Monday, October 31, 2011

WCRP OSC thoughts

WCRP OSC was a very large conference, mainly poster based. The sheer volume of posters was over-whelming. Plenary talks were generally very good, whereas the parallel sessions were a mixed bag with a number of real gems. Being talked at for ten hours a day is too long though and interest inevitably wanes. Wireless connections certainly aren't a help in that regard allowing people to attend without really truly being in attendance. I was presenting four posters across two sessions (one on my other 'hobby' - the GCOS Reference Upper Air Network) on the Tuesday morning and giving a talk on the surface temperature initiative the Tuesday afternoon.

I warmed up for this by asking a question in the c.2000 attendee observations plenary session first thing on Tuesday - nerve wracking in its own right. Two of the plenary speakers had bemoaned the lack of agreement between estimates for many variables and stated to be ‘scared’. I pointed out that this was an inevitable consequence of making measurements that were not traceable to measurement standards and that I was instead encouraged to see multiple estimates as this was the only way we could ascertain what could / could not be said. None of the speakers responded so either it was an awful point to make or they did not wish to respond.

I spent the majority of the poster time around the three surface temperature initiative posters. Like many of the posters they were in a corner but there was still reasonable interest and a number of potential data leads were identified. Roughly half of the 50 data request cover letters and data submission guidelines hardcopies were taken. Most of the discussants were supportive although inevitably some raised the Berkeley effort and whether this now obviated the need for the initiative as a whole. This gave an opportunity to clarify the holistic nature of the enterprise and how the Berkeley effort, if published(!), would simply constitute one important contributing component. It was stressed that science and society are interested in more than the global centennial timescale trend and that differences would be greater at smaller space and timescales. It was also stressed that consistent benchmarking was necessary to understand differences more robustly. See also Steve Easterbrook's take on the poster that he was presenting on benchmarking.

The afternoon talk was given in a parallel session with probably 300-500 people (it felt like the latter!) in attendance. It was a little bit rabbit in the headlights for the first half although better towards the end. There were at least three (maybe four) questions from the floor. There were then several people who had questions after the end of the session that kept me busy for the full half hour coffee break and beyond. These gave a chance for a much smaller audience to expand on various aspects – especially crowdsourcing. Questions regarding whether data holdings known to a given individual were already there highlighted the need to clarify that we wished to get hold of any and all data and that the databank processing will be designed to account for such redundancy in an open and transparent way. Regardless, a concatenated master-list of current holdings at stage 2 level was requested. This has now been added to the databank prototype.

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