Earth and Environment

Dr Mary Meyer – Going Native with Grasses

Native grasses have great environmental benefits, not least as a food source for a wide variety of butterfly and moth species. However, native grassland habitats are some of the most endangered in North America, with less than 1% of original tallgrass prairie remaining. Dr Mary Meyer and her colleagues at the University of Minnesota have been working to evaluate the use of native grasses by butterfly and moth species. They are also working with garden centres to increase the volume of native grasses sold and grown in Minnesota.

Dr Peter McEvoy – Biological Control in the Light of Contemporary Evolution

‘Biological control’ refers to the practice of controlling invasive pest populations by introducing their natural enemies into an ecosystem. Although biological control can reduce reliance on toxic chemicals and protect natural ecosystems, this approach is not without its challenges. Dr Peter McEvoy and his colleagues at Oregon State University discovered that certain biological control organisms show unexpectedly fast rates of evolution, which can lead to unforeseen impacts on ecosystems and agriculture. These scientists believe that it is time to develop an all-embracing theory to help assess the evolutionary potential of biological control organisms that may influence the efficacy and safety of future introduction programs.

Dr Bianca Eskelson – Understanding Wildfire Effects to Inform Better Forest Management

Forest wildfires are increasing in frequency and severity across the globe, and this trend is expected to continue as climate change worsens. However, measuring the impacts of wildfire on forest ecosystems is extremely difficult. Dr Bianca Eskelson from the University of British Columbia and her colleagues at the United States Forest Service utilise vast datasets and investigate conditions before and after wildfires, to quantify their immediate and long-term effects on forest ecosystems. The team’s research is improving our understanding of the effects of forest wildfires to inform better forest management.

Dr Steven Running – Monitoring Plant Productivity on a Global Scale

Net primary productivity, or NPP, refers to the amount of carbon dioxide that plants take in during photosynthesis, minus the amount released during respiration, resulting in final observable biomass. As carbon dioxide is the primary driver of climate change, having a full understanding of this process is now critical. However, until recently, global NPP and how it is affected by climate change were poorly understood. To obtain a complete picture of NPP and the factors that drive global changes, Dr Steven Running and his team at the University of Montana have been investigating satellite data from the past few decades.

GSMaP: Monitoring Rainfall from Space to Protect Communities

Of all the Earth’s natural processes, rainfall is perhaps the one that has the most significant influence on our everyday lives. Yet as the climate changes, patterns in rainfall are becoming increasingly unpredictable, meaning it is now more critical than ever to monitor precipitation from space. The Global Satellite Mapping for Precipitation (GSMaP) project, founded by researchers from institutions across Japan, is doing just that. Through a combination of orbiting satellites and advanced algorithms, the project is now providing the global region with highly-resolved data on rainfall.

Dr Lauren Lazaro – Weeding out Herbicide Resistance

Weeds that are resistant to herbicides pose an ever-growing danger to our major crops, threatening global food security. Dr Lauren Lazaro and her colleagues at Louisiana State University AgCenter are testing new, herbicide-free techniques to control the spread of these threats.

TEMPO: Monitoring North America’s Pollution from Space

Created by sources ranging from campfires to cargo ships, air pollution is incredibly difficult to track. This has meant that the full impacts of air pollution are almost impossible to assess, but a solution is on the horizon. The TEMPO instrument (tempo.si.edu), built by Ball Aerospace to Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory specifications and managed by the NASA Langley Research Center, will soon provide an all-encompassing view of pollution across North America. As part of a global constellation of satellite air quality missions, TEMPO will soon provide us with the most extensive view of pollution ever achieved, along with its impacts, allowing us to tackle it more effectively than ever before.

