“Every success story is a tale of constant adaption, revision and change,” said Sir Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Galactic. This is true of many scientific and business ventures buffeted by 2020’s economic chaos. “Survive and thrive” describes the efforts of all the AAPG sections and affiliated societies. Our AAPG sections include the nation’s most vital and historic geological societies.
As the new AAPG vice president of sections, it is an honor to host a monthly virtual teleconference meeting with the section presidents, presidents-elect and society leaders. Our virtual role call includes the Eastern Section with Brian Panetta, the Gulf Coast Section with Mark Schuster, the Mid-Continent Section with Jamie Woolsey, the Southwest Section with Jessica Wold, the Rocky Mountain Section with Peter Bucknam and Julia Lemaster, and the Pacific Section with Rebecca Schempp and Vaughn Thompson. AAPG includes 60 affiliated geological societies under the umbrella of the AAPG sections.
AAPG sections and affiliated societies are completely changing many aspects of the section conference and convention model. Members will see the difference in 2021. We share ideas, visualize a new attendee-enhanced experience, and brainstorm ideas for networking and for the new virtual conference experience.
The COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown forced the cancellation of four 2020 AAPG section conferences. The Rockies canceled a convention in Grand Junction, Colo.; the Southwest Section canceled a conference in Ruidoso, N.M.; the Eastern Section canceled their planned Illinois 2020 meeting and the Pacific Section canceled a planned meeting in Oxnard, Calif. It was tough to absorb losses on these meetings, but as author Greg Kincaid says in his books, “No matter how much falls on us, we keep plowing ahead. That’s the only way to keep the roads clear.”
Bucking the trend, the West Texas Geological Society bravely decided to host their first-ever virtual technical conference on Sept. 23, 2020, using a web interface integrated with Zoom live feeds. The first-ever virtual WTGS convention, led by Judd Tudor, featured live and prerecorded video talks, virtual networking, online games and prizes. Hundreds of geoscientists signed up, including some international attendees. I did my first virtual Q&A in a Zoom meeting at the WTGS conference, discussing my video field trip project to the Guadalupe Mountains.
The virtual convention idea picked up speed at the end of September as the Gulf Coast Section rolled out their GeoGulf 2020 hybrid conference, led by Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies President Travis Helms and General Chair James Willis. The team navigated technical hurdles, producing both a live in-person event at the Lafayette Petroleum Club and a simultaneous live zoom feed in four rooms, broadcasting talks to an audience of over a hundred attendees.
New Conference Features to Come
AAPG sections in 2021 will be using a new conference model that is still being individually customized by each section team.
These new tweaks include:
• Brainstorming on how to contain conference costs:
Attendees expect low conference prices, which are difficult to achieve using big convention centers and large hotels. The Southwest Section, led by President Jessica Wold and Convention Chair Margaret Collins, has reset the traditional costs of a convention by scheduling budget-friendly facilities near Fort Worth, Texas, June 28-30. The call for papers is open until April 2, coordinated by Richard Denne of Texas Christian University.
The GCAGS September meeting wiggled out of rentals at the Cajun Dome in Lafayette, La., deemed too expensive. Instead, GCAGS leaders held the Geogulf 2020 conference in the Lafayette Petroleum Club, which had inexpensive meeting space, and great, low-cost luncheons and dinners.
• The “new normal” of reduced sponsorship:
Section conferences are budgeting for reduced sponsorship in 2021. It’s uncertain when traditional sponsors from drilling companies, seismic data companies, consulting companies and data libraries will be able to contribute financial support to AAPG section conferences. Starting last year, oil and gas vendors have cut their budgets and have left conferences looking for nontraditional sponsors.
• Attendee networking and entertainment:
Zoom networking and virtual games are the new conference entertainment. Built into the program are breaks for geology history trivia games and “click and collect” treasure hunts on the conference website.
• The focus of the technical sessions goes in a different direction:
Section leaders and technical chairs are listening to the changing interests of affiliated society members. As a result, the new conference model adds more talks and short courses on carbon capture and underground storage, data analytics, computer languages like Python, and environmental resource development and preservation. The new conference model will increasingly involve presentations on water resources, gravity and magnetics, earthquake monitoring and geothermal energy.
AAPG sections have a rich history, and historical anniversaries are coming up this year. The AAPG Eastern Section is hosting its 50th Annual Convention, Oct. 10-12, in Pittsburgh. The 71st GCAGS Convention rolls out in person and virtually in Austin, Texas, Sept. 18-22. Dallas Dunlap, Mike Sweet, Toti Larson and Carlos Fonseca are coordinating the technical team. This year, 2021, is a real opportunity to visit section conferences at a lower price and participate virtually in section conferences in far-flung cities.