American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2013

By Allen Pope, SSI Fellow and Research Associate at National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado


  • 5 SSI-affiliated personnel put together a “Software and Research” town hall discussion at the AGU Fall Meeting. With approximately 50 attendees, the discussion was quite fruitful, indicating considerable interest in topics ranging from collaboration to code review. See Aleksandra’s blog post for more. 

  • In my research area (remote sensing of snow and ice), there continue to be many different software packages and languages favored by different research groups (MATLAB, ENVI/IDL, ERDAS Imagine, Python, Quantum GIS, etc.) – and most coding (and training) is done of the research group/collaborator level. However, there are initial steps in the community to sharing packages and code. Interest was expressed in future events at AGU, such as a Software Carpentry workshop.

Event report:

The American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting is an annual gathering of Earth and space scientists from around the world. The 2013 meeting gathered together more that 22,000 scientists, educators, students, policy makers, leaders, and industry representatives.

My research area is remote sensing of snow ice, and the Cryosphere focus group had two parallel sessions running the entire week, in addition to co-listed sessions in other sections and poster sessions. Remote sensing is impossible without software, and customization and algorithm development requires special packages or coding by researchers or in close collaboration with researchers. There continue to be many different software packages and languages favored by different research groups (MATLAB, ENVI/IDL, ERDAS Imagine, Python, Quantum GIS, etc.) – and most coding (and training) is done of the research group/collaborator level. This presents some barriers to collaboration, but is not a significant impediment at all. Indeed, many researchers will hop between platforms and languages as necessitated by function and collaborators, although because remote sensing software is often quite costly, this can be somewhat limited by the licenses available from their host institution.

Nevertheless, there are initial steps in the community to sharing packages and code. Two projects which I discussed in particular were Quantarctia – a GIS of Antarctic information put together from freely available data in Quantum GIS – and a MATLAB package which can be used by students to investagte the data available from Bedmap2, an improved survey of the topography of the bedrock under the Antarctic Ice Sheet which was released last year.

Although the keynote lecture in the Cryosphere Focus Group focused on theoretical aspects of ice motion and flexure, there were experiments conducted in programming environments – from the color scale and fonts, I’m pretty sure it was Matlab. In addition to theoretical investigations, one of the main “problems” in my field in particular is being able to really take advantage of the sheer volume of (high resolution) remote sensing imagery which is becoming available. This is a problem of volume, of skills, of techniques, and of just knowing that the new data are capable of. More and more to watch as we get better at handling all these awesome data! Other fun topics also included novel applications like using drones to study glaciers and sea ice as well as asking what Google Glass could do for Cryospheric research.

My major SSI activity at AGU 2013 was helping put together a townhall discussion on “Software and Research.” The discussion was centered around three main themes: collaboration strategies and technologies, software training for researcher, and code reuse/review/sharing/publishing. Aleksandra Pawlik has already put together a blog post on this very productive session (which might be valuable to repeat in other subject areas).

In addition, we have other followup steps in the works, including possible a letter to Nature and an article in the AGU newsletter. It is worth noting, too, that there was interest expressed in having a Software Carpentry workshop at future AGU meetings. Although I am not sure if I would be able to contribute to such a session, I am on the AGU council (one of the organization’s main governing bodies) and so can connect SSI with the right people.