Blogging on EARTH: First dispatches from EGU

by Carolyn Gramling
Thursday, January 5, 2012

EARTH’s Carolyn Gramling is taking in the European Geophysical Union meeting this week in Vienna, Austria. Here are some of the sessions that have caught her interest so far.

How many thunderstorms are there around the world at any point in time?

About a century ago, scientists thought that number was about 2,000, based on an estimated number of lightning flashes per second (back then, thought to be about 100). Nowadays, of course, we have much better estimates of lightning flashes — satellite observations suggest there are actually only 45 flashes per second.

So what about thunderstorms? Scientists from Tel Aviv University used information from the Worldwide Lightning Location Network to calculate the number of thunderstorm cells around the world at any given moment: about 750.

Wireless landslide sensor networks

How do you predict a landslide? Scientists have been experimenting with networks of wireless sensors that can relay data in real time, hopefully giving sufficient warning when a slope is about to fail. But landslides are hard on sensors — they often have a short lifespan, either because they require too much power or because the landslide itself might swallow a sensor up, possibly disrupting the flow of information through the network.

Last summer, a team of Italian scientists working on the WISELAND research project (Integrated Airborne and Wireless Sensor Network Systems for Landslide Monitoring, sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Education) tested two new systems with longer battery lives and a dynamic routing system that allows them to circumvent a failed sensor and reroute information through the system if necessary. They set up two different networks in two well-studied landslides in Italy and, they announced, they had nearly 100 percent success in the transmission of data.

New era for ocean drilling

IODP is dead; long live IODP. The 2003-2013 Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) will soon give way to a new decade of ocean drilling, also called IODP — but those initials will stand for the International Ocean Discovery Program. Scientists from the upcoming IODP announced today that the new decade of drilling will have four broad research focuses: climate and ocean change; the deep biosphere (a new focus); connections between deep Earth processes and surface processes; and processes and hazards (such as earthquakes and tsunamis) that occur on human timescales.

The new IODP science plan, which was first hashed out at a conference in Bremen, Germany, in 2009 and underwent numerous drafts and revisions in 2010, will shortly be available online at

© 2008-2021. All rights reserved. Any copying, redistribution or retransmission of any of the contents of this service without the expressed written permission of the American Geosciences Institute is expressly prohibited. Click here for all copyright requests.