Archive for the ‘Gifford Wong’ Category

Building off of Alexandra’s and Julia’s excellent posts about our 10-day immersion into the world of science policy, I thought I would share some thoughts from our climate legislation group exercise. I felt this practical experience – like the others indicated in Alexandra’s post – was adroitly woven into aforementioned conversations with prominent experts. In particular, this legislation exercise provided us with an opportunity to reinforce some of our earlier fundamental policy lessons through a mock Senate committee markup and vote on climate change risk management legislation, cementing the notion of thoughtfulness as being essential in any policy making endeavor.

The multi-day exercise began on a Wednesday with a review of H.R. 2380, the Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act of 2009 (111th Congress), which was introduced on May 13, 2009 (but never enacted). The language can be found here. Essentially, this bill was a revenue-neutral amendment to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, placing a tax on combustible fossil fuels and using these “carbon tax” revenues to offset social security taxes. The idea was for the cohort to introduce amendments in a Thursday session and hold a final vote during a Friday session.

Stated goals for the participants, through the experience of doing, included developing a practical understanding of the potential political views of and landscape for the offices we respectively represented, as well as those of our fellow committee senators, and organically establishing an informed strategy for building consensus. With 36 graduate students, faculty, and professionals in the field of atmospheric sciences divided into nine small groups, each representing one member of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources committee (113th Congress), the activity seemed a touch audacious. Then again, how hard could this be?

"Senator" groups discussing how to interpret and respond to proposed amendments. [photo courtesy Julia Bradley-Cook]

“Senator” groups discussing how to interpret and respond to proposed amendments. [photo courtesy Julia Bradley-Cook]

It turns out the process of building consensus is hard. To start, four people had to come together and figure out how best to represent the constituents of their newly adopted state, which turned out to be our first lesson in compromise and diplomacy. Add to the “consensus of four” dynamic a reasonably imagined balance between ideology and constituency, such as “how would a Democrat from coal-friendly West Virginia react to this bill,” and I started to feel the very real weight of possible scenarios overload.

The committee markup exercise itself, streamlined for the purposes of the colloquium, allowed each “Senator” to offer one first-degree amendment to the bill and one second-degree amendment (an amendment to an amendment). Possible amendment strategies, also streamlined for the purposes of the exercise, ran the spectrum from actual, substantive improvements to the language and/or outcomes contained in the original bill to suggestions that, for all intents and purposes, makes it impossible for the altered bill to pass.

To say our cohort approached this with zeal may be understating the fervor with which we embodied our respective committee members. Every “Senator” offered a first-degree amendment as well as one second-degree amendment – an unofficial first in the 14-year history of the colloquium. Every “Senator” used at least 8 of their 10 allotted total minutes of speaking time to explain and advocate their amendments. Yes, there were amendments that split states along energy production criteria. Yes, there were amendments that split states along demographic criteria. Yes, there were impassioned floor “speeches” and exuberantly titled amendments (e.g., the “Reinvesting in Secure Energy (RISE) for America” amendment – RISE for America(!)). One amendment even had a catchy slogan!

The impressive moment of the exercise, in light of all that led up to it, predictably occurred near the end of the exercise. Over the course of three days, we collectively discussed and debated the virtues and failings of all the amendments. During the last day, a growing comprehension amongst the cohort began to fill the room. As we marched through each “yay” and “nay” vote, arguably complicating an already arguably elegant (i.e., simple and straightforward) bill with our amendments, a simultaneous desire for consensus emerged. The nine chosen “Senators” included four Democrats, four Republicans, and one Independent. Just before the vote on the final proposed amendment, a request for a short recess to confer with our respective party caucuses was called. This move may have even surprised our esteemed moderator, Paul Higgins (Director AMS Policy Program). This presented an opportunity to find common ground amidst our challenging sea of amendments. But how? A strategy emerged out of the hurried recess that somehow resulted in an amended bill we all were able to vote on (and pass).

Realistic? Perhaps not, but the process we experienced contained rich lessons in diplomacy, compromise, and the importance of relationships. We never would have come close to our (perhaps) fanciful bill without conversations with each other. Overall, this simplified exercise illuminated the complexity and nuance of legislation creation (and ratification). It also echoed the concept of knowing what your audience (e.g., constituents, fellow committee members) wants. Judy Schneider, Specialist on Congress at the Congressional Research Service and one of our esteemed speakers, discussed the important “P’s” underpinning governance: policy, politics, procedure, and patience. I would say our legislation group exercise experience emphasized the truth in her statement.

Class photo on the grounds of beautiful Mt. Vernon. [photo courtesy AMS]

Class photo on the grounds of beautiful Mt. Vernon. [photo courtesy AMS]

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Greetings from Washington DC! Gifford, Alexandra and I are in the capitol for a 10 day crash course on science policy that is hosted by the American Meteorological Society.


