Earth and Environment
Teaching Change: Bioculturally Grounded, Place-based Environmental Education in Hawaiʻi
With ongoing climate change, land use change, and changing disturbance regimes that negatively impact Earth’s ecosystems, it is critical that educators convey the importance of safeguarding the natural environment to younger generations to prepare them to face current and future environmental challenges. Teaching Change comprises a collection of innovative programs aimed at strengthening the relationship between youth and nature in Hawaiʻi while also inspiring Hawaii’s youth to become the next generation of natural resource scientists and managers. Teaching Change addresses this mission through immersive, place-based, outdoor Field Courses for local students, and Teacher Training Workshops for local teachers.
Dr Devin Coleman-Derr – Beneficial Microorganisms to Help Plants Tolerate Drought
The incidence and severity of droughts continue to increase across the globe, posing a significant threat to agricultural productivity and our ability to feed a rapidly increasing human population. However, drought-stressed plants encourage a shift in the microorganism communities surrounding their roots, which in turn may help the plants to tolerate drought conditions. By harnessing this system, Dr Devin Coleman-Derr and his team at the USDA Agricultural Research Service and University of California, Berkeley, aim to develop microbial-based treatments to improve the drought tolerance and productivity of important crop species.
Dr Richard Teague – Achieving Sustainable Farming Through Regenerative Cropping & Grazing
Traditional intensive farming practices have significant negative consequences for the land and surrounding ecosystems. By disrupting the natural function of these habitats, the valuable ecosystem services they provide are compromised. Dr Richard Teague in the department of Ecosystem Science and Management at Texas A&M University, and colleagues around North America, are investigating the costs and benefits of replacing traditional farming practices with regenerative cropping and grazing techniques that restore ecosystem function and soil health as the base for improving profits.
Dr Nicholas M. Teets – Advancing Genetic Control of Destructive Fruit Flies
Fruit flies cause significant annual damage to fruit crops globally by laying their eggs into healthy, living fruit tissue. The difficulty in predicting the attacks and controlling the flies before it is too late leads farmers to spray pesticides that can have damaging consequences for surrounding ecosystems. Dr Nicholas M. Teets and his team from the University of Kentucky’s Department of Entomology aim to eliminate the need for pesticides in the battle against these insect pests, through the development of sterile insects that are easy to rear and release en masse.
Dr Sanju Sanjaya – Gene Technology for Boosting Biodiesel Production
As the human population increases, so does the demand for food and fuel. However, suitable land for growing crops is already severely limited, and there is an urgent need to protect remaining wilderness areas from being converted into cropland. Through a translational research approach, Dr Sanju Sanjaya and his team at the Energy and Environmental Science Institute of West Virginia State University are developing ways to increase the oil content of crops that are able to grow on poor-quality land, such as reclaimed surface coal mines. By increasing the energy provided by plants, the land requirement to grow both biodiesel and food crops could be significantly reduced.
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.
Dr Jeannette Yen – Flying Sea Snails as Potential Indicators of Ocean Acidification
Ocean acidification, caused by increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, is having a negative impact on marine ecosystems. To effectively respond to the issue, a deep understanding of it is absolutely necessary.
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 Brian Glazer – Emerging Technologies to Enable Affordable Ocean Observing
Coastal environments have immense ecological, practical, recreational and cultural value, and are under threat from multiple natural and anthropogenic stressors. Dr Brian Glazer and his team at the University of Hawai’i use specialised equipment to conduct remote...
Dr Joe Borovsky – Analysing Earth’s Magnetospheric System: A Web of Interconnections
The behaviours of physical systems are often decided by complex webs of connections between properties, where a small change in just one variable could cause changes in every other one. Dr Joe Borovsky at the Space Science Institute of Boulder, Colorado, and his...
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...
Professor Martin Sharp – Melting Ice: Understanding the Shrinking Arctic Ice Caps
The Arctic ice caps are shrinking at an increasing rate – part of a global pattern that may have grave consequences for the planet and all its inhabitants. Glaciologist Professor Martin Sharp and his team at the University of Alberta in Canada are attempting to...
Dr Kanesa Duncan Seraphin – Voice of the Sea: Innovation in Science Communication
Communicating science to the public is a difficult undertaking; communicating it in a way that encourages people to change their behaviour is a rare achievement. With her television series Voice of the Sea, Dr Kanesa Duncan Seraphin has produced an innovative program...
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...
Dr Thomas Wahli – Brown Trout & Its Parasite: A Complicated Relationship
The brown trout and Tetracapsuloides bryosalmonae are two animals with a close connection: that of a host and its parasite. The brown trout represents an important native species in many parts of Europe for fishing activities. Thus, declines in brown trout...
Dr Andrew Scheld | Dr William Goldsmith – Angler Attitudes: Understanding Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Harvests
Scientists from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William & Mary are working to understand what motivates fishermen to target Atlantic bluefin tuna. Collaborating with the fishing community, the team surveyed over 5,000 bluefin tuna...
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...
Dr Mark D. Ohman – New Perspectives on Marine Ecology: Technology Informs Oceanic Carbon Models
The world’s oceans are responsible for absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to mitigate its warming effect on the planet. However, the way in which marine ecosystems respond to temperature changes can impact the ocean’s ability to...