Q&A: Why this Weather Man Wants to Break Down Silos in Climate and Crisis Research

March 6, 2024
by ISR Staff
Blog

As a climate scientist and meteorologist, Dr. Anthony Torres has dedicated his career to researching, teaching, and forecasting climate change and extreme weather. Most recently, he worked with Currently, a startup that provides timely and actionable weather forecasts in 20 cities. 

Dr. Torres’ academic research on understanding what drives the behavior of carbon dioxide (CO2) measurements from space has been supported by NASA and gave scientists another way to better understand how much CO2 remains in the atmosphere through 2100. His groundbreaking research also helps climate scientists model how global temperatures might change under various emission scenarios. 

Dr. Torres recently spoke to the ISR team about the role of meteorologists in working across silos and preparing the public for climate-related crises and disasters. 

How did you get into climate science and meteorology?  

As a child, I vividly remember being in a tornado outbreak. I spent the day in the pool until the massive storm clouds came rolling in. By the time we closed the pool, the tornado sirens started blaring and we ran to seek shelter in our house. Soon after, winds in excess of 100 mph wreaked havoc in the area. It turned out multiple tornadoes had also touched down nearby. I remember all of the shattered windows, downed trees, blown lawn furniture, and damaged buildings after the storm.  

It was the first time I witnessed the extreme power of nature and I wanted to know more about it. Afterwards, I acquired all kinds of weather books, would watch The Weather Channel, and had my own miniature weather station. 

What strategies can experts in the meteorology field use to help better prepare for and respond to climate-related disasters

There are multiple fronts in which we can improve our preparation for disasters:  

First, we need to close the gaps in observations. The US and Europe have dense networks of observations that allow for early detection of weather systems. Even here, gaps in detection networks, such as radar networks in the US, create challenges for detecting tornadoes or other severe weather events. In the Global South, where the density of weather observations is sparser, it is even more challenging to forecast extreme weather events. By closing these gaps, we can better monitor extreme weather events before they happen — giving us the chance to provide adequate warning to everyone affected.  

Second, meteorologists need to be more interdisciplinary. While meteorology is a physical science, the impacts from meteorological events are not. The most accurate weather forecast is only as good as how it has been received by its intended audience. Communication is key. We need to work with all of our stakeholders, as well as leverage the expertise of social scientists and disaster experts to build a shared language so that we can maximize the number of people that receive adequate warning of incoming hazards. 

What advice do you have to break down boundaries as scientists who care about crisis preparedness?

First, incentivize interdisciplinary interactions. Meteorologists — especially on television — historically have been “general practitioners” of science as science directors at their respective stations. However, we are only formally trained in a narrow subset of science. This has led to the spread of misleading information, which has real consequences. We need to understand appropriate limits of our own expertise and when to defer to others and ensure that everyone is informed with the best information possible based on the best science available.  

Second, build channels with communities affected. Often communication is delivered in a top-down method with few channels for bottom-up communication. Social media has helped level conversations in some ways, but it has not nearly gone far enough. Go into these communities with the intent to learn about what is important to them, and how to build effective communication strategies in advance of a potential crisis. Recognize that these communities are not monolithic and that there is no “one size fits all” solution for crisis preparation.  

Finally, incentivize stewardship of our disciplines. The careers of scientists are often rewarded by research and publication metrics with a baseline expectation of service work. By shifting the paradigm to weighing service with respect to broader impacts and reaching out to local communities more heavily, we deconstruct the silos built up by the ivory tower. 

Meteorologists play a very important role in communicating climate science to the public. What advice do you have? 

Despite any narrative to the contrary, my experience has been that most people genuinely crave access to science knowledge. Anytime someone asks what I do, the conversation shifts to weather and/or climate. Use this as an opportunity to relight the passion that got you into science and share that enthusiasm with the people you meet.  

Like any speaking engagement, it is important to know and be comfortable with your audience. An awkward conversation or talk is still awkward, regardless of the topic. Find common ground. Remove as many barriers as you can to maximize the connection you make with your audience. 

What gives you hope or motivation to keep doing your work, given all the challenges we face today on climate?  

