Focus vs. Breadth: AMS 2016 and AGU Fall 2015

 Jan 25, 2016    by Adrienne Wootten

I’m finally back from a marathon of travel!  For those of you who follow my posts on ECCF, the last post in December, was a first timers perspective of the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Annual Fall Meeting in San Francisco, California.  Then, earlier this January, I went to another relatively big conference , the American Meteorological Society (AMS) annual meeting, which was held in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Given an undergraduate degree in meteorology, I’ve gone to AMS many times, and until I went to AGU, AMS has been the biggest meeting I attended.  Having gone to both AMS and AGU now as a graduate student, it’s interesting to see the differences between the two.

The greatest difference is the size.  AMS is almost an order of magnitude smaller in attendance than AGU.  Roughly 3,800 attended AMS this year, while 20,000+ attended AGU.  This makes sense given that the primary attendees for AMS are meteorologists, atmospheric sciences, and climatologists.  Whereas AGU yields scientists from a much wider breadth of disciplines, from physical and social scientists to decision makers in those disciplines. That focus makes for an interesting challenge for AMS in a certain respect.  Every year AMS incorporates a theme to cover the overall meeting.  This year the theme was “Earth System Science in Service to Society”.  In preparing the meeting the organizers attempted to incorporate topics relevant to weather, water, and climate challenges for coastal locations during extreme events.  The key here is weather, water, and climate.  This is the primary focus of the meeting as a whole, and that’s great!  However, in the earth system we cannot forget the impacts to ecosystems, agriculture, and more.  

Photo: A. Wootten

At AMS, there are a precious few sessions that are truly on interdisciplinary work and research connections with decision making.  To me, this is where AGU excels, as it brings in interdisciplinary thinkers from across the country, many of whom are involved in climate research and decision making, but are not necessarily meteorologists or climatologists.  Some of the few sessions at AMS with an interdisciplinary focus included the Applied Climatology and Societal Applications Conferences.

The upside for AMS is that because of the weather, water, and climate themes, it allowed for a greater focus on the “hard core” science, even in the interdisciplinary sessions.  To me, that was a chance to get into the details of the science and see how they relate to stakeholder decisions and impact assessments.  This is where it gets a little more tricky for AGU, as the interdisciplinary sessions have to be pitched to a more general audience given the number of different disciplines represented and vast number of attendees; consequently, this can lead to a trade off in depth and detail.  In addition, because AMS is smaller and more focused, it  was logistically a lot easier to find and get to the technical sessions I was interested in compared to AGU.  

For me, both meetings had their benefits, so as wild as it made my travel over the holidays, I’d be glad to do them both again next year. AMS is more technical and focused by nature, which is great for me to keep in touch with the main body of science that informs my work. However, AGU devotes more time and space to interdisciplinary sessions, which was a pleasure since decision making related to climate is one of the things I’m most interested in.    AMS has included more interdisciplinary sessions in recent years, as there were several presenters from social science and ecology, so if you want to go to a smaller meeting and have an interdisciplinary project with a weather / climate focus, submit it to AMS!  It will help continue to broaden the meeting.  There are many more of those folks then I expected!


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Photo: A. Wootten