We have joined 33 other participant to learn the fundamentals of science policy, meet with experts, and learn through hands-on exercises.

The participants make for a dynamic group. We have a very wide variety of backgrounds, including: grad students, post-docs, climate modeling research scientists, social scientists studying climate and extreme weather, a science education expert, professional forecasters, and NOAA administrators. The diversity of experiences and perspectives make for lively discussions during our meetings and interesting conversations during breaks and over meals.

What is science policy anyway? In short, it captures two key concepts: (1) “science for policy,” meaning science that is used to assist or improve policy decisions, and (2) “policy for science,” meaning policy that determines how to fund or structure the systematic pursuit of knowledge (science!). For instance, science for policy includes carbon models that are used to project future greenhouse gas emissions and the risk that our activities pose for the future. On the other hand, policy for science determines how much money is given to science and technology and how it is prioritized among areas of research.

After morning presentations and discussions, we spent the first two afternoons of the Colloquium visiting Capitol Hill for meetings with staffers and experts in the Senate and House of Representatives.


The group of participants taking the bus to The Capitol building

The Capitol Building, home to the Senate and House of Representatives

The Capitol Building, home to the Senate and House of Representatives


The AMS Colloquium participants in the House of Representatives

Meeting with majority and minority staff of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee

Meeting with majority and minority staff of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee

It is exciting to be around people who are learning and talking about science policy. More than anything, these first days of science policy “boot camp” have taught me that there is so much more to learn about how policy and politics(!) are connected to science.

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In the summer of 2012, I had the fortune of meeting up with Dr. Carl Benson (see “Meeting people in Alaska …“), where we chatted about his previous traverses on the Greenland Ice Sheet and some of his current scientific endeavors. I was fascinated with his stories as my 2011 traverse with Thomas Overly and company was still fresh in my mind. As luck would have it, the Dartmouth IGERT community continues to interact with Benson.

Carl Benson and his report
It all started with a picture … Photo courtesy R. Benson.

In December 2012, while attending the AGU science conference with Chris Polashenski, I had the fortune of meeting Betsy Turner-Bogren from ARCUS (Arctic Research Consortium of the US), and we briefly chatted about an interview concept that reminded me of my August conversation with Benson. ARCUS has a newsletter it produces, Witness the Arctic (WTA), that provides “information on current arctic research efforts and findings, significant research initiatives, national policy affecting arctic research, international activities, and profiles of institutions with major arctic research efforts.” “Arctic Generations,” a series within WTA, is where an early career scientist gets to interview a scientist with “a long, distinguished career.” I could not pass up this opportunity to bridge the ground-breaking science, research techniques, and logistics accomplished by Benson and his traverses with the 2011 Greenland Inland Traverse. You can find the interview here. While we touched on some science, I was also intent on bringing out some of his personal memories of the traverse – my favorite anecdote is about the air logistics and, in particular, the French “free drops” along the 1955 traverse.

I’m not the only IGERT’eer chatting Benson up. Indeed, Chris is collaborating with Benson for his 2013 traverse of the Greenland Ice Sheet experiment (known as “SAGE”: Sunlight Absorption on the Greenland ice sheet Experiment). Recently, Chris shared his experiences and some of his initial findings at an IGERT-sponsered talk here at Dartmouth. A blog of his 2013 traverse can be found here.

For me, this illustrates one of the neat aspects of snow and ice core science – its a very young science. What I mean by this is that many of the techniques developed and initial studies happened within the last 50-60 years, and many of those pioneering researchers are still pushing the envelope of knowledge today. The opportunity for a young scientist, like myself, to talk with giants in their field is unique.

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Last week, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to share some of my recent research at a Science Pub in Lebanon, NH. The idea behind these Science Pubs is pretty simple: have a few scientists come to a local pub to have an informal conversation with community members about the research they do and how it might be relevant to our lives. This Science Pub was titled “Climate Change: Bringing it Home,” and it featured Professor Richard Howarth from Environmental Sciences Department to discuss ecological economics, Postdoc David Lutz from the Environmental Sciences Department to discuss forest ecology and albedo, and I was there to represent the snow albedo aspects of our research through the EPSCoR “Ecosystems and Society” project. We discussed the value of carbon sequestration in our New Hampshire forests versus the value of the high albedo of open landscapes in wintertime because of the reflectivity of snow. The discussion then moved into the effects of climate change on our local forests and what changes we might expect to see in snowfall and ecosystem services (from flood prevention to maple syrup production)!