Every bit of progress we make counts and makes a difference. The more we limit our planet’s warming, the less we will need to deal with climate changes and extreme weather patterns. The more we are prepared for the next disaster, the less dire the consequences. I remain optimistic humanity will learn these lessons and set forth a path to a better future. 

Q&A with ISR Community Member: Daniel San Martin from Chile 

November 28, 2023
by ISR Staff
Blog

In any major climate-related crisis, access to geo-spatial-temporal datasets, mapping, modeling, and analytical tools are critical to aid recovery efforts and protect communities. Many expert researchers, especially scientists and institutions in low-to-middle income countries, lack the tools to access and analyze relevant data, to inform local decision makers on how to act rapidly and effectively.  

During a recent panel with the Predictive Analytics World (PAW) climate conference, we spoke with ISR community member Daniel San Martin of Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María in Chile. Daniel specializes in scientific computing with a current research focus on computational fluid dynamics, numerical methods, and high-performance computing applied to forest fire modeling.  

How are you using data to inform crisis preparedness and decision-making on wildfires in your region? 

Our work is not only based on data, but we also use physical models and simulations to get or evaluate dangerous zones and vulnerable locations. Our approach is to use these simulations to make informed decisions for experts in disaster management, like government institutions. We can also use the models to create new data for AI-based models in order to complement the analysis. The main contribution of our work with wildfires is trying to best inform the people who make the decisions and try to minimize the damage of wildfires. 

Why did you look for collaborations outside of Chile, and why is a global network like the ISR beneficial to your work?  

I think collaboration with a global network is crucial for developing countries, like Chile. We do this to tap into diverse expertise and to gain a global perspective, specifically on disasters. Also, to share resources and build capacity for rapid response. I think different experts in disaster management approach this work in order to help shape policies.  I strongly believe that global collaboration is mandatory nowadays to face any kind of disaster, even more so now that we are suffering the effects of climate change. 

How does access to resources, like geospatial mapping and modeling, impact your research and work? 

In terms of data, it is really tricky in my region because of the availability of the technology or the funding to get intelligent data, like they have in the United States. We have a lot of resource constraints, such as spatiotemporal resolution issues, data integration complexities, sharing restrictions, data quality concerns, resource constraints, and remote sensing limitations, among others. We usually try to use the data provided by US or European institutions. We use that data to create models, but it cannot always be applied because we have geographical or meteorological differences. We need data and tech development by other countries, to create or adjust the tools to our own context. 

What more could be done for researchers like yourself to get the data you need, and communicate it to decision makers?  

To better support researchers in disasters, enhanced data accessibility through open initiatives and real-time streams is crucial. This includes advocating for standardized formats and integrating advanced remote sensing technologies. To communicate findings effectively to decision makers, user-friendly visualization tools and comprehensive scenario analysis reports are essential. Collaborative engagement with stakeholders, including regular workshops and educational initiatives, can bridge the gap between researchers and decision-makers, fostering understanding and trust.  

Additionally, advocating for policy integration and offering training sessions to decision makers can ensure that scientific research is considered in disaster management strategies, ultimately enhancing the impact of simulation models on informed decision-making. 

Q&A with Chike Aguh: ISR’s Newest Advisory Council Member  

November 2, 2023
by ISR Staff
Blog

The International Science Reserve is pleased to announce that Chike Aguh, former Chief Innovation Officer at the U.S. Department of Labor, has joined ISR’s Advisory Council. 

Under the Biden administration, he led efforts to use data, emerging technologies such as AI and quantum computing, and innovative practice to advance and protect American workers. We sat down with him to talk about what he learned from previous crisis response experiences and why it’s not a time for business as usual.   

As an advisor to the ISR, you are applying your expertise in data innovation to ensure that scientists worldwide have the resources to prepare for and respond to the next crisis, such as climate-related disasters or the next pandemic. What role do you believe data and innovation can play in crisis response? 

