For the past couple of days, I was debating with myself if I should make an overview of 2020. After all, 2020 was about getting used to work from home, worrying about the health of our closest (but living far away) friends and family, and the inability to plan our holidays. I was about to write that it was a year of almost no travelling, but then I remembered that we started the year drinking champagne in Hong Kong. Then in February, we had tea and blini in Saint Petersburg (plus a lot of Georgian food, yum!). We spent 10 exciting days in Bulgaria during the summer and in October we attended a very special wedding in Belgium. It sounds like we did quite a lot of travelling, but it is just a small part of what would have been, if Covid-19 had not existed and the world did not get into a Pandemic mode. Just few of this year’s cancelations: two weddings in the US, a wedding in Denmark, Easter visit in Bulgaria, late-summer visit in Belgium, short road-trip in Norway… and maybe some people would have come to visit us in Denmark too?! We would never know… Also, we would never take the freedom of unrestricted movement for granted again.
Work-life balance struggles
On the work-life balance front there were also a lot of changes, even though Niels and I tried hard to pretend that it is business as usual. While all people around me were struggling with taking care of their kids (when the kindergartens and schools were closed in the spring), I was struggling with keeping a healthy work-life balance. It proved to be much harder when the office and the living room are a door apart! For more than a year, I was commuting 2h one way per day – a time I had set for switching off the work-mode (i.e. stopping my brain from thinking about work). While I gained few hours of sleep, I completely lost the time I used to spend listening to the morning show on the P3 radio, doing my Duolingo exercises, and listening to all the new music on Spotify. It became harder to stop working at 4:30 or even 5:30 pm, as I did before.
Probably the first big change was that we equipped our guest room as a home-office. We had to wait two weeks for our monitors to be delivered home, but eventually all was set, and we had a functional shared office-space at home. Slowly we got into the routine of having various Skype, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams meetings if not every day, then multiple times per week, so we can stay connected to our colleagues. Niels and I also started coordinating our calendars, so when one of us was in a meeting, he/she would move out of our shared office, so the other can work uninterrupted. Then Niels got a new job in Aarhus and I got an extension of my GEUS contract (and a title change, which did not really affect the type of work tasks I had, but sounds better). We decided to move to Aarhus, so we can both save the commuting time, when the lockdown is over. I remember we were quite optimistic and thought that soon the corona pandemic will be over, so we should live closer to our offices. Also, we found an apartment with a view to the Aarhus Bugt (Aarhus Bay) and could not resist renting it, so we can watch the sea from our couch. We did get to go to the office after the summer vacation, but from September we were sent back to work from home. Generally, working from home is great when you need to focus on whatever you are doing. It allows for uninterrupted work because you don’t meet people on the way to the kitchen (coffee machine) or toilet, and no one knocks on your office door. On the other hand, all other tasks involving communication (e.g. brainstorming, planning, discussing results) became multiple times harder to do efficiently. No video chat can completely replace in-person meetings. I think the greatest loss was the small talk and the random conversations that sometimes lead to new ideas. My social contacts were reduced to Niels and the cashier in the closest supermarket.
Projects and papers
If I had to summarize my year in couple of key words, those would be “Jupiter data”, “Vandplan 3” (River Basin Management Plan #3), “trace elements”, “nitrate vulnerability”, “DRASTIC”, “HOVER, “NBLs”, “pesticides”… what more… maybe there was something else, but that is all I can remember now.
