change in the future because we have extended our cities into extremely hazardous areas, and geohazards now have the potential to reach the million death mark in single events. However, epidemics are the only events competing with the top human atrocities: The 1918 Spanish flue killed an estimated 50,000,000 and thus is in the league of the Second World War and Genghis Khan. Future epidemics in a totally interconnected world may turn out to be the most efficient population control mechanism.

If you have a thought, story, or picture worth to be considered as thought, story or picture of the month, please feel free to share it with hpplag@unr.edu. If you have comments on the pictures, thoughts, or stories of the months, you may also use the form below to send them to me.

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Comments or questions? Send mail to Hans-Peter Plag.