Lucas Joppa, Microsoft ®
Human society faces its most existential challenge yet with a requirement to mitigate and adapt to rapidly changing climates, ensure resilient water supplies, sustainably feed a rapidly growing human population, and stem an ongoing global loss of biodiversity. Achieving these outcomes requires a strong theoretical understanding of ecological systems and human impacts on (and benefits from) them. Deriving this information from the natural world, and putting it to work to fundamentally improve the global human experience, remains a difficult task. Yet scaling ecological insight is possible by harnessing rapid advances in data collection and storage, the availability of massive computing infrastructure, deep algorithmic advances, and global access to local information and predictions. Putting this technology to work in the service of global sustainability objectives presents one of the most fascinating and significant opportunities for the field of ecology over the coming decade.
Lucas Joppa is the first Chief Environmental Officer at Microsoft where he leads the company’s sustainability efforts through ongoing technology innovation, program development, policy advancement, and global operational excellence. With a Ph.D. in Ecology from Duke University and extensive publication in leading academic journals, such as Science and Nature, Dr. Joppa is a uniquely accredited voice for sustainability in the tech industry.
In addition to formerly serving on the Federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained U.S. National Climate Assessment, Lucas is an Associate Editor for the Ecological Society of America’s EcoSphere journal and serves on the boards of leading scientific organizations. In 2017, he founded Microsoft’s AI for Earth program—a five-year, $50-million commitment to leveraging AI and machine learning to help transform the way society monitors, models, and ultimately manages Earth’s natural resources.
Robert Jackson, Stanford University
The drumbeat of doom marks today’s climate news. It might track a Category 5 hurricane in Florida peeling roofs off houses like bananas, the latest California or Australian town incinerated in a fire fueled by record heat and drought—melted shoes and hubcaps puddled on driveways—or one more clip of the Great Barrier Reef bleached white and dying. Stabilizing the earth’s temperature to some arbitrary value is no longer enough, rolling the dice on which catastrophes we’ll avoid. We need to restore the atmosphere.
The Endangered Species Act doesn’t stop at saving plants and animals from extinction. It mandates their recovery. When we see gray whales breaching on their way to Alaska each spring, grizzly bears ambling across a Yellowstone meadow, bald eagles and peregrine falcons riding updrafts, we celebrate life and a planet restored. Our goal for the atmosphere must be the same.
To do it, we’ll need to squeeze greenhouse gas emissions like a vice. We’ll need to provide more energy to at least a billion people laboring in energy poverty and injustice. We’ll need to preserve species and habitats more actively than we’ve done to date, while expanding natural carbon solutions and improving working lands.
The path to restoring the atmosphere will be beautiful—and ugly. We’ll save lives from cleaner water and air. We’ll say goodbye to oil imports and cut trade deficits. We’ll have more choices and control over local energy supply. We might even save money, depending on the path we choose. We’ll also need to adopt technologies each of us won’t like. (“Oh no, not that one.”) And we’ll need to hack the atmosphere, removing greenhouse gases from the air after their release.
We can restore the atmosphere in a lifetime. We have to.
Rob Jackson and his lab examine the many ways people affect the Earth.
They seek basic ecological knowledge and use it to help shape policies and reduce the environmental footprint of climate and land use change, energy extraction, and many other issues. They’re currently examining the effects of warming and droughts on forest mortality and grassland ecosystems, particularly through processes occurring below ground. They are also working to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the Global Carbon Project (globalcarbonproject.org), which Jackson chairs, including coordinating a new global network of methane tower measurements at more than 80 sites worldwide.
As an author and photographer, Rob has published a trade book about the environment (The Earth Remains Forever, University of Texas Press), two books of children’s poems, Animal Mischief and Weekend Mischief (Highlights Magazine and Boyds Mills Press), and recent or forthcoming poems in the journals Southwest Review, Cortland Review, Cold Mountain Review, Atlanta Review, LitHub, and more. His photographs have appeared in outlets such as the NY Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Nature, and National Geographic News.
Rob is a Guggenheim Fellow and current sabbatical visitor in the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He is also a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union, and Ecological Society of America. He received a Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering from the National Science Foundation.
Tashiana Osborne, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego
In regions of complex topography like near California’s Sierra Nevada, rapid and significant intra-storm shifts in the amount and intensity of rain versus that of snow can be beneficial, but can also contribute to flooding, ice, or snow events that impact hydrology and communities. These extreme shifts, identified by vertical changes in the altitude where snow melts into rain, or the atmospheric snow level, have not previously been catalogued.
In this study, we design a detection algorithm for extreme snow level changes which are defined here as one-hour vertical changes of a magnitude equaling or exceeding 400 meters. We consider snow levels obtained from 10 vertically-pointing ground radars across California. The past six cool seasons, 1 October to 1 May each water year, are included. This unique network of radars allows for high temporal resolution, i.e., 10-minute, observations during precipitating storms. In addition to defining and detecting extreme changes in snow level, extremes are described in terms of seasonality and variations by water year and radar. We also consider associated vertically-integrated atmospheric moisture values.
Atmospheric rivers are defined as low-tropospheric corridors of enhanced moisture which form over near-tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean. These narrow plumes can travel to reach the West Coast contributing up to half of California’s annual water supply. In this study, we discover more than half of the detected extreme snow level changes occur during atmospheric rivers. Our research suggests high-magnitude positive snow level changes are more often associated with high-magnitude integrated water vapor transport values than with low-magnitude moisture. Additionally, we find the largest number of both extreme rises and descents during December through March, with fewer extremes overall at southern radars compared to northern sites.