I continued to be involved in two of the work packages of HOVER. HOVER is an acronym of the project “Hydrogeological processes and Geological settings over Europe controlling dissolved geogenic and anthropogenic elements in groundwater of relevance to human health and the status of dependent ecosystems”. This is a GeoERA project (https://geoera.eu/), funded by the Horizon 2020 and Innovation Fund Denmark, where different European Geological Survey Organizations are working together. For some of the tasks we had to contribute only with datasets, but for others we had to test pre-selected methodologies with our own data. I was engaged mostly with two themes as part of HOVER this year: 1) aquifer vulnerability, and 2) Natural Background Levels (NBLs). The NBLs part overlaps somewhat with the work I did for the River Basin Management Plan 2021-2027 (dk: Vandplan 3), so I’ll focus on this in the next paragraph. As part of the aquifer vulnerability theme, I spent a lot of time in GIS working with rasters and testing different versions of DRASTIC framework for assessing the intrinsic vulnerability of aquifers. DRASTIC is an example of the weighting and rating methods, which can be used for codifying expert knowledge… in this case it is about intrinsic aquifer vulnerability. We developed an extension/modification for assessing nitrate-specific vulnerability (as opposed to intrinsic vulnerability) by calibrating it with the “traditional” Danish nitrate-vulnerability concept. All the details can be found in our open-access paper “A high-resolution nitrate vulnerability assessment of sandy aquifers (DRASTIC-N)”, recently published in Journal of Environmental Management (IF: 5.647, for those who care).
My second major involvement this year was within the River Basin Management Plan 2021-2027 projects, where GEUS is “consulting” (performing some of the groundwater status assessments) for the Danish EPA. My tasks were mainly in the clean-up of Jupiter data (Jupiter is our database), aggregation, the 1st assessment step (the automated qualitative status assessments), and prep of datasets for further use in the Expert Workshops and the Stakeholder elicitation. Honestly, the most stressful part of this work was the short deadlines and the lack of in-person communication, which could save me a lot of revisions due to misunderstandings. But let’s focus on the positives, as annual overviews are supposed to be about those, not about winning. The work was divided in different projects based on the target, e.g. 1) pesticides, 2) organic micro-pollutants, 3) trace elements, and 4) chloride and ammonium. The deliverables for these projects are unfortunately just GEUS notater (something like official GEUS letters) and a lot of excel files and word documentation of R workflows. So, there is not much to share here, really… However, I learned a lot in the process. I got to focus my attention on NBLs of trace elements and am currently working on a paper that should be submitted by the end of January to a special issue on the same topic in Water. I know that MDPI journals got a lot of bad press this year, as being predatory, but this is the last try… we are relying on the special issue editors to guard the peer-review process. I was also involved in the project assessing the quantitative state of Danish groundwater bodies, for which I also got to participate at an Expert Workshop in Odense! It was nice to meet some people again! The final report is not finalized yet, it is something we will deal with in January, but there is a published GEUS report 2019/32 where I did some trend analysis for SO4 and Cl.
Next to these two major projects, which took a lot of my time and focus, I also worked on a paper assessing the pesticides status of drinking water in Denmark and estimating the population exposure to pesticides from drinking water at household level. After numerous revision rounds, I managed to submit the manuscript to the GEUS Bulletin at the end of November. GEUS Bulletin was revamped completely, it is free both to read and publish, and I am quite excited to see how the peer-review process goes. The online submission system says that the reviews are overdue, but I am glad I don’t get them now… Nothing worse than receiving a decision letter between Christmas and New Year! Pesticides in groundwater was a hot topic this year in Denmark, so I am a little bit afraid of the public attention that we may get when the paper is out. Let’s see.
In-between these 3 projects, I also worked on two other papers (one on As and one on redox architectures), where I am not the first author. Both papers are now submitted after 1st round of revisions, so I will wait until the peer-review process is over before writing about them. In December, I also got involved in updating the drinking water hardness map for the GEUS site. We are still discussing it, but I had some fun preparing different versions, so we can decide what is the best spatial representation of the point data we have. I got to do some Voronoi polygons, but those were very unpopular. Interpolation is also a no go, and the municipality polygons are misrepresenting greatly the supply system. Thus, the discussions are still ongoing. Also, in December, I started brainstorming a potential project proposal. There is a funding call at the end of March, I would love to submit a proposal for, but let’s see how it goes.
