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ScienceI am the 20 year old student who recently discovered 91 volcanoes in Antarctica! AMA

Aug 22nd 2017 by Iam_Max_vwdv • 9 Questions • 114 Points

The Associated Press is launching Future of Work, a series of stories exploring how technology and global pressures are transforming workplaces across the U.S. and around the world. The first installments went out this week and focus on workers’ relationships with robots, and how automation is changing the availability and nature of employment in manufacturing.

There’s a paradox in how we think of modern American manufacturing jobs.

While it’s true that many of these jobs have gone overseas, U.S. manufacturers have actually added nearly a million jobs in the past seven years, and federal statistics show nearly 390,000 such jobs are unfilled.

But this isn’t the kind of assembly-line work your parents and grandparents did. More and more factory jobs now demand education, technical know-how or specialized skills to run robots. Many of the workers laid off from low-tech factories lack such qualifications, and training opportunities are limited, particularly for older workers. Japan is way ahead of the U.S. in introducing robots to the workplace, but it hasn’t resulted in some of the job reductions observed in other nations. It has also not created the surge in higher-skilled employment. So, it turns out, there are plenty of manufacturing jobs. There just aren’t enough of the right kind of workers to fill them.

Here’s your chance to talk about this with some of the Associated Press journalists who reported these stories in text, photos, video and graphics across three continents. We are writer Dan Sewell and photographer John Minchillo in Cincinnati: business writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo: economics editor Fred Monyak in Washington: and enterprise editor Jeff McMillan in Philadelphia. Ask us anything!

Proof:

This AMA is now closed. Thanks to everyone who offered questions!

Q:

Have you named them?

A:

Do you think robots should be taxed?


Q:

Top comments on this AMA get a volcano named after them!

No seriously, it is not up to me to name these volcanoes at this point. There is a special committee whose role it is to give things names, such as remote volcanoes or mountains, in Antarctica. But people who study Antarctica for long enough are good candidates, and usually end up having something named after them (for example my coauthor Rob Bingham), so I could be in luck someday!

A:

Some people do. The idea of a tax on companies that automate human jobs out of existence isn’t being considered at the federal level. But the notion has begun to emerge in a few politically progressive pockets of the country. Officials in San Francisco, for example, are calling for a tax on companies that automate jobs and put people out of work. It’s too soon to say if the idea will go anywhere, even in San Fran. Some Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs say they’re being unfairly targeted. So prospects for the idea remain hazy. (Monyak)


Q:

Name one after my ex, also. Great mounds, usually pretty cool, but when she blew up she'd wreck EVERYTHING.

A:

Is there anything else about Japanese culture or policies they're developing that makes them more accepting of robots at work? Thanks!


Q:

She sounds like she could be a blast, but maybe a bit of an ash hole sometimes.

A:

Traditional Japanese culture sees life in inanimate objects. Also the Japanese government supports the development and use of robots. (Kageyama)


Q:

did you feel hindered at all by your age, or were experts in the field open to your findings without bias?

A:

Are you worried about reddit and other internet sources eliminating your jobs? I see more MSM content that originated here, every day.


Q:

Luckily I did not end up having too many problems with this- if anything I maybe doubted myself because of how young I was. I found it hard to believe at first that an undergrad like me could stumble across something this big without anyone else having discovered it! Luckily scientists are, in my experience, fairly open to others no matter their background. So long as the evidence you present is solid and your research interesting, they will give your their time of day and treat you without any bias. For getting the story published my lack of experience was maybe a little more of an issue sometimes, it can be quite delicate choosing which journal to send the paper to and how to format it. Luckily my coauthors have a wealth of experience on this so were able to help me through.

A:

I worry about everything that could eliminate my job, from Reddit to robots. That's why we try to keep evolving forward as journalists. And we believe that in the flood of information today, there's a great need for journalists who can dig out information and verify it with the help of editors. (Sewell)


Q:

What lead you down your path of discovery?

