Thursday, 29 August 2013

Confessions of a conference attendee

Day 6: 28th August (posted retrospectively)

A mixed day dodging and weaving between sessions, trying to search out that killer talk. The most fun talk I heard today was about earthworm invasions. In Europe we always think of earthworms as happy little creatures keeping our soil healthy. In the northern US the last glaciation wiped out the indigenous earthworm population and European earthworms, that came to the US in the soil used as ballast, associated with European plants and, increasingly as fishing bait, are slowly spreading into the earthworm-free Sugar maple forests. They are having a significant effect on the ecology of the forests reducing the thickness of the layer of leaf litter on the soil surface and changing soil properties. It's a great natural experiment to see the effect of earthworms and Kyungsoo Yoo from the University of Minnesota gave an excellent talk on this.

I also spent some time looking at the outside of the Duomo cathedral. I'm always amazed at the amount of time and energy people put into building these things in the past. The plan is to return on Friday to have a look inside and also, early in the morning, pop up the tower for a view over Florence.

In the afternoon Emma Versteegh and I had a poster detailing our novel palaeothermometer showing how we can use the oxygen isotopes in earthworm-secreted calcium carbonate to interpret past climates. We got quite a lot of interest and chatted about how we can take the study forwards.

This evening there was a concert courtesy of the conference - string quartet, spinet and an alto for some songs. The concert was OK but the soprano used far to much vibrato for the early music (Vivaldi, Pergolesi etc.) that she was singing and the musicians came across as journeymen professionals rather than being excited by the music. There was much clapping (too much?) at the end so perhaps this critic was in a minority.

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