Professor Michael Behrenfeld – Advancing Satellite Technology to Monitor Ocean Phytoplankton

Tiny marine plants known as ‘phytoplankton’ play a disproportionately large role in maintaining the health of our planet, and they provide a rapid signal of changing climate conditions. Professor Michael Behrenfeld at Oregon State University and his many collaborators are developing new satellite approaches, including space-based lasers, to monitor ocean ecosystems. With these technologies, a 3D map of global phytoplankton communities is on the horizon, which will revolutionise our understanding of how these microscopic organisms make Earth a healthy place to live.

Dr Gabriel Wolken – Harnessing Citizen Science to Collect a Blizzard of Data

Alongside his collaborators, Dr Gabriel Wolken of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys has pioneered citizen science to collect data on snowfields in the largest state of the USA. As rising global temperatures are altering snowfall and melting patterns, such critical data will enable scientists to understand the broad effects of these changes in mountainous areas, potentially allowing us to mitigate damaging impacts on people and wildlife.

Tomography: An Innovative Technique for Assessing Forest Carbon Storage

Researchers from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and the University of Massachusetts have pioneered the use of tomography for assessing carbon storage in trees. While assessing this technique’s capabilities, they found that tree damage caused by wood-decaying fungi means that forests store less carbon than previously thought. As forests play a vital role in sequestering atmospheric carbon, the team’s work has important implications in the fight against climate change.

Dr Andreas Keiling – Alfvén Waves: When Earth’s Shield Comes under Attack

The Earth’s magnetic field has long protected us from surges of harmful charged particles originating from the Sun, yet physicists still don’t entirely understand what happens during this interaction. To explore the issue, Dr Andreas Keiling of the University of California at Berkeley studies the complex processes that take place during these so-called solar storms. His work has now begun to unravel the mysteries of the electromagnetic battleground far above Earth’s surface.

From Coast to Coast: Building Capacity in Ocean Science

The ocean plays a central role in regulating the Earth’s climate and is at the front line in the battle against climate change. However, there are still many unknowns in ocean science. In recognition of this, the University of Delaware’s Dr Edward Urban and the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) are working hard to improve interdisciplinary marine education worldwide. SCOR aims to increase fundamental knowledge of the ocean, and to motivate and train the next generation of young scientists in modern ocean science, particularly those from developing countries.

The Royal Astronomical Society

  Established almost two centuries ago, the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) is the UK’s learned society dedicated to facilitating and promoting the study of astronomy, solar-system science and geophysics. In this exclusive interview, we speak with the Society’s...

The First Royal Meteorological Society Climate Change Forum

As the UK’s professional and learned society for weather and climate science, the Royal Meteorological Society (RMetS) has become a leader in advancing our understanding of anthropogenic climate change. On the 4th of June this year, the Society will host its first...

Dr Shin Sugiyama – Glacial Retreat and Marine Life in Greenland

  Dr Shin Sugiyama and his colleagues at Hokkaido University in Japan study the shrinking glaciers near the village of Qaanaaq in northwest Greenland, where local people are reliant on hunting and fishing. His team’s analysis shows that glaciers in the area have...

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation promotes academic cooperation between excellent scientists and scholars from abroad and from Germany. To this end, it grants more than 700 research fellowships and research awards annually. These allow researchers from all over...

Dr Hernan Garcia-Ruiz – When Viruses Infect Plants

Just as human beings can catch a cold, plants can also get viral infections. Understanding the mechanisms regulating the interactions between plants and viruses is the first step towards developing better management strategies and using biotechnology methods to...

Orange Innovation: Creating Citrus Disease Resistance

Florida’s citrus industry is under threat from Huanglongbing (HLB, or citrus greening disease), a devastating plant disease. A collaboration between the University of Florida and the University of Connecticut aims to develop resistance to HLB in citrus plants, using...

Outcomes of Gender Summit 11, Co-hosted by NSERC

From November 6 to 8, 2017, more than 675 advocates of gender equity from across many different fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) took part in Gender Summit 11, in Montreal, Quebec. Co-hosted by the Natural Sciences and Engineering...