Tashiana Osborne is a Ph.D. candidate at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. As a National Science Foundation Fellow, she investigates western U.S. precipitation events. More specifically, her work defines, detects, and describes extreme intra-storm changes in the partitioning of rain and snow and associated hydrologic impacts within Sierra Nevada basins.
Many of these western cool season storms have been linked to atmospheric rivers. These transient, low-tropospheric “rivers in the sky” typically form over warm regions of the Pacific Ocean through unique ocean-atmosphere interactions. Upon reaching land and interacting with topography, atmospheric rivers introduce dynamic and thermodynamic complexities that can swiftly and significantly alter atmospheric conditions and present challenges for forecasting. Landfalling storms can be beneficial by contributing to water supply, but can also lead to destructive flood and snow events, especially when they are unexpected.
Tashiana aligns research objectives with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals developed to transform our world for the better. She pursues opportunities to invest in youths and support responsible environmental policies designed to tackle problems within the changing world in which we live. As an American Geophysical Union Voices for Science alum, Tashiana interacts with both young learners and policymakers to share how research and education can benefit society. She also engages within an international framework as a Scripps Delegate during United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conferences.
Stephanie Hampton, Washington State University
Ecology has made great scientific progress by building a collaborative culture that values the synthesis of existing data to reveal generalizable patterns at regional, continental and even global scales. Data integration across taxa has provided insights into population and community level response to environment, and in fundamentals of organismal metabolism. Integration of data generated through disparate methodologies has allowed the analysis of global patterns in ecosystem properties and processes. Ecology has also widely embraced interdisciplinary collaboration in order to understand the interplay of observed ecological phenomena with climate and socioeconomic dynamics. While ecology continues to scale up its spatial and disciplinary breadth in order to address urgent environmental issues, revolutionary advances also are occurring at molecular and cellular scales of biological organization that may be key to transforming ecology into a more predictive science. As we seek to understand patterns observed at the level of ecosystem and beyond, simultaneous molecular approaches can help to tell us not only who is there but what they are doing. Integration of knowledge, technologies, and data that span from ‘omics to remote sensing could provide the key to understanding the biological processes that create large scale pattern. Yet such integration remains rare. Realization of this vision for research integration will require new training opportunities not only in technologies underlying biological discovery at disparate scales, but also in the tools and skills that facilitate collaboration.
Stephanie Hampton is an aquatic ecologist with expertise in environmental informatics and statistical analysis of time series data. Her research includes analyzing long-term ecological data collected from lakes as globally diverse as Lake Baikal in Siberia and Lake Washington in Seattle. Throughout her career she has been deeply engaged in community efforts to foster effective collaboration, open science, and reproducibility.
She began her academic career as an Assistant Professor at the University of Idaho, followed by 8 years as the Deputy Director for the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California in Santa Barbara.
In January 2014, she was appointed Director for the Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach at Washington State University, where she also serves as a Professor in the School of Environment. She is currently serving as Division Director for the Division of Environmental Biology at the National Science Foundation.
Russell Monson, University of Colorado, Boulder
Isoprene, a volatile hemiterpene, is synthesized in the chloroplasts of many plants, including numerous species of forest trees. Isoprene emissions from global forests are comparable in magnitude to methane emissions from global wetlands. In the atmosphere, isoprene exerts a central photochemical control over the oxidative capacity of the troposphere and has a role in determining the lifetime of methane and the concentration of ozone. As a plant trait, the role of isoprene emission has been much more uncertain. It’s the latter issue that forms the focus of this lecture.
As a chloroplast metabolite that scales positively with photosynthetic rate, isoprene has the potential to take on a central role in the connection of primary anabolic metabolism to growth and secondary metabolite biosynthesis. Recent research has revealed that the removal or addition of chloroplast isoprene biosynthesis, through engineered genetic modification, causes large effects on leaf transcriptomes, proteomes and metabolomes. Isoprene biosynthesis influences the expression of numerous proteins and the activity of several transcription factors and coordinates the expression of both constitutive and induced cellular signal cascades, including those in the gibberellin, salicylic-acid and jasmonic-acid pathways. Isoprene emission in leaves appears to orchestrate a complex interaction among pathways that determines the channeling of substrate to growth versus defense – in some cases, even uncoupling the well-accepted tradeoff between these functions.
The recent observations of isoprene’s role in orchestrating metabolite flow has brought it to the forefront as a key element controlling growth-defense tradeoffs and adaptive responses of plants to climate stress. However, major questions remain to be answered before the entire scope of isoprene’s role can be settled. For example, we still do not know why some species emit isoprene, while others do not, or how the high degree of variance in isoprene emission rate is interpreted within the context of the stasis required for plant signaling. Research into isoprene biosynthesis in plants offers an example of how the emerging availability of multi-omic, big data sets and manipulations using genetically-modified organisms, can be integrated with the discipline of plant ecophysiology, and together, inform us about foundational controls over plant adaptation to the environment.
Russell Monson is Professor Emeritus of Distinction in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Russ has served as Editor-in-Chief at the journal Oecologia for the past 14 years. He is a past President of the Physiological Ecology Section of the Ecological Society of America and is an elected Fellow of the ESA and the American Geophysical Union.
Russ has received numerous awards over his distinguished 40-year career, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, Senior Fulbright Fellowship and Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship. He has published over 200 papers in refereed journals covering topics ranging from the evolutionary ecology of C4 photosynthesis, the nitrogen cycle in alpine ecosystems, carbon cycling in forest ecosystems and the biochemistry and ecology of plant volatile compounds.
Russ recently retired from a second career, serving as Louise Foucar Marshall Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Laboratory for Tree Ring Research at the University of Arizona.