An ocean of science

Mar 06, 2018 No Comments by 436 views

Every two years, the American Geophysical Union, The American Association for Limnology and Oceanography and The Oceanographic Society join forces to organize the ‘Ocean Sciences Meeting’ in an effort to gather all marine scientists in a very interdisciplinary meeting. This year, OSM was held in Portland, and I, a final year PhD student of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Universiteit Antwerpen (both in Belgium), had the chance to attend for the first time thanks to the EAG Early Career Science Ambassador program.

Portland, ‘Rip City’, home of the Trailblazers and the location of the 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting.

After a 10 hour flight and with little sleep, I finally arrived at my destination, Portland, ‘Rip city’, home of the Trailblazers (the local basketball team, for the non-NBA fans among us). The first weekend served as an acclimation to the new time zone, the new country and the weather, with a small walk in town, coffee and burgers (we were in the US after all). Sunday evening the conference started with the obligatory ‘ice-breaker’. A good moment to catch up with old friends, collaborators (although in the case of a PhD student, that group is rather limited), and, in my case, try to locate your supervisor. After the ice-breaker, it was time to go to bed, so I was ready for the full 5 days of scientific talks, posters and discussions.

Throughout the whole week, I would put faces to authors I have read and cited, meet my scientific ‘heroes’ in real life, and get bombarded with information (who would have thought there was so much science in the ocean?). Throughout the whole 5 days, I attended talks about topics ranging from the dissolution of carbonate in the water column to the forces induced by animals when they move in the water (omitting the respiration of seagrass beds and the distribution of fauna in the deep-sea). An interdisciplinary meeting always opens your eyes for the wealth of research that occurs in other fields than yours. I also had the opportunity to share my own research during an oral presentation on Tuesday afternoon. The topic was bioturbation (animals that live in the seafloor, and stimulate the transport within the sediment by their movement and feeding behavior), and how it possibly has affected the global biogeochemical cycling of the earth’s surface. It appeared to be a topic which was not considered by many scientists so far, and triggered very nice informal conversations afterwards. Although it is nice to give an oral presentation, I am a particular fan of the poster sessions, as this allowed one-on-one discussions and further engagement with fellow researchers.

Overall, the Ocean Sciences Meeting was a very positive experience, and has truly opened up my mind to other fields of marine science (although the benthic biogeochemistry is still my greatest love). Although it requires an intercontinental flight and a huge carbon footprint, personal interactions between scientists do stimulate collaborations, and are (in my opinion) still needed to forward our understanding of the world.

Madde Nilsson, Astrid Hylén from Gothenburg university, who adopted me for a week.

As is common with scientific talks and papers, the last part acknowledges people that have contributed to the work (or in this case, experience). I therefore want to thank Astrid Hylén and Madde Nilsson from the University of Gothenburg, who have gracefully adopted a lone PhD student from Belgium, so he did not get lost during the giant conference. And, last but not least, EAG for financially supporting me.


About the author:

Sebastiaan van de Velde is in the last year of his PhD, which he is doing jointly at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Analytical, Environmental and Geochemistry) and the Universiteit Antwerpen (Ecosystem Management). Currently he is working on redox cycling in marine sediments, with a particular focus on bioturbation and cable bacteria.
His promotors are Prof. dr. ir. Filip Meysman (Universiteit Antwerpen) and Prof. Dr. Yue Gao (Vrije Universiteit Brussel).

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