Scientists Hunt for Clues to Post-Wildfire Recovery in Argentina  

September 23, 2022
by ISR Staff
Blog

In August, wildfires ripped through the Córdoba Province in central Argentina, leaving economic damage and a scorched forests and pasture land in its wake. Argentina is no stranger to wildfires, but climate change is making the fires more frequent, widespread and complex – and the impacts of drought and fires are stretching across borders.  

After thousands of acres in northern Argentina burned in February of 2022, ash clouds flew into Argentina’s neighbor, Paraguay, harming local residents’ health with smog-filled air. The country made international headlines just two years prior when another set of fires in Córdoba burned 60,000 hectares of flora, fauna, grassland, forests, and homes.  

Healthy farmland and soil are critical to the region, given that it relies heavily on its agricultural industry, like cattle farming. Crisis after crisis has forced the region’s leading scientists to rethink how fire-driven changes to soil properties implicates vegetation, plant regeneration and ecosystem services. And it has pushed them to work together across borders and scientific disciplines.  

“In late September 2020, it was easy to see from the Córdoba City the thick black plumes of smoke rising from the ranges, while hellish images were shown on TV and social media,” said Dr. Maria Gabriela Garcia, International Science Reserve community member and a geologist based in Córdoba. “This situation led me to wonder to what extent the fires have altered the chemical and physical properties of the soils, and ultimately, impacted their fertility and runoff control capacity.” 
 
After the 2020 fires, Argentina’s National Council of Science and Technology (CONICET) called researchers together from different disciplines to propose actions and lines of research that deal with different aspects of this crisis. Today, geologists, mineralogists, chemists, microbiologists and ecologists, are all working all together to rapidly characterize the dynamics of post-fire recovery.  

One unique collective of Argentinian scientists are on the hunt for stronger data about the soil in the aftermath of extreme wildfires. Through the NCST, Dr. Estela Cecilia Mlewski, a microbiologist, met Dr. Garcia, a professor at the National University of Córdoba. 

The team also brought on Edith Filippini, a lichenologist focused on ecological studies and biomonitoring of environments affected by fire; Romina Cecilia Torres – a specialist in postfire regeneration by resprouting and seedlings; and Daihana Argibay – a specialist in satellite image analysis. 

The group’s collected data will be fundamental to understanding the geochemical and microbiological disturbances that occur in soils of a semi-arid mountainous area of southern South America affected by forest fires, and help researchers design effective strategies for remediation of the affected ecosystems across the region. If their research can find the presence of microorganisms, for example, there is an opportunity for regrowth and regeneration of local flora – which could lessen the fires’ impact on farming or other ecological or economic activities. 

The group recently worked together on the International Science Reserve’s readiness exercise on wildfires. The ISR conducts readiness exercises – or scenarios – to bring scientists from across borders and disciplines together to prepare for crisis. The Argentinian scientists believe that the International Science Reserve can be useful for giving researchers the tools for fire prevention and support through much needed resources to predict fire behavior, and help in control and monitoring tasks against a crisis.  

“The ISR is an excellent opportunity to know researchers around the world working on similar aspects to us. It gives us the potential to generate collaborations between foreign groups and enrich our knowledge. The ISR’s readiness exercises can improve existing tools and more importantly, expand our ideas,” Dr. Mlewski recently told the ISR team in an interview. 

If you are interested in joining the International Science Reserve network and collaborating with scientists like the Argentinian group, please visit our sign-up page to learn more about becoming a member of the ISR community. 

How to Address our Climate Communications Crisis with Dr. Sweta Chakraborty

September 15, 2022
by ISR Staff
Blog

From the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change, it’s no longer a question whether effective science communication is necessary to deal with crisis and avert further disaster. The way the scientific community communicates urgent messages can make or break how the public responds to a crisis. Ineffective communications result in inertia or skepticism – and have reduced our collective ability to respond to and reduce the impacts of crisis.  

Dr. Sweta Chakraborty understood the importance of strategic communications early in her career as a scientist, long before many researchers began to reckon with the ways disinformation and misinformation are weaponized across the globe to prevent action on crises such as climate change.  

Today, Dr. Chakraborty’s work is motivated by the need for clear, credible, science communication to urgently and proactively manage the risks that threaten human security and well-being.  She is currently the US President of Operations at We Don’t Have Time, and a globally recognized risk and behavioral scientist. She is a trusted authority on proactive preparedness to mitigate against the impacts of climate change.  

