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Astronomers significantly impact the climate by traveling to conferences, say researchers

Astronomers significantly impact the climate by travelling to conferences
Localness vs. mean travel emissions per participants for the conferences. Different symbols indicate the continent on which a meeting took place.Credit: PNAS Nexus (2024). DOI: 10.1093/pnasnexus/pgae143

In 2019, global travel to international academic conferences in the field of astronomy caused the equivalent of 42,500 tons of climate-damaging CO2 emissions. This equates to an average of one ton of CO2 per participant and conference. The total distance covered adds up to a truly astronomical sum: one and a half times the distance between the Earth and the sun.

This was discovered by a team led by Dr. Andrea Gokus from Washington University in St. Louis (U.S.). The researchers compiled a data set of all 362 known astronomy conferences in 2019 and the corresponding travel emissions. PD Dr. Volker Ossenkopf-Okada from the University of Cologne's Institute for Astrophysics contributed to the data analysis.

The study "Astronomy's climate emissions: global travel to scientific meetings in 2019" has now been published in PNAS Nexus.

The carbon emissions of academic astronomy
A map showing the distribution of all 2019 astronomy/astrophysics meetings around the globe. Conferences are shown as circles and schools are shown as squares. The size of each marker corresponds to the overall amount of GHG emissions related to travel to each meeting, while the color-scale indicates the mean emission per participant for each meeting. A darker color implies a higher carbon footprint per person, which is related to travel over larger distances. Credit: Gokus et al

The authors emphasize the importance of networking as well as discussing new scientific findings at conferences to advance the field. However, adjustments can and must be made to reduce the effects on the climate. Examples include virtual conferences or choosing a conference venue that is as close as possible to most participants so that only a few participants have to take long-distance flights.

It is also important to give astronomers who are based far away from North America and Europe, where most astronomy conferences take place, the opportunity to attend the conferences. The authors propose hybrid formats and meetings held at several locations that are connected virtually.

The carbon emissions of academic astronomy
Nested donut charts displaying the number of conference trips taken and divided by classification (short-, medium-, and long-haul) in the inner ring, versus the total emissions produced for each category in the outer ring. The 'long-haul' classification includes trips with ultra-long distances, which make up 0.2% of all trips and 1.3% of all emissions. Credit: Gokus et al

"If the 2019 American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle had been held at four global hubs (Seattle and Baltimore in the U.S., Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and Tokyo in Japan), CO2 emissions could have been reduced by 70 percent," explained Gokus.

"Virtual and hybrid formats would also be more inclusive and thus more efficient for our field as a whole, as astronomers from less affluent institutes and countries and those with family duties would no longer be excluded from conferences due to the expensive and time-consuming travel," said Ossenkopf-Okada.

More information: Andrea Gokus et al, Astronomy's climate emissions: Global travel to scientific meetings in 2019, PNAS Nexus (2024). DOI: 10.1093/pnasnexus/pgae143

Journal information: PNAS Nexus

Citation: Astronomers significantly impact the climate by traveling to conferences, say researchers (2024, April 30) retrieved 24 July 2024 from
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