The annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the largest meeting for geoscientists each year, will be taking place in San Francisco this week from Dec. 3 to 7.
Thousands of scientists will descend on the Moscone Center to present and hear about the latest findings in their field, be it seismology, climate science or Martian geology. New announcements are expected on findings from the Mars Curiosity mission, Arctic climate change and the economic effects of storms like Superstorm Sandy.
SPACE.com and its sister sites, OurAmazingPlanet and LiveScience, will be covering the conference from San Francisco, so watch our sites and Twitter accounts (@OAPlanet, @Spacedotcom and @LiveScience) for the latest news! (You can follow news from the conference with the hashtag #AGU12.)
Below is a schedule and description of press conferences provided by the AGU that will be taking place at the meeting. You can watch them at the appropriate time by clicking on the video player above:
AGU Press Conferences
Monday, Dec. 3
Mars Rover Curiosity's Investigations in Gale Crater - 9:00 a.m. PT (12:00 p.m. ET)
NASA's newest Mars rover Curiosity has been investigating past and modern environmental conditions in Mars' equatorial Gale Crater since August. This briefing will offer findings from examining the composition and textures of targets touched by the rover's robotic arm. Curiosity is the car-size rover of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission. At the time of the AGU Fall Meeting, it will be four months into a two-year prime mission.
Climate Change and Civilizations – 11:30 a.m. PT (2:30 p.m. ET)
The languages spoken today in the Middle East may owe themselves to a shift in climate change that happened over 4,000 years ago. The rise and fall of civilizations may follow patterns in climate change records. Finding these records, though, can involve negotiating not only with a national government, but also with the local chief. This briefing will offer findings from the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent to show how climate change played a part in the success and disintegration of several past civilizations.
Improving forecasts of "Pineapple Expresses" – 1:30 p.m. PT (4:30 p.m. ET)
NOAA scientists and colleagues are installing the first of four permanent "atmospheric river observatories" in coastal California this month, to better monitor and predict the impacts of landfalling atmospheric rivers. These powerful winter systems, sometimes called "pineapple express" storms, can cause destructive floods and debris flows, and can also fill the state's reservoirs. The coastal observatories - custom arrays of instruments installed in collaboration with the California Department of Water Resources - will give weather forecasters, emergency managers and water resource experts detailed information about incoming storms. The move to install the observatories comes after several winters of testing, during which the scientists determined the most effective arrays of instruments for collecting information useful for decision makers.
Winter is coming... but what happens when it leaves early? – 2:30 p.m. PT (5:30 p.m. ET)
To some scientists working in the Rocky Mountains, the winter of 2011-2012 was one of the strangest observed in decades. The record-early snowmelt - about six weeks earlier than the previous year - caused plants to start growing earlier, and then get wiped out by hard frosts. The early spring disrupted the life cycles of plants, and the effects cascaded to animal species as well. Scientists, both funded by the National Science Foundation, will present new observations of what happens when the snow disappears early, and discuss the implications for alpine ecosystems.
Superstorm Sandy, Black Swan Cyclones and the Economic Toll to Come – 4:00 pm. PT (7:00 p.m. ET)
As New Jersey still recovers from Superstorm Sandy, scientists continue to study how it and future storms of similar magnitude and frequency might affect U.S. coastlines. New data from the U.S. Geological Survey will be presented, along with forecasts of the economic impact of this and possible future storms. This briefing will also consider the possibility of Black Swan cyclones - bigger storms making landfall outside of typical tropical storm impact regions.
Tuesday, Dec. 4
New Findings, New Enigmas: NASA's Van Allen Probes Begin their Exploration of the Radiation Belts – 8:00 a.m. PT (11:00 a.m. ET)
The twin Van Allen Probes (formerly the Radiation Belt Storm Probes), launched by NASA on August 30, are already delivering data of unprecedented detail, gathered from within our planet's dynamic radiation belts. The mission is the first to send two spacecraft to reside within the incredibly hostile environment of the belts, which are named for their discoverer, James Van Allen. Almost immediately following launch, the probes began to reveal fascinating new structures and surprising dynamics of the radiation belt region that have never before been observed.
Fire in a Changing Climate and What We Can Do About It – 9:00 a.m. PT (12:00 p.m. ET)
Land area burned by fires has increased in the United States over the past 25 years, consistent with a trend toward climate conditions more conducive to fire. In contrast, fires for agricultural and forest management show declining trends in the western U.S. despite overall increases in wildfire activity and associated carbon emissions. Looking ahead, new IPCC climate projections offer insight into potential changes to U.S. fire activity over the next 30-50 years based on the climate sensitivity of fires in recent decades. Scientists will present new data on which regions of the U.S. might see fire seasons become longer and more intense.
Mars Rover Opportunity's Investigations at Endeavour Crater – 10:30 a.m. PT (1:30 p.m. ET)
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, working on Mars since January 2004, has spent recent months examining outcrops in an area on the rim of Endeavour Crater. There, the rover has found unusual textures and orbital observations have suggested the possible presence of clay minerals. This briefing will offer an update about what has been found so far during these rover investigations at "Matijevic Hill" on the crater's western rim and outline plans for continuing work by Opportunity.
