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Changing CMOS Congresses

– By David Fissel, David Collins, Matthew Asplin (Members, CMOS Congress 2021 Local Arrangements Committee) and Bob Jones (CMOS Archivist)


As the plans for the 55th CMOS Congress 2021 are being finalized, the changing approach to CMOS Congresses over the recent past is described. The changes for Congress 2020 and Congress 2021 were driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are other factors that will continue to be important for future Congresses long after the pandemic fades into history.

CMOS Congresses, 1967 – 2019

Starting in 1967, the first Congress was held at Carleton University in Ottawa, with about 110 delegates attending. Over the subsequent years, the Congresses changed and evolved with the venues shifting from university campuses to hotel- or community-based conference facilities, the numbers of delegates increasing to about 700 or more in the year’s after 2000, and some Congresses held jointly with other scientific societies. “The joint CGU / CMOS Ottawa Congress in 2010 attracted 1000 delegates. In the past two decades, these larger congresses are now the principal source of revenue for the Society, eclipsing membership fees, costs of publications and other revenue sources.” (see CMOS History for more information).

After 2010, the number of Congress delegates underwent a slow decline, due in part to restrictions on government scientists for participating in scientific meetings. In 2017, the 51st CMOS Congress was held in Toronto ON (see the photo of delegates in Figure 1). In 2018, the 52nd CMOS Congress was held in Halifax NS, which attracted a total of approximately 660 participants, including 452 paid delegates. In 2019, the CMOS Congress as part of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG) General Assembly held in Montreal PQ.

A group photo of about 200 people taken from above
Figure 1: A group photograph of some of the approximately 450 delegates to the 51st CMOS Congress in 2017 in Toronto ON

By late winter 2020, the plans for Congress 2020 to be held at the Delta Hotel in Ottawa ON were well advanced, ahead of the scheduled May 24-28, 2020 Congress dates. However, public health restrictions started in mid-March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of delegate registrations on March 22, and the cancellation of the in-person Congress on April 3. All abstract fees and any registrations received to date were refunded at this time.

From April into early May, the Scientific Program Committee (SPC) led by Gordon McBean and Len Barrie, along with some key members of the LAC, prepare a new plan for a Virtual Congress 2020. By mid-May, the plans for an Alternate Congress 2020, conducted entirely online, were announced and registrations were open to participants. This virtual Congress was conducted over 11 days from May 26 through to June 15, with a total of 16 different scientific sessions presenting oral scientific talks in 31 ninety-minute time slots using two Zoom Meeting licenses. A total of about 160 scientific papers were presented, which represents about one-half of the number of scientific papers at previous Congresses. The CMOS Awards Ceremony and CMOS Annual General meeting, as well as some other CMOS business and Special Interest Group meetings, were also held online during this time frame. A two hour long CMOS Public Virtual Forum/Panel Discussion on “Coping with Extreme Weather” was presented online on Oct. 8, 2020.
Overall, Congress 2020 was very successful with over 900 people registering for this free Congress. The attendance for each individual scientific session was in the range of 70-160 participants.

Virtual CMOS Congress 2021

Planning for the 55th CMOS Congress 2021 in Victoria BC began in 2018, and the plans for a normal in-person Congress were well advanced by the time of the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. However, as the pandemic situation evolved, the plans for Congress 2021 were re-evaluated and by July 2020, it became clear that the only Congress option that could be planned with any level of certainty was a virtual Congress.

In January 2020, well before the pandemic started, one of the aspirations in planning Congress 2021 was to find ways to reduce the environmental impact of the CMOS Congress. Some analysis was carried out on the largest environmental issue associated with a scientific conference, carbon emissions into the atmosphere, resulting from greenhouse gasses due to delegates travelling to and from the conference.

An analysis of the estimated carbon released, from CO2 emissions only, due to travel for the 2018 CMOS Congress in Halifax is shown in Figure 2. Approximately two-thirds of the 660 participants travelled by air from outside of the host province, including 273 from the rest of Eastern Canada, 119 from Western Canada, 17 from the United States and 33 from overseas. The total carbon emissions, resulting from travel (aeroplane and automobile) is estimated at 230 tonnes. Only 3% of the emissions originated with participants in the host province where travel was only by ground, while the remaining 97% originated from participants, travelling by air, from outside of the host province. A large majority of the participants (76%), who originated in Eastern Canada and the northeast U.S., accounted for only 37% of the carbon emissions, while the remaining 24% of the participants who travelled greater distances, within North America and from overseas, accounted for 63% of the carbon emissions (Figure 2). A similar pattern is seen in the analysis of carbon emissions from a major scientific conference, the 2019 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting who also estimated that the carbon emissions from a fully virtual conference are only about 0.1% of the travel emissions of the in-person AGU conference.

Figure 2: A chart of the percentage of CO2 emissions by originating locations in comparison to the cumulative number of participants, for the CMOS Congress 2018 in Halifax NS. The table below the chart lists the originating locations for air travel to Congress. Of the 660 participants, including paid delegates, complimentary registrations and those on family passes, there were 609 from Canada, 17 from the United States and 33 from overseas (23 from East Asia, 9 from Europe and 2 from South America). CO2 emissions from air travel were computed using data on specific flight routes obtained from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) database.

Based on the analysis of carbon emissions arising from the 2018 Congress, ways of reducing the greenhouse gas environmental impacts were being developed, such as the purchase of carbon offsets. However, this environmental impact issue was essentially eliminated when the pandemic situation dictated that the 2021 Congress would have to be a virtual Congress.

The virtual CMOS Congress 2021 is being designed to provide participants with as much functionality as possible from a virtual Congress. The Congress will feature a full Scientific Program including 7 plenary speakers, about 300 oral scientific talks in up to four concurrent sessions, up to 150 e-poster papers, and a Public Speaker, all of which will have Question and Answer discussions. The Congress will also include an Educator’s Day, Exhibitors and Sponsors, events with networking interactions, including the CMOS Awards ceremony and an event for Students, and informal one-on-one discussions. To facilitate the five different time zones across Canada, Congress will be extended to a 9 day period with a shorter duration of daily activities.

Congresses Going Forward

CMOS Congress 2022, to be held in Saskatoon SK in the latter part of May 2022, will be jointly held with the Canadian Geophysical Union. Planning is now well underway. Subject to the abatement of the pandemic, it is planned to include extensive in-person activities.

While many functions of in-person Congresses can be replicated within online Congresses, the social and networking interactions among participants are difficult to replicate in a virtual Congress, consisting of informal meetings in small groups or individual person-to-person encounters. This reduction in social interactions is especially challenging for early-career scientists, including graduate students.

Beyond 2022, it would seem that Congresses will continue to evolve. To facilitate the reduction of carbon emissions, it would follow that some portion of future Congresses should be conducted using virtual, online methods. Options to achieve this could include: alternating between an in-person and virtual Congress from one year to another; or having yearly in-person Congresses at a central regional location(s), with remote participation for those who would have to travel large distances to attend.
At present, the CMOS Executive/Council is addressing the planning of future Congresses through the CMOS Congress Committee, as well as from the perspective of the CMOS Strategic Plan, as presently being developed.

carbon emissions, CMOS Congress, CMOS history, Flying, virtual congress

For previous issues go to the Archives page on the main CMOS site.