Data and innovative technology or practice are critical to crisis responses, respectively. During the fast-moving times of a crisis, data that can tell us what is happening and what has happened previously can be scarce. Who has access to data can be a life-or-death situation: people or governments who have it will weather the storm and those who don’t will be swept away by it. Whether it is mapping what symptoms people are searching on Google to determine what type and where pandemics may spring up, to analysis of large research data sets to mitigate these crises, data helps increase the confidence interval of the interventions that leaders must take to keep us all safe.  

Whether practice or technology, innovations are also indispensable during a crisis because the general operating procedures generally do not have the scale or speed required to stay ahead of the crisis. Innovations allow us to operate at “the speed of the fight” as my old boss, US Army General Stan McChrystal used to say.   

At ISR, we help researchers connect to emerging technologies and resources for collaboration across borders to address the worst impacts of crises. What are some lessons from your time in the Biden administration that could apply to researchers in ISR’s network?  

The lessons I learned were elegant and devastating in their simplicity. One, even the most cutting-edge technologies are not a replacement for strategy. Leaders must do the hard intellectual work of identifying the key problems and questions to be solved in a crisis. Only then can these technologies be applied intelligently and effectively.  

Two, sociology will overwhelm technology every time.  In the space of collaborative research, we can only achieve the collective brilliance of all involved if we have the goodwill and effective means of working together.   

And three, the most important power of these technologies is to help us think outside the parameters of normal practice and try things we would never attempt in normal times.  We should not simply use these technologies to do the same old things with incrementally better speed or effectiveness, but rather use them to take quantum leaps in impact. 

You once said that for any problem we are solving, “Those problems cannot be solved by any one person, one organization, or one sector alone.” Do you believe that more people are thinking and operating through a lens of collaboration in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis? What more could we do to implement this new way of working within crisis response?  

I do. Some of the greatest successes of the COVID-19 response, from vaccine development, testing innovation, treatment deployment, to the High-Performance Computing Consortium (HPCC) show what is possible when traditional siloes are sublimated for the sake of helping everyone.   

The key question is: how do we make this new collaborative lens not simply a feature of crisis response, but a key part of operating procedure for all of us?  My biggest recommendation is to keep the institutions that we have created like the HPCC running.  Then, they can be applied not simply when responding to crises but can help prevent crises before they ever start.   

ISR pre-positions resources, like high-performance computing, remote sensing, and geospatial models, so that scientists can connect to them quickly across borders to address the worst impacts of a crisis, without a long wait or extensive application.  Why should businesses make data innovations more available to researchers worldwide during crisis? 

When crisis events like COVID-19 occur, we have seen the impact on the economy and how it hits the bottom line of businesses. It is in a company’s best interest to do anything it can to fight and end these crises as quickly as possible, and that means making data and cutting-edge technology available to the scientists who are working on just that.   

Secondly, I also believe that business and business leaders feel a sense of duty to their communities and their countries.  This is a tradition that we have forgotten but one can go back to businesses like Bell Labs, who helped develop critical technologies like radars that helped during WWII.  We need to remember and keep this tradition alive now.  Business and the world will benefit as a result. 

Q&A: Meet ISR’s First Science Community Manager 

August 17, 2023
by ISR Staff
Blog

Earlier this year, the ISR launched a Beta version of a free, digital hub for the 4,000+ scientists in the ISR network. The ISR Community builds on the learnings from our first readiness exercise in 2022, a test case around wildfires, where we asked scientists to submit proposals for how they would manage a cross-border wildfire crisis and consider what tools and resources they would need.   

In the wildfire test readiness exercise and throughout our ongoing conversations, ISR members were clear about the need for interdisciplinary, cross-geographic collaboration, and for easier and faster ways to engage in preparedness. We heard you. That’s why we built the ISR Community and have been working closely with Beta testers to ensure it is effective across disciplines and regions. A full, network-wide launch is expected in Fall 2023.  

Recently, we sat down with Jadson Jall, the ISR’s first Science Community Manager to learn more about the digital hub’s progress. Jall is a geneticist from Brazil and has a passion for bringing scientists together to unlock the power of scientific collaboration as a key to solving humanity’s greatest challenges.  

Why do you think the global science community needs a network like the ISR now? 

