Marking 150 years since publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, the AAAS Pacific Division will convene its 2009 Annual Meeting in San Francisco, honoring the H.M.S. Beagle's most famous naturalist with special programs on evolution and sustainability.
Convening 14-19 August at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park and on the campus of San Francisco State University, conference highlights include a symposium on Near Earth Objects featuring two former astronauts; an evening lecture on ecological awareness in American landscape art; a plenary session on studying shipwrecks as fossils; and a host of symposia and workshops on evolution, sustainability, conservation, materials science, science history, and science education.
"The meeting brings together scientists from widely varying backgrounds into a common program where they can talk with others who they wouldn't ordinarily come into contact with," said Roger Christianson, executive director of the Pacific Division and professor of biology at Southern Oregon University, Ashland.
Portions of the AAAS Pacific Division meeting will take place the California Academy of Sciences, which features the world's largest dome-enclosed rainforest exhibit.
Christianson said that in the 150 years since Darwin published On the Origin of Species, scientists have learned a great deal about how the natural world changes—from human evolution to the weather. Recently, policy makers and the public, with the help of scientists, have begun focusing on sustainability, ensuring that future generations have access to essential resources.
Christianson points out an interesting intersection of these two movements: How do we sustain a natural world that is constantly evolving?
"Sustainability in an evolving world brings about additional challenges that are not present in a static (unchanging) world," he said. "We have to figure out how to adapt our conservation and sustainability to a world in which a strategy that works one moment may not work the next."
Christianson cited climate change as an obvious example of adapting sustainability to a changing environment. As global surface and ocean temperatures rise, many species' ranges are moving towards the poles. Therefore, he continued, efforts to protect the habitats of threatened organisms may need to be periodically revisited.
"Life will undoubtedly continue no matter the changing climate," he said. "The question is, what will it look like?"
Symposia exploring the nexus of evolution and sustainability include "New Humanities and Science Convergences: Darwin and Culture"; "Darwin and the Galapagos"; "The Evolution of Cooperation"; "Evolutionary Innovations"; and "Sustainability as a Way of Life."
Other highlights include a symposium on Near Earth Objects with Rusty Schweickart, NASA's Apollo 9 mission pilot, and Edward Lu, a retired NASA astronaut who logged over 206 days in space with 6 hours and 14 minutes of extra vehicular activity (spacewalking); a plenary lecture by Cathryn Newton, dean emerita and professor of interdisciplinary sciences at Syracuse University, on shipwrecks as fossils; and an evening lecture by Robert Chianese, professor emeritus of English at California State University, Northridge, on wasteland depicted in American landscape art.
The conference will also feature five field trips including a tour of The Presidio—a former military post in use for more than 200 years and now the nation's largest urban national park; an exploration of the San Andreas Fault on the San Francisco Peninsula; and a trip to the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Following the meeting, the Pacific Division is co-sponsoring an eight-day trip to Quito, Ecuador, and the Galapagos Islands.
Christianson said that meetings of AAAS regional divisions are important because they are able to reach communities occasionally overlooked by larger national meetings. He added that they offer great opportunities for students to present their work in a relaxed yet scientifically rigorous environment.
The meeting agenda has several programs aimed at students including poster sessions, workshops, and awards. One award, the AAAS-Robert I. Larus Travel Award, provides for travel and other expenses for the student awardee to attend and present their research results at the 2010 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Diego.
The four regional divisions of AAAS—Pacific, Arctic, Caribbean, and Southwestern and Rocky Mountain (SWARM)—serve as regional networks for scientists, organizing meetings on regional issues and promoting publications from scientists active within the division.
The Pacific is the oldest AAAS regional division, with its charter dating to 1915, followed by the Southwestern and Rocky Mountain Division (1920), the Arctic Division (1951), and the Caribbean Division (1985).
The Pacific Division includes more than 30,000 AAAS members from California, Hawaii, Idaho, western Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, and all other countries bordering or lying within the Pacific Basin, with the exception of mainland Mexico south to Panama.
All AAAS members in good standing, and who reside or work within the specified boundaries of a regional division, are automatically included as members of that regional division.