Dr. Chakraborty is an advisor to the International Science Reserve and strengthens the ISR with lessons she has gained from advising scientists, policymakers, and other experts on science communications.  

Dr. Chakraborty recommends that scientists who care about responding to the multitude of crises our world faces must strengthen their ability to effectively communicate.  Experts who are clear and pitch their messages for the audiences they need to reach will ultimately have stronger results. And we will all be better off for it.  

Three Experts’ Takeaways on Gearing up for the Next Global Crisis 

August 18, 2022
by Mila Rosenthal
BlogCrisis

Since our launch in early 2022, the International Science Reserve (ISR) has rapidly expanded a network of scientists who are poised to respond to the next big crisis. The ISR aims to take action on crises that are complex, international, and where science and technology can effectively respond.  

The ISR works in two ways, one through preparing for crisis by helping scientists in the community practice how they would respond during a crisis and understand what resources they need. And two, through a coordinated response to a declared crisis where the ISR will add to existing networks and support access to specialized human and technological resources. 

With these goals in mind, the ISR brings together colleagues from a range of disciplines around the world for discussions to learn from each other in a semi-monthly webinar series: Science Unusual: R&D for Global Crisis Response.  

The first webinar in this series was “Science Unusual: Gearing up for the Next Global Crisis.” The recording is now available on-demand through the New York Academy of Science. I was honored to moderate the discussion, and our esteemed panelists included:  

  • Dr. Fulya Aydin-Kandemir, Hydropolitics Association at Ankara & Akdeniz University (Turkey)  
  • Dr. Lorna Thorpe, Professor and Director of the Division of Epidemiology, NYU Grossman School of Medicine in the Department of Population Health (United States of America) 
  • Alex Wakefield, Senior Policy Adviser, Royal Society (United Kingdom) 

It’s hard to narrow down all the lessons I gleaned from this panel, but I have three big takeaways on what the panelists learned through their own experience preparing for and responding to crises in public health and climate change.  

1) Scientists Need Stronger Networks to Connect and Coordinate Crisis Response 

Alex Wakefield began her career in science policy to help governments use evidence and science to make stronger policy decisions. When the COVID-19 crisis hit in 2020, the UK government needed scientific evidence – but like many governments around the world – they didn’t have the luxury of time to do long-term research. Ms. Wakefield worked under the government’s chief scientist to run scientific advisory groups that convened experts to quickly provide evidence for policymaking decisions. That mechanism existed before COVID-19 to help deal with emergencies, like major flooding events and public health emergencies, and Ms. Wakefield believes it was a real advantage of the UK’s response that this was already in place.  

Dr. Lorna Thorpe added that the energy of scientists wanting to get involved locally, nationally, and globally was one of the most important components of the COVID-19 response. She saw a robust convening and collaboration among institutions and researchers in New York City’s response, and she believes that the ISR can play a big role in facilitating these connections during the next major crisis.  

2) Open Data Sharing is Essential to Effective Analysis During a Crisis  

Dr. Fulya Aydin-Kandemir shared her own story of facilitating research during massive wildfires in Greece and Turkey in 2021. In her view, crisis research needs stronger access to public data, in her case satellite imagery, in order to respond faster and effectively to natural disasters across borders. That way, she could share her results with stakeholders, like firefighters, to help them understand real-time distribution of fires and how to stop outbreaks that can damage communities and ecosystems. 

Dr. Thorpe added that we need more coordination of networks that allow research institutions to work together, no matter what their focus issues are, on issues like data sharing.  Access to data like satellite imagery is not only important to issues of wildfires caused by climate change, but can also be important for real-time public health issues, like the urban heat effect or migration patterns. 

3) To Build Public Trust, Leadership and Communication is Key 

Research shows that the public will generally trust the government to do the right thing in a crisis. However, if there is ambiguity in leadership, Dr. Thorpe shared that she has seen the public lose trust – which makes it harder for technical leaders, like public health researchers, to do their job.  

Dr. Thorpe reinforced how important great leadership is in a time of crisis, especially among local officials like mayors or health officials. During COVID-19, there was ambiguity around data that mired the United States and caused delays. She believes that some of that can be attributed to the erosion of institutions in America, but it is really about trusting your local leaders to make the right choices. 

Ms. Wakefield believes that another way to build public trust ahead of an emergency is to consult with the public about what types of crisis responses are acceptable. Now at the Royal Society in the UK, she recently held a public dialogue series on different emergencies, like flooding and pandemics. The researchers found that the public had an expectation around government use of data – and they expressed concerns about when the emergency ends, what the data will be used for. The researchers plan to take these results and advocate for setting up stronger processes and policies for future responses.  


