Q: Why are you choosing to participate in this event?
A: People have become increasingly interested in climate science, both in terms of concern for the environment and society as well as pure curiosity for how the world works. However, in this era of access to massive amounts of information, it is difficult for people to know which bits of information are true/accurate, especially given financial motivations from some sectors to dispel false information. There is no better source for accurate information than scientists, specifically scientists directly working in climate science from reputable institutions such as NASA.
We scientists unfortunately have a well-founded reputation of being shoddy communicators—we tend to talk primarily in nerd-speak, full of jargon, and completely mind-numbing to a general audience. I, and the other scientists participating in ClimatePalooza, probably do a better job of communicating than most, which is in part why I’m participating in the event. I also find these events fun—I mean, any event with the word “palooza” has got to be fun, right? Hmm, we’ll see. Maybe I’ll have to bust out some juggling or something if it gets slow. It’s also a great challenge to be able to answer the same question about a complex topic to a 10-year-old, a 20-year-old, and a 70-year-old back-to-back-to-back—seeing how well you can connect to different audiences.
Q: What is it like to work on such vital climate change-related issues at JPL?
A: I got into climate science not necessarily because it was such a hot topic, but because I was purely interested in science and understanding how the world works. I couldn’t decide on any one given science—biology, chemistry, physics, etc.—but environmental science was a good avenue for combining multiple sciences together, and getting out of the office now and then to do field work. I got into remote sensing because satellites are a great tool for advancing science, plus they’re pretty much just the most cool toys ever.
Working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on climate change-related issues is pretty great. To succeed at JPL you basically need to be able to continually come up with cutting-edge questions and approaches to answering those questions. If you can do this, then NASA and JPL are very supportive and will enable you to pursue those questions further.
Q: What research or observations will you be presenting during the event?
A: Within the larger climate system, I work specifically on terrestrial ecosystems, though I also work with atmospheric, ocean and ice scientists, such as those also sitting with me on the panels at ClimatePalooza. My work entails using satellites, complex mathematical models run on our supercomputer, and leading field expeditions through the Amazon/Andes to describe and predict how plants, forests, and ecosystems operate and will respond to changing climate. I tackle the global cycling of carbon—how much CO2 plants are taking up or giving off; of water—can we do a better job of predicting droughts and the vegetation response to drought; and of nutrients—plants needs light and water, but they also need nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients, yet the availability of these nutrients is unknown globally and changing with climate change and human influences. In nerd-speak, what I do is global biogeochemical cycling.
Dr. Joshua B. Fisher is a JPL Scientist in the Water & Carbon Cycles Group