An Unlikely New Tool for Spotting Clandestine Nuclear Tests – 1:30 p.m. PT (4:30 p.m. ET)
While countries such as North Korea may go to great lengths to conceal illegal nuclear weapons testing, others around the globe are finding new ways to detect those tests. In the search for rogue nukes, researchers have discovered an unlikely new tool. Like GPS before it, a new use for this common tool was born out of the discovery that even underground nuclear explosions leave their mark in unexpected places.
Science & Technology at Extreme Depths, with James Cameron and DEEPSEA CHALLENGE Scientists – 2:30 p.m. PT (5:30 p.m. ET)
Journalists can follow up on special session U22C with questions for James Cameron and three scientists from the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition. The panel will discuss the sub's innovative design as well as preliminary scientific findings including identification of new species and discovery of deepest example to date of gigantism in deep-sea animals. Along with a team of scientists and engineers, Cameron co-designed the submersible in which he became the first person to descend alone to the Earth's deepest known point. The expedition included multiple sub dives to explore the New Britain and Mariana Trenches where it collected video footage of unprecedented clarity, physical oceanographic data, water samples, biological samples and sediment.
Wednesday, Dec. 5
NASA's Lunar Twins - GRAIL First Science Results – 9:00 a.m. PT (12:00 p.m. ET)
First science results from NASA's GRAIL moon gravity mapping mission. Launched on Sept. 11, 2011, the mission's twin washing-machine-sized spacecraft, named Ebb and Flow, entered lunar orbit on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. During the prime mission science phase, which stretched from March 1 to May 29, the two GRAIL spacecraft orbited at an average altitude of 34 miles (55 kilometers). The data collected during GRAIL's primary mission has generated the highest resolution gravity map of another celestial body.
Earth at Night – 10:30 a.m. PT (1:30 p.m. ET)
A new cloud-free view of the entire Earth at Night, courtesy of a joint NASA-NOAA satellite program called Suomi NPP, will be unveiled at the press conference. This image is an order of magnitude more detailed than the wildly popular earlier Earth at Night image, and reveals new information scientists are using to study meteorology, natural and human-caused fires, fishing boats, human settlement, urbanization and more. Scientists will discuss the advancements now possible with these new images and detail a few examples of the features mentioned above – plus present images of Earth on moonless nights, lit only by "airglow" and starlight, as well as the vast difference moonlight makes on the Earth's surface.
What's going on in the Arctic? – 11:30 a.m. PT (2:30 p.m. ET)
Despite unremarkable air temperatures this year, the Arctic still set records for loss of summer sea ice, decline in spring snow extent, rising permafrost temperatures in northernmost Alaska, and duration and extent of melting at the surface of the Greenland ice sheet. Large changes in multiple indicators are affecting climate and ecosystems. What's going on here? NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and others will outline the changing conditions as part of the annual update of the Arctic Report Card, an international effort to assess the state of the Arctic environmental system.
Natural or man-made? Triggers and limits to induced earthquakes – 1:30 p.m. PT (4:30 p.m. ET)
For about three decades, Oklahoma averaged between 1 and 3 earthquakes big enough to be felt by people each year. Since 2010, residents have reported more than 250 quakes. Why the increase, there and elsewhere outside of typical fault zones? With increased earthquake monitoring, scientists are tracing the source of the seismicity - in some cases to hydraulic fracturing operations. At this briefing, researchers will present new results from Oklahoma and Texas - as well as the timing and cause of the biggest of these typically tiny quakes.
How Much Carbon Gets Stored In Western U.S. Ecosystems? – 2:30 p.m. PT (5:30 p.m. ET)
In a report to be issued at the time of this press conference, U.S. Geological Survey scientists estimate the ability of different ecosystems in the West to store carbon -- benchmark data vitally needed for science-based land-use and land-management decisions and for future studies. The area examined extends from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coastal waters, and totals almost 2 million square miles of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Major findings include how much carbon is sequestered annually in this vast region, as well as the amount projected to be sequestered by ecosystem type under a range of land use and land cover, climate, and wildfire scenarios.
Thursday, Dec. 6
Setting boundaries for the Anthropocene – 9:00 a.m. PT (12:00 p.m. ET)
Should the Age of Man be an official epoch? Scientists are debating whether the Anthropocene, the centuries during which humans have left our mark on the planet, should be an official unit of geological time. And if it is - how do we define it? When the geologists of the distant future dig test pits, what will they recognize that marks the boundary of the Anthropocene? The panel will tackle that question, discussing whether fossils, contaminants, or excavated ground ending up where it shouldn't be would best mark the start of our geologic influence.
Lessons Learned from the L'Aquila Earthquake Verdicts – 2:30 p.m. PT (5:30 p.m. ET)
Who is responsible for human suffering inflicted by earthquakes? What advice should scientists give and how should they communicate it when volcanoes erupt? What are the responsibilities and perils for researchers who estimate earthquake risks? In the wake of an Italian court's convictions in October of seven scientists and one government official of manslaughter for allegedly mischaracterizing earthquake risk in the city of L'Aquila, natural-hazards experts are rethinking their role in society and the dangers that go with it - both for society and for themselves. The 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck L'Aquila in April, 2009, killed more than 300 people.