Do you want to watch the whole webinar? Here are three steps to rewatch Science Unusual on-demand:  

  • Register for the webinar using this link 
  • Then, click “Join Event” 
  • After logging in, select the “Schedule” menu, or the grid menu (small squares) on mobile, located at the top of your screen, then click “On Demand” 

Q&A: Why this Fire Researcher Values Collaboration Across Scientific Disciplines  

August 16, 2022
by ISR Staff
Blog

At the heart of the International Science Reserve (ISR) is a commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration among scientists to respond to some of the world’s biggest crises. To do this, the ISR regularly brings together scientists for readiness exercises, like our first scenario on wildfires, and seeks advice from experts from different scientific disciplines. 

One ISR expert, Steve Kerber, grew up in a family of volunteer firefighters and joined the fire service when he was just 16 years old. His childhood experience led him to his career in fire protection engineering, and ultimately, to research how to address the world’s unresolved fire safety risks and emerging dangers. 

He is currently Vice President and Executive Director of the Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI) at UL Research Institutes. He leads a fire safety research team dedicated to addressing the world’s unresolved fire safety risks and emerging dangers to reduce death, injury and loss from fire.  

We recently spoke with him about his experiences.  

Wildfires are getting worse, but in every country, the response is still too slow. What are the major obstacles to fixing this problem?  

Wildland urban interface fires or wildland fires that spread into communities are incredibly complex and destructive events. Our collective response to them is an interdisciplinary problem, requiring many different stakeholder groups to work together. The policies, codes, standards, research, response, enforcement and public action have not kept up with the growth of the hazard. We need to make significant progress in all these areas and more to keep pace with the scale of the danger. 

Approximately 86% of the scientists involved in the ISR to date reported that they would like to work on wildfires even if it is not their primary area of research. What does this type of multidisciplinary research look like in practice? 

I think the interesting part about studying fires is that it is inherently multidisciplinary and applied. For example, we can take my chemistry or forestry skills and apply them to a fire problem. At FSRI, we like to have a direct issue that we’re trying to resolve, and we like to work with stakeholders that can tell us exactly what the problem is that needs to be solved.

Steve Kerber, Vice President and Executive Director of the Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI) at UL Research Institutes.

We’ve got chemists, fire protection engineers, mechanical engineers, data scientists, and nuclear engineers all working together to address fire problems through multidisciplinary, applied research. For example, we have applied fire science and engineering to improve the safety and effectiveness of the fire service by conducting experiments with them to understand better the science behind their strategies and tactics.

What lessons could scientists in our network learn from UL Research Institutes?  

It always starts with studying the problem alongside the stakeholders. Our key stakeholders at FSRI include the fire service, academia, fire investigators, fire safety engineers, government, industry and the general public. We strongly believe in using the words “with” versus “for.” While we study fire safety every day, we must be humble and understand what scientific knowledge, perspective and experience we do not have as researchers. With that understanding, you can build your team and partnerships to more effectively conduct the research or respond to the challenge.   

What did you learn from the first set of wildfire readiness exercises?  

At first, I wasn’t sure how the scientists and their proposals would all fit together or collaborate, which is the heart of the ISR network and mission. But then I had to recalibrate and say, well, we’re testing and trying out a new system. I loved the international component and that scientists from all over the world were submitting their perspectives on how to solve a problem through a variety of methods. 

How could the ISR push that collaborative model further in a time of crisis?  

The state of research on wildfires is young, and many aspects of science are needed to tackle the wildland fire problem, including research areas like climate science, meteorology, data science and emergency management. There are many contributors to the research, including federal agencies like NASA, the Department of Agriculture and Interior. They are all pumping billions of dollars into dealing with wildfires.  

At the same time, it’s a very fragmented group. In many cases, you have fire departments protecting communities and homes, and the fire service protecting trees. And there is a lot of confusion in the middle. That’s where we have a tremendous opportunity to better collaborate across disciplines and agencies.  


In June 2022, the International Science Reserve released a report on our initial research and development of a model to mobilize researchers around the world and to match them with scientific, technical, and human resources to magnify their impact. The report highlights the results from the first readiness exercise on wildfires we conducted with the support of experts like Steve Kerber. Download the full report here 

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The International Science Reserve is a network of open scientific communities, bringing together specialized resources from across the globe to prepare for and help mitigate complex and urgent global crises. We focus solely on preparing and mobilizing scientists to augment existing response organizations.