The global science community needs a network like the ISR because we live in a world with many compounding crises, such as pandemics and climate-related disasters. These crises are huge, affecting people and the environment in different countries and regions, and they are complex. That means they need lots of different kinds of responses and resources. So, one country’s scientific capabilities, or a single national science policy, can’t begin to resolve crises at that scale. An open, global network of scientists, such as the ISR, means individuals and institutions can pool resources and solve problems together, leading to faster and more effective responses to crises. Furthermore, the network’s principles, such as bringing together Scientists Without Borders and ensuring fair resource access, promoting collaboration, and including different voices, make it a much-needed platform for the current global scientific community. 

What would you like the ISR’s digital hub to look like a year from now, and how would scientists be using it?  

In my dream world, a year from now, the International Science Reserve (ISR) hub would be a globally recognized and effectively functioning platform facilitating seamless personal connections and collaboration among scientists worldwide. It would have grown beyond its current network, and its resources would be even more diverse and plentiful. Scientists would use the hub to conduct and participate in readiness exercises and explore crisis scenarios, helping them prepare for various kinds and aspects of disasters and emergencies. The hub would also be a place where scientists would know where to go and how to apply to connect to different scientific and technical resources in different situations. Ideally, the hub would have a track record of successful crisis response efforts. That will demonstrate its effectiveness and reinforce its value, most importantly, by having a positive impact. 

Can you share more about how you see early adopters using the online community, and their feedback? What do they want to see more of?  

Active community pioneers – our earliest testers – engaged in discussions on diverse topics, from climate change crisis simulations to challenges in research collaboration. Our testers from varied locations and research backgrounds provided invaluable feedback, helping us to consistently refine our virtual environment to better foster scientific engagement and collaboration. For example, they helped us figure out which formats could work for the ISR’s Readiness Exercises and helped us try out various types of activities and collaborations. During the current Beta phase of the ISR Community, we continue to learn from our early adopters. It is clear that our community is eager to collaborate across borders, and I am doing my best as Community Manager to facilitate these connections and collaborations. 

Why did the ISR choose to use “serious games” as an approach to crisis readiness? And how will the readiness exercises work in the ISR Community? 

The ISR chose to use serious games as part of crisis readiness because it’s a fun way to learn about and improve the decision-making process, so that participants can feel they are undertaking the process themselves. Role-playing puts the participant in the position of learning about the crisis in real time and actively experiencing the dilemmas and decisions of how to respond, rather than learning about it afterward. These scenario-based simulation exercises allow researchers and decision-makers to practice analyzing available, often limited, information and making the best decisions, as quickly as possible.  

Serious games will help members of the ISR Community explore decision making around issue areas such as water resource management, climate change adaptation, weather disasters, public health crises, and urban planning. These games serve as a hands-on and immersive way to understand the complexities and nuances of various crises and try different strategies for dealing with them. 

The ISR’s serious games will be conducted online, in a collaborative, interactive format. These exercises will simulate various real-world crisis scenarios, and participants will devise and implement strategies to manage these crises. The activities are being designed to help participants better understand how resources will be deployed and managed in future crises and explore related decisions, helping to prepare us for scientific work in times of global crisis. 

What kinds of resources are available to researchers in the ISR Community? 

 The ISR Community offers a rich suite of resources to its community of researchers and other stakeholders. They can be organized around two main areas. The first of these consists of specialized scientific resources such as high-performance computing, remote sensing, geospatial-temporal mapping, and databases. The ISR partners with organizations like IBM, UL Solutions, Google, Pfizer, and the National Science Foundation, offering various technical tools, data, and other resources. During a declared crisis, researchers will be able to log on to the ISR Community to gain access to resources like IBM’s Geospatial Discovery Network

The other key resource of the ISR Community is our global network of over 4,000 scientists who have come together around a common goal. The ISR Community provides a space for this growing network to prepare, learn, collaborate, and be ready for crises. We will be offering different types of preparedness activities to help facilitate some of the community’s collaborations, and we are also planning special features for the fall based on the interests of the community. 

