Saturday 3rd November – Arriving in Taiwan
When I booked my ticket for the 9th International Conference on Scour and Erosion (ICSE 2018), I didn’t anticipate exploring the Tonghua night market in Taipei trying to decide which street food to eat, while struggling with sleep deprivation! It’s a Saturday night, and I’ve only been in Taipei for a few hours following a long journey from the UK.

Photo: Taipei 101 greets me when I leave the metro station

Sunday 4th November – Exploring Taipei and conference registration
On Sunday morning I’ve actually managed to catch up on sleep fairly well, with the help of a nap I had on Saturday afternoon. I have some excellent noodle soup for lunch on the recommendation of my Taiwanese colleague on the REMS course at Oxford, then explore the local area around Taipei 101 where there are lots of shops, and I found a big group of musicians in one of the squares demonstrating traditional drumming.
In the afternoon I make my way to the Taipei International Convention Center to register for the conference, where I bump into Richard Whitehouse – my Industrial Supervisor at HR Wallingford and chair of the Scour and Erosion technical committee (ISSMGE TC213). Later in the afternoon I went back to my room to practice my presentation a few times and to work out the narrative of my talk. For this conference I have 12 minutes to talk, but the first practice took me around 15 minutes! I really don’t want to run out of time on the day, so I ended up tweaking my slides and focusing the content of my talk.

Photo: Small-scale renewable energy in Taipei, combining solar with a vertical-axis wind turbine

Monday 5th November – The conference begins
Today is the first day of the conference. The day starts with an opening ceremony and some introductions and welcomes. This is followed by the first keynote presentation and a coffee break. The rest of the day is made up of presentations on a range of scour applications from rivers and dams, through to offshore subjects such as turbidity currents and renewable energy. At this conference the presentations are in three parallel sessions, so there is an exercise in looking through the programme and proceedings to decide which talks to attend. The day is broken up with coffee breaks and lunch, with plenty of time for discussions.
Conferences like this are a fantastic opportunity to meet up with a diverse range of specialists, and I meet people here that I remember from the last ICSE held at Oxford in 2016 but also PhD students, professors, and consultants that are also working on offshore wind projects. Of course in the evening there are more networking opportunities over dinner and then over a few drinks at a bar – it is only at these very specialised conferences that you get the chance to meet with such a range of people to freely share ideas and even to gain new inspiration for your own research.

Tuesday 6th November – Time to give my presentation
Tuesday starts with another two keynote presentations. My talk is in the last session of the day, but with only one other parallel session. The audience was around 100 people. I’ve presented at a similar conference in London back in July, as well as at the REMS conferences over recent years, so I’ve learned to be better prepared and as a result have less nerves before giving a talk than a few years ago. Part way through my talk a “5 minutes left” sign is held up, and by the end of my talk I’ve managed to keep to time and communicate the main messages I wanted to get across. I answer four questions from the audience then more people come to speak to me after the session for further discussions – it is rewarding and encouraging that my talk has generated so much interest.

Wednesday 7th November – The conference formally closes
Wednesday is the last day of presentations, the day follows the same format as the previous two – only today I no longer need to worry about my presentation. The day ends with closing speeches and the conference dinner on the 33rd floor of the Taipei World Trade Center. We are treated to a display of traditional Taiwanese dances, and a delicious range of Taiwanese food.

Photo: Richard Whitehouse and myself with Taipei 101 at night

Thursday 8th November – Visiting a dam and a bridge on the Dajia river
On Thursday, the last day of the conference, an industrial visit is planned. The conference attendees take a coach out of Taipei for 2 hours to the Dajia River on the western side of Taiwan. Our first stop of the day is the Shigang dam, which was badly damaged by a landslide during the 921 earthquake in 1999. The earthquake was magnitude 7.6, and the fault runs right underneath the dam itself. Impressively emergency repairs were rapidly performed before the typhoon season in 2000 but the situation remains challenging due to progressing river erosion and reliance on the reservoir as a water source. In the afternoon we visit the Hualiang steel bridge further downstream – a former railway bridge now just used for pedestrians and cyclists. We are taken down to the river bed, where the bridge foundations are being badly undermined by scour. The scour here is due to a combination of the steep gradient of the river, and the weathered sandstone riverbed which crumbles easily to sand particles and can be broken up by hand into smaller blocks. The day of field visits has illustrated the significant engineering challenges for engineering structures in Taiwan due to combinations of the local geology, climate, as well as potentials for earthquake damage – and demonstrated the interest of the scour and erosion scientific community to organise this conference here. The 10th ICSE will be in Washington DC in 2020 by which time I will (hopefully) be a REMS alumni, but I hope to stay in touch with my old and new friends in this international scientific community. Before I leave I’m having a long weekend in Taipei to see some more sights and take in some culture. Maybe I’ll take a trip up Taipei 101 to see the famous 660-tonne tuned mass damper…

Photo: Hualiang steel bridge foundations undermined by scour

Russell Mayall