Saturday, January 18, 2014

WorldDendro Conference in Melbourne

The 9th WorldDendro conference convened from January 13-17th in the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. This building was completed in 2009 at the cost of $1 billion dollars. It has a six star Green Star environmental rating which is the highest possible rating form the Green Building Council for Australia and this is the only convention center in Australia with this rating. It is a very nice building and with our 300 participants, we only take up a small part of the building. We had participants from 38 different countries.  It is always interesting to hear about the latest developments in dendrochronology and to meet back up with friends from around the world.  I think that I knew 40-50% of the people at the conference from previous fieldweeks and conferences.  We also noticed that the fieldweeks prior to the conference develop a pretty strong cohort of people.  Looking around the audience during the plenary sessions you could see clumps of fieldweek participants sitting together. 
Melbourne city was beautiful. There was some nice older architecture, public transportation (in every picture I took), some really interesting small alleys with cafes in the road and graffiti on the walls.
There were many excellent presentations during the conference. A few stood out to be very interesting to me.  We actually had a sociologist named Meritxell Ramirez-Olle who was studying Rob Wilson from St. Andrews University in Scotland. She was examining how dendrochronologists conduct their research, interact with students, and develop their ideas. Another presentation examined the effect of sampling design on climate response, climate reconstruction, and biomass calculation. David Frank and others had completed a 100% sample of a half hectare plot. Then they subsampled their data based on targeted sampling, different area plot sampling, and random sampling. They found some bias in response from targeted sampling in biomass calculation, but not in climate response. There is much work on blue light reflectance as a potential replacement for density. We had a whole plenary session on the status of the divergence issue. It seems that researchers have started to get their arms around that problem.  David Frank gave another very good presentation documenting about ten different processes that people have called divergence.  Some of it seems to have been controlled by standardization procedures and other times it seems to be a true switching of limiting factors that cause a departure from temperature response. The research community is narrowing down the geographic areas that are currently experiencing divergence and creating more refined definitions of the phenomena. We had a good session on insect outbreak dynamics and climate effects and response.  We ended with a 45 minute discussion about how best to build to meta datasets of insect outbreak studies so that we could study them across their entire range and start to analyze responses to climate and potential effects on climate reconstruction. The next steps are probably to pursue grants to build a databank of insect outbreak records similar to the International Multi Proxy Databank which keeps fire history and charcoal data.
I had the opportunity to meet with most of the people that I plan to visit in Europe during the latter part of my sabbatical, so I have started that planning in earnest.
We had a heat wave that exactly coincided with the conference which probably assured that the sessions were well attended.  The picture is a snapshot of my phone when we stepped out of the conference center at 6pm. 108 degrees at 6pm that day.  We had a number of days that were above 110 and five days in a row that were above 100.  I am told this is a record for Melbourne and they have not seen anything like it for 60-100 years. Our last evening of the conference, we got to experience the weather change with strong winds, a bit of rain, and a 20 degree temperature drop in about half an hour. That was an interesting experience and apparently not uncommon in Melbourne.
We took a mid-conference tour to the central highlands. We took four buses up the mountains and sadly our broke down. It seemed like it overheated because the driver was driving at about 5 miles per hour and turned off the air conditioning.  In the end, the 2 hour drive took us about 3.5 hours. But it was well worth the trip.
We got to observe some of Australia’s classic vineyards on our drive out to the highlands. We experienced a Eucalyptus forest where trees have grown to about 100 feet tall in 70 years. These trees can grow up to 1 meter (3 feet) in height each year and are very productive.
In 2009, a severe bush fire destroyed the town of Marysville and at the top of the mountain at Lake Mountain Ski Resort, a fire burned through and killed all of the snow gums.

I was able to get a picture of Tom Swetnam and Malcolm Hughes conversing at the Lake Mountain Ski Resort Café. This picture reminded me of when they both came out to help with my fieldwork on my masters in 1996. I think that picture was of them taking a nap on picnic tables after a particularly long and hot field day.

I had the opportunity to visit the Melbourne Aquarium with Michelle Ho and Carolyn Copenheaver my first night in the city directly after traveling from the fieldweek in Tasmania.  The Aquarium was amazing with a massive salt water tank where you could walk through tunnels to observe the sharks, rays, and some really big fish.


Melbourne at night facing the conference center on the left of the image.

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