AGU Fall Meeting 2017 thoughts

Note: this is critical feedback. There were many obviously great things about AGU Fall Meeting that make it an extremely positive and worthwhile experience. As a conference organizer myself, I note the non-obvious things that can use improvement for brainstorming.

AGU Fall Meeting 2017 for the first time in four decades moved (temporarily) from San Francisco to the New Orleans Convention Center. Here are some general thoughts and observations (more specific topics have their own articles).


The biggest success of moving to New Orleans was having essentially everything under one roof. In San Francisco, all 3 Moscone Center buildings are used, plus a couple more area hotels. That’s too spread out.


The two-way radio system was setup with a repeater sitting on the floor in a main hallway with a duplexer sitting on top and a medium gain monopole on a tripod. I could have disabled the radio system without breaking stride, so I thought this was poor form for such a large venue. It should have been on top of one of the little room roofs with a low-gain omni antenna. I plan to write a full article about this as time and interest permit.

I did see a couple scientist ham radio operators, but I was so busy that I didn’t reach out to them.


Likewise, the venue WiFi worked fairly poorly. They simply put omnidirectional WiFi APs throughout the halls, on tripods and hanging from the ceiling. They should instead have used directional antenna APs, minimizing overlap instead of maximizing overlap. They should have simply shut off 2.4 GHz to avoid devices falsely cramming onto that band. I collected some data on this and likewise plan to write an article on this.


The on-site food court was a bit too limited in selection. Not well advertised was the 4-5 outside vendors at the far north end of the Center. In the evenings, you had to walk over half a mile to find a place with less than 30 minute wait time, due to 20,000+ scientists and general tourists.

Likewise, at the Tuesday Dec 12 7:30pm Space Physics and Aeronomy reception in Hilton Riverside, the food was heavily meat based, so it was a non-starter for many people. On the other hand, the AGU Fellows lecture “Publish or Perish” had a variety of meat and vegetarian items, both of high quality.

Comparison with aeronomy conferences

The URSI and CEDAR conferences are much smaller, consisting of perhaps less than 10% as many attendees as AGU. AGU registration is $480 for the week, plus travel and lodging, which is similar to URSI $450 and CEDAR $475. The other conferences go to places like Boulder, CO and Santa Fe, NM, which are more centrally located yet less expensive than major cities. CEDAR rotates locations to the extent it’s not too expensive.


As always, AGU Fall Meeting’s key advantage is bringing together over 20,000 scientists studying topics from the ocean floor to exoplanets, science communications, public policy and education. I reached out specifically in discussion with people from other sections, making it a point to go through every poster. A key advantage of New Orleans Convention Center is that every poster was in the same large room, instead of being split up among two or three buildings as in San Francisco Moscone Center.


I passed by almost all of the exhibits, which included a wave tank, as well as the ever-growing Naval Research Lab booth. I think NRL is up to about half the floor space of Google, which is saying something.

Public Policy

As one of the AGU SIPS liaisons, for the SPA Section, the Public Policy lunch speaker noted that there are still several section liaison spots needing volunteers. Many of the people there had either education or public policy as a primary focus, even if they had originally been trained as a scientist. This is a very good thing. However, we need at least several more career scientists and engineers to have a part-time avocation of science advocacy. I’ve done my little part for the past few years, and have had good outcomes from CEDAR 2017 session on public policy. However, I need to build more momentum, measuring progress in calls to offices and white papers from more than just me.


Using AGU’s vaunted metadata archive, one could well estimate the carbon footprint reduction by having AGU Fall Meeting in a centralized location. Simply mapping probable first/presenting author locales would be interesting in itself. Maybe gamifying things a bit in terms of travel carbon reduction for the given person’s travel (e.g. saving 80-90% carbon emissions by using train instead of plane).

Specifically for AGU 2017 Fall Meeting, several scientists traveled by Amtrak, saving perhaps 1 ton of CO2 emissions for Baltimore ↔ New Orleans vs. plane. Kudos to Anna Scott of Johns Hopkins for publicizing the #trainToAGU effort.


Staying at a conference hotel in a big city can be nearly $300/night, and New Orleans was no exception. Since I’m coming via my own company, I opted to save over $200/night by using a home-sharing service. While there are concerns in general that such services promote gentrification, raising price pressure and pushing properties into full-time short-term rental, I feel the benefits of avoiding pouring money into wasteful hotels (that also knock down/block out affordable housing) mitigate. Many of the places I stay are owner-occupied, that is, they are the owner’s primary residence. I stayed in Gretna, LA, which was 10-20 minutes by ride-sharing car to the New Orleans Convention Center. I was therefore in a somewhat walkable neighborhood, close to the Mississippi River Trail and historic Old Gretna.

Data Fair

I didn’t get to attend these nightly sessions, but I heard from a scientist similarly interested in archiving vast amounts of radio/radar data that the TH25A session on Wednesday was too generic to be useful for their specific needs. I imagine from the abstract that the panel’s goal might have been more focused on raising awareness vs. giving out specific actionable information. For future conferences/articles, I suppose I am one of those qualified to give such a talk or be on such a panel as I’m one of the more extensive users of Zenodo for geoscience data archiving.