Beyond the driving, biking, and walking in the nature (or museum visits), other worth mentioning things are my Danish classes. This time both Niels and I are attending online private lessons, an hour per week, where we are forced to talk in Danish to the teacher and to each other. It is ok, but I feel that I am slacking a bit, I am working on papers in the weekend (without really reporting my hours), so I am too tired to focus on doing Danish homework… I am also reading a very irritating Danish book which does not help engaging for an extended period of time with Danish. I just hate the author of the book and his life views, but some of the topics are interesting from a philosophical point of view. It is probably good that it is irritating, because it triggers me to express my opinions, so we have something to talk about during our online lesson. At least something different from “How did your day go?”.
I got back to an old needlepoint project (or is is petit point?). My grandma gave it to me as a birthday present a long time ago, so I decided it is time to tackle it. It is an exercise in patience. It is a bit too dark in the past two months, so this hobby-project is on hold until the sun decides to come out of the grey cloud cover. Puzzles and board games keep us entertained when the weather is particularly nasty. Like the last few days!
I started going to a smart gym. The gym is closed now due to the corona lock-down, but I am looking forward to getting back to the routine. I can track my progress on each machine on an app, plus I got to measure my muscle mass for first time! Quite facinating.
I also started doing weird collages with corona-related words cut-out from the daily newspaper we receive at home. I think this is my reaction (aka quiet protest) about the over-saturation with corona-related news. I am honestly fed up with seeing/hearing news about covid-19, the pandemic, the corona crisis, and the mink. There must be other important things we could talk about.
I also spent a lot of time going to a doctor, something I’ve been postponing in the past few years… I hate blood-tests, needles, and in general talking to doctors, but I think this year I’ve done a lot of it. I think next year will be worse in this respect, unfortunately. I also seriously considered if I should find a psychologist to talk too. Haven’t done it yet, but I may… let’s not focus on this. Instead, I decided to end this 2020 annual review with an interview (see next).
Interview I stole from the Pleasure magazine (Børsen)
My personal style is defined as “corona comfy”. Corona comfy is when you wear whatever you see first in the closet or on that chair, which collects clothes over time.
My last good investment was in art and in Danish lessons. Both cost about the same. I was used in investing in travelling, but that is on hold.
The best hotel, I’ve been at this year is the Hyatt Centric Victoria Harbour. We had a really amazing view to Kowloon Bay. Plus, it had one of those fun showers, where you can chose to make the glass wall see-through, so you can enjoy the harbour view…
A place in my city I can really recommend… Moesgård strand for weekend walks and Ghrelin for fine dining. Our usual walks are to Risskov Strand, so whenever we go somewhere else, feels special. We managed to try two restaurants in Aarhus and Ghrelin won the “competition”. It’s that place where you’re not sure if the food is for observing or eating.
Everyone should own an ergonomic keyboard! Mine is Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop and I can only say good things about it. Love it!
The place I love most eating out now is Mad-Glad. I think it is my favorite brunch place and it is very close to our apartment, so we can just walk there. I am sorry it is closed now, otherwise we would have definitely booked a table for this weekend!
My next investment is in painting or drawing lessons, or both. I’ve highlighted few different offers, but I will wait until the next corona press-conference to see if the lessons can start in Jan or Feb, or I have to wait more. It will be nice to do draw/paint again. I am thinking about the weekend half-day courses because I am not sure I can commit to a weeknight every week.
A place I travel to again and again: Bulgaria and Belgium to visit our families and friends. Otherwise, I really wanted to write Japan, but we’ve only been there twice… I am looking forward to the next trip.
The next exhibition I am going to is in AROS when it opens again. We got an annual pass, so we can enjoy the art whenever we want (whenever it is open).
My next trip is to Blåvand. We rented a summer house and will spend few days there. I am looking forward to it, as I’ve never been to that part of the Danish West coast! It should be great, if the rain stops. Other than that, we have flight tickets to Sofia booked for Easter, but who knows if there will be flights then.