One last question: why should your fellow scientists join you on the ISR Community 

I recommend that my fellow scientists join me in the ISR Community for a multitude of reasons, including: 

  • Joining is completely free, and you will receive global exposure and appreciation for your contributions to crisis resolution. Being part of the ISR is a unique opportunity to apply your research in a real-world context, contributing to tangible crisis solutions. 
  • As a member of the ISR Community, you will be part of a borderless network of experts, allowing for valuable collaborations and exchanges of ideas. It’s also an excellent space for professional development, offering opportunities for knowledge sharing, networking, and building community connections. 
  •  Being part of the ISR Community ensures that you stay in the loop, with critical crisis communication updates.  

So, the ISR Community is not only an opportunity to contribute to global crisis resolution but also a chance to grow professionally and expand our scientific horizons. 

Using Data to Protect Food Systems from Climate Impacts

June 8, 2023
by ISR Staff
Blog

The world has enough food to feed everyone, yet the World Food Programme estimates that 345 million people around the world remain acutely food insecure in 2023.  

Potentially further escalating this inequity, climate shocks are increasing the risks to agricultural yields. Heavy rainfall, droughts, and heatwaves can cause crop failures; climate and environmental pressures can decimate insect populations and microorganisms vital to plants and soil or let new crop pests or diseases emerge. Combined with a globalized distribution system and geopolitics, food system disasters are a compound problem.  

To plan for or reduce the impact of these catastrophes, a variety of datasets, modeling, and analytical tools will be key, including observational data, remote sensing, geospatial mapping, and satellite imagery.  

The International Science Reserve convened an expert panel from nonprofit and corporate perspectives across disciplinary and geographic boundaries to talk about the role of data in preparing for and responding to potential food system crises, as part of the International Science Reserve’s webinar series, Science Unusual: R&D for Global Crisis Response. Participants were: 

  • Michael Hinge, Senior Economist, ALLFED (Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters) 
  • Levente Klein, Research Staff Member, IBM 
  • Kyriacos M. Koupparis, Head, Hunger Monitoring Unit, United Nations World Food Programme 
  • Kay Sun, Senior Scientist, Mondelez International 
  • Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar, Climate and Environmental Journalist, panel moderator 

Here are the top takeaways from the discussion: 

Participants agreed about the urgent priority to get accurate data about what’s happening with food systems, weather, and climate patterns: 

The information needs to include a wide range of data inputs to make sure it includes the “ground-truthing” from sources where people are seeing the most immediate impacts.  

And in turn that the information, modeling and predictions should be made available to the communities who are most affected.

The panelists talked about climate impacts on specific food crop examples and ways that data-based planning can help deal with those impacts with alternative food sources or adapting agricultural cultivation methods.   

Visit our events page to watch the full webinar.  

When Waters Rise: Cross-Border Science for Global Flood Response

December 12, 2022
by ISR Staff
Blog

Around the world, flooding is wreaking havoc on people’s daily lives with increasing magnitude and frequency. Communities in Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Cameroon are experiencing some of the worst floods in a decade, as they sweep across western and central African borders.  

In Pakistan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia, and the United States—such as in Florida and Kentucky—communities have faced multiple dangerous and deadly floods in 2022. These unprecedented flood events have killed thousands of people, displaced millions, decimated farms and businesses, and destroyed homes and habitats. 

The World Bank reports that about one and a half billion people are at risk from flooding, one-third of whom are living in poverty, making them more vulnerable to migration pressures and economic insecurity. While flooding can be a natural phenomenon that can help provide fertile soil and sustain wetlands, today’s floods are becoming more frequent, dangerous, and deadly, as a result of human-caused climate disruption and development in urban, coastal areas.  

When flood water crosses national borders, “transboundary floods” can be even more catastrophic without international cooperation around emergency management, such as early warning systems. In a recent Science Unusual webinar, hosted by the International Science Reserve, a group of panelists explored the role scientific and technical experts can play in large-scale, international flood prediction, prevention, preparation and response. 