A:

I live in Reno Nevada and I've met a few people now that work at Tesla and Panasonic...these are part of the new economy that your topic today is centered around. Do you think companies like these moving to Western Nevada will create a tech hub for us here?


Q:

To be honest it was something of a coincidence to start with!

I started looking at the Antarctic data for another reason entirely- I was just trying to understand more about how the ice sheet flowed. However I started stumbling across cones under the ice, something that should not be there normally as ice erodes the land into long valleys and ridges. I grew up in a region surrounded by volcanic cones, so it immediately occurred to me that these may be volcanoes.

I didn't think it was necessarily a big deal at first, but by talking to different professors and reading up about the area it became evident that this could actually be an important discovery. And this started me down the path that lead to getting this published.

A:

Companies decide to move operations to a region based on many factors, including state and local government policies, existing infrastructure, workforce numbers, and many other competing interests. This very specific question demands more investigation on a local level. This is an interesting topic to explore! (Minchillo)


Q:

Have you set on foot on Antarctica?

A:

Right now most of the automated jobs are things that don't require a massive amount of reflexes and instant response times. Eg maybe a robotic nurse preventing an elderly man from falling down.

Any idea about where that level of robotics is at the moment, and how soon we can expect them to actually significant affect a larger proportion of the work force ?


Q:

Not yet!

Honestly though, actually going to Antarctica probably wouldn't have helped much with this study. The newly discover volcanoes are all hidden under 1-2km of ice so people can walk right over them without knowing they're there. We analysed the base of the ice sheet from afar using data collected from many previous expeditions to Antarctica. Both my coauthors have been to Antarctica though, for several months!

A:

In Japan, robots are starting to be used to take care of the elderly, such as helping in picking up things and shampooing their hair and other tasks. In auto plants, some robotics parts are getting designed to be soft and gentle to the human touch so they can be present in the same space. (Kageyama)


Q:

Do you think you will ever try to look for other natural disasters like maybe becoming a storm chaser?

A:

Right now most of the automated jobs are things that don't require a massive amount of reflexes and instant response times. Eg maybe a robotic nurse preventing an elderly man from falling down.

Any idea about where that level of robotics is at the moment, and how soon we can expect them to actually significant affect a larger proportion of the work force ?


Q:

Honestly yes, working with natural disasters is a fun path to go down. Not only are they exciting to work on and discover, but there is also the added long term benefit of understanding the hazards better and being able to improve safety for anyone who lives near them. I don't know about being a storm chaser though, where I live it tends to just rain lightly 24/7 so I don't know how interesting that would be :p

A:

We did see robotic systems in plants that self-adjust (with humans monitoring) and to your question, a lot of growth is expected in the next decade with use of robots in the kind of service roles you mention becoming a major area, as the needs increase for aging Baby Boomers (like me) (Sewell)


Q:

What's your most interesting find?

A:

Did anyone say they liked working more with robots than humans?


Q:

The most interesting find is probably the fact that some of the volcanoes are HUGE! The fact that there are a large number of undiscovered volcanoes over 1000m high and 10km wide under the ice was honestly surprising to me at first. In a way this really brings home how huge Antarctica is - that insignificant looking white land at the bottom of the map is actually and area larger than Europe covered in 2-3km (1.5-2 mi) of ice!

A:

Some people said they liked that robots did their jobs without much trouble, never call off sick, etc. At least one person said he's still a little afraid of them, though, because there is always the possibility of a malfunction. (Sewell)


Q:

What are your plans for the future? Continuing research in volcanoes/Antarctica, or something else?

A:

How do you see automation in 50 or 100 years?


Q:

To be honest I am still not entirely sure where I am going to end up, I still have a final year at university to complete! I would definitely like to continue this work on volcanoes and Antarctica though, it is a super interesting topic to work on. Even before I thought the research would be a big deal I was looking into the area!

I think a lot of future work can come out of the discovery of these volcanoes as there are still a lot of questions to answer about them. For example, how many of them are active/have recently been active? What effect could these volcanoes have if the ice sheet starts melting significantly?

