Today I mostly attended talks on lidar, the light-based version of radar that, more than one speaker said, is revolutionizing Earth science. By quickly gathering highly accurate digital data on the shape of the land, lidar effectively puts the landscape into the computer. Things like trees can be erased to unveil the bare ground, even under wateror trees can be extracted instead to map the deepest forest. Earthquake faults can be mapped in undreamt-of detail. Speakers discussed the ease, insight and even the joy of doing science with this tool. I hope to cover this subject in deeper detail soon.
In a lunchtime talk Marcia McNutt, the new director of the U.S. Geological Survey, recounted her very eventful year, which began with the Haiti and Chile earthquakes, followed in a few weeks by the fateful eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, the Asian Carp crisis in the Mississippi-Great Lakes system, and the Gulf oil spill. She said because of all that her first priorityto raise the agency's profilehappened by itself. Many months later than she intended, she reorganized the divisions of the USGS around the problems they address rather than the academic disciplines they represent. She said that Congress and the funding agencies loved the new look and got what USGS is aboutyet the scientists were doing exactly the same research!