Speaking on the panel were:  

  • Nora El-Gohary, Professor of Construction Engineering and Management, The Grainger College of Engineering, University of Illinois 
  • Njoki Mwarumba, Assistant Professor of Emergency Management and Disaster, University of Nebraska Omaha 
  • Anthony Torres, Chief Meteorologist and Head of Global Science Operations, Currently weather service  
  • Campbell Watson, Senior Research Scientist – IBM Research, Global Lead, Accelerated Discovery—Climate & Sustainability 
  • Ugochi Anyaka-Oluigbo, Environment and Conservation Journalist, Nigeria (Moderator) 

Here are three big takeaways from the discussion: 

1. Breaking down borders between social scientists and other types of scientists who study floods will lead to better outcomes for people and communities.  

Njoki Mwarumba kicks off the discussion on why we need to break down siloes.
Nora El-Gohary on how scientists can help reduce the impacts of floods on infrastructure.

2. Using atmospheric data to predict flooding impacts is just the beginning. Protecting the most vulnerable requires a stronger analysis on how the atmosphere interacts with oceanic and local land systems, and human habitats.   

Anthony Torres on where meteorology interacts with other disciplines and AI to predict floods.

3. Scientists should work to understand indigenous knowledge in order to better collaborate on early warning systems that save lives. 

Njoki Mwarumba discusses the impact of leaving entire regions out of advances in technology, like early warning systems.
Anthony Torres on building two-way streets of communication between communities and scientists.

4. Artificial intelligence is enhancing our ability to predict and prepare for floods. But we must simplify access to increasingly complex data processes and improve their usage across borders. 

Campbell Watson shares his thoughts on AI and its impact on flood modeling.
Campbell Watson discusses how IBM is researching and responding to global floods.

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Do you want to watch the whole webinar? Here are three steps to rewatch the panel through the ISR Science Unusual series 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” 

In Step with the UN on Science for Sustainable Development

November 15, 2022
by ISR Staff
Blog

For a United Nations discussion of the role of science in solving the world’s most urgent problems, the International Science Reserve (ISR) convened a panel of experts from the ISR network, across academic, private and public sectors. The recording is now available on-demand (viewing instructions below).

The panel was moderated by Mila Rosenthal, Executive Director of the International Science Reserve, and included:  

  • Nicholas Dirks, President & CEO, New York Academy of Sciences, ISR Executive Board Co-chair 
  • Erwin Gianchandani, Assistant Director for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships National Science Foundation, Federal Liaison to the ISR 
  • Tracy Marshall, University of the West Indies St. Augustine Campus. Trinidad and Tobago, ISR Science Community Member 
  • Philip Nelson, Director, AI for Social Good, Google AI, ISR Executive Board Member 

The webinar was part of the United Nations General Assembly’s Science Summit, where we discussed how the ISR can help in fast-moving climate and health-related crises to protect progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals – the Global Goals – and limit the damage to communities and habitats.

Mila Rosenthal (ISR) introduces the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their relationship to crises.

When a crisis hits, the International Science Reserve will help scientists in our network get additional access to specialized human and technical resources, like remote sensing, geospatial mapping and high-performance computing, so that they can apply their research for crisis response.

Here are two big takeaways from the discussion:

1. Human networks are key, and they need to include everyone to make sure that science and technology is aimed at helping the most vulnerable people and most fragile environments.

Erwin Gianchandani (NSF) on how the ISR democratizes access to resources.
Philip Nelson (Google AI) on the power of coming together.
Tracy Marshall (University of the West Indies – St. Augustine Campus) on how the ISR will support her work as a scientist.

2. You can’t just throw money at a crisis and expect rapid response solutions.  You have to learn from previous experiences and prepare in advance. 

For example, the ISR is keeping the life-saving public-private connections made during COVID-19 alive in order to prepare for the next crisis. 

Erwin Gianchandani (NSF) on why networks are just as important as money in times of crisis research.
Nicholas Dirks (NYAS) on collaboration between the public and private sector during crisis.
Tracy Marshall (University of the West Indies – St. Augustine) on valuing local contexts in disaster management research.
Philip Nelson (Google AI) on solving crisis-related problems in an open environment.

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Do you want to watch the whole webinar? Here are three steps to rewatch the panel through the ISR Science Unusual series 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” 

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.  

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.