I would love to be one of the people who helps answer these questions.

A:

A very rapid acceleration in automation is expected over the next decade, and jobs to monitor, operate and maintain will grow with that. Further in the future, the impact on the human role remains to be seen. Most economists expect that there will continue to be a human role; how much 50- to 100 years from now is hard to predict. (Sewell)


Q:

Are you happy with 91, or did you try really hard to find another 9 to make it a nice round even number?

Maybe even regret that 91st one?

A:

What is the very best cheese?


Q:

Haha its true that 91 doesn't make quite such a clean headline. I can't say that I am disappointed though as this discovery makes Antarctica one of the world's biggest volcanic regions!

At the start of the study we had identified almost 200 cones that were volcano candidates, however we used some quite strict criteria to ensure that the cones were actually volcanoes. This meant that we narrowed the list of new volcanoes down a little, but we were able to say with near 100% confidence that those 91 listed are actually volcanic. Some of the tests we used were going through magnetic and gravitational data of Antarctica and crosschecking each cone (as volcanic rocks are denser and have a different magnetic signal than other rocks).

Also, as more data comes in about the Antarctic ice bed, we will almost certainly discover more (smaller) volcanoes -no pun intended- these 91 are just the tip of the iceberg!

A:

My favorite is Camembert but there are many great kinds of cheese in the world (Kageyama)


Q:

How many of these will eventually erupt and destroy the earth?

A:

How many of these will eventually erupt?

Probably a lot of them. The volcanoes still have pretty nice, clean cone shapes so they have not been subject to glacial erosion for very long. This means they must have erupted fairly recently. Some of them could very well be active right now, but the traces of these eruptions hidden beneath 1000s of metres of ice.

and destroy the earth?

Most likely not (although with a lot of help from us humans they could give it a shot). A lot of people mistake this discovery for bad news, when on the contrary it is a good thing. From a planning perspective is is much better to know about and monitor 90+ potentially hazardous volcanoes than not know about them and have them messing any high precision climate models.


Q:

How could there be an active volcano under all that ice, unless it was underwater?
Since even a minor amount of lava puts off billions or trillions of BTU's, why wouldn't there be a chimney like hole reaching up from the active volcano to the surface?

A:

You are totally right, any volcano that erupts there would rapidly melt the ice and be underwater. In some cases this water can escape in a flash flood (jokulhlaups) and leave a cavity for the volcano.

I'll be honest it took me an embarrassing amount of time to work out what a BTU was (we use joules over in Europe). Water is extremely good at sapping the heat out of magma, and once the surface of the lava cools the rest is stuck inside to slowly cool over time (and not melt its way upwards). It would take an extremely large volcano to melt its way through the Antarctic ice sheet directly upwards, even the largest supervolcano would struggle to get through 2km of solid ice.


Q:

What do you look forward to doing next, as in discovery wise?

Also, much kudos to you, an amazing find.

A:

Thanks a lot, its been an exiting couple of years!

As to what work I most look forward to doing next, there are a lot of very interesting questions raised by this study that I would love to help answer. For example, we still don't know how many of these volcanoes are active or have recently been active.

With climate change being such a pressing issue a lot of very timely studies still need doing. Just in the area overlying the volcanoes there is enough ice to raise global sea levels by around 10 metres, which would obviously be devastating. As West Antarctica has shown signs of being highly unstable in the past, we need to monitor closely how the ice responds in the next few years. Understanding what role the volcanoes have in this system could help make our estimates more accurate, which is ultimately what we rely on to convince politicians/the general public to take action.


Q:

Awesome find. Congrats! What inspired you to search for these?

A:

Thanks a lot mate!

I have always found Antarctica a pretty cool place, largely because it is so remote and always has potential for new discoveries! Based on this and my love of volcanoes (I grew up around some young volcanoes in central France), I was inspired to look in detail at remote areas of Antarctica.

Once I started discovering volcanic cones, I started discussing the work with other researchers (both in volcanology and glaciology) which eventually led to me writing a paper in collaboration with two of them!