My role in the discussion was to talk about my research in snow albedo, studying the effects of grain size and impurities on snow reflectivity in New Hampshire and Greenland (see Ruth’s post about albedo in Greenland this past summer). Thanks to the inspiration of fellow IGERTeer, Gifford Wong, I came up with a story to help convey my research to the audience. The story was of Debra the Delicate Dendrite and her struggles against enemies Black Carbon and Heat! I was surprised by how well it went over and by how much more fun it was for the audience and for me when I discussed my research from the prospective of a protagonist who faces struggles, like any good character in a story! Stay tuned for a full post about Debra’s story sometime soon!

And in the meantime, check out the schedule for upcoming Science Pubs here!

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Leaving behind days (weeks) of rain, members of Cohort 4 and friends head to the Air National Guard Base for another deployment to Greenland. See you in August!


(Left to right) Alden Adolph (C4), Kristin Schild (C4), Ben Kopec (C2), Gifford Wong (C1), Leehi Yona, Julia Bradley-Cook (C1), Ross Virginia, and Mary Albert (in front). Thanks to expert packing by Gifford, the cargo all fit too!

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I admit, I can be a little nerdy at times. And, in light of my current alma mater, let us conjure Dr. Suess’s imagining of the word [If I Ran the Zoo].

This being said, my Alaska trip became a cornucopia of chance encounters and coincidental run-ins, from people who live in Boston to people I’ve worked with on Polar ice sheets! While I would like to write about all of them, I’ve whittled the “run-in” list to three: Denali National Park, Julia Gourley, and Dr. Carl Benson.

Perhaps its fitting to mention Denali National Park first. It wasn’t until after I was asked to present a poster at the following week’s Week of the Arctic conference that I even thought to visit this majestic park. First established in February 1917 (as Mt. McKinley National Park), Denali NP now sits at 7,329.2 sq. miles, with an additional 2,089.9 sq. miles “buffer” in its preserve. For comparison, New Hampshire (9,279sq. miles) is slightly smaller than the whole of the park and preserve. Denali, or “The High One”, is the Athabaskan name for the mountain that serves as “the roof of the continent”*. My visit was short (day trip aboard a shuttle bus to Eielson Visitor Center), but it was punctuated by numerous animal sightings and my good friend (and shuttle driver), Dawn, that I met while working in Antarctica. I hope to re-visit this marvelous area sometime soon!

Grizz with springer cubs
Mother grizzly with her two springer cubs.

Coyote on the road
Coyote walking the road to Eielson Visitor Center.

The Wednesday poster presentation was actually part of a general invitation to participate in the Institute of the North‘s Week of the Arctic. Although I did not have time to spend all week in Anchorage, I was able to participate in Tuesday’s session (Arctic Council Strategic Planning and Luncheon) where Senior Arctic Official Julia Gourley (State Department) was a speaker and guest. Her role is to help lead US foreign policy development in the Arctic, and it was fascinating to hear her explain the structure of the Arctic Council (high-level diplomatic forum for international cooperation in the Arctic with 8 member states and 6 permanent participants), illuminate some of the key issues currently facing the Arctic, and engage with the conference participants. I only got a chance to chat with her for about 10 minutes, but I invited her to come to Dartmouth and speak with our IGERT folks … let’s hope her schedule allows!

Perhaps the biggest meeting of the trip, in my estimation, was my evening spent with Dr. Carl Benson (and his wife, Ruth). For those keeping score, Carl planned and led a series of traverses (1952-55) that led to his oft-read 1962 CRREL report that, among other things, defined the concept of glacier facies. Indeed, his traverses were the basis for the 2011 Greenland Inland Traverse that Thomas and I undertook last spring. What fun that was! The evening was a mix of tales of derring-do and nostalgia, from train platforms in Evanston, IL, to the great, flat white of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Perhaps most fortunately, Carl delved into some of the glaciological questions that he’s still thinking about … a treasure trove indeed! With luck, I’ll be able to incorporate some of his curiosity into my still-developing thesis! Thanks for a wonderful night, Carl and Ruth!

And thanks, IGERT, for a wonderfully opportunistic Alaskan trip!

Carl Benson and his report
A picture with a legend! Photo courtesy R. Benson.

* Information from http://www.nps.gov/akso/parkwise/students/parkfacts/DENA_FastFacts.htm

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An opportunity to join an August summer course (and workshop) discussing Arctic Energy Futures at the University of Alaska Fairbanks happened my way in late June; how can you pass up an opportunity like this up? [This blog would have made it to the website sooner, but I was cozily staying in an off-the-grid yurt (well) off of Farmers Loop Road.]

Here in the new International Arctic Research Center (IARC) building, Hajo Eicken and Amy Lauren Lovecraft led a workshop designed to do two things: (1) expose interested stakeholders and students to the concept of futures planning through scenarios creation and (2) teach useful, experiential lessons in futures planning by answering the following focal question: What is required to drive demand for Alaskan energy production and use by 2060?

The dizzying list of participants include representatives from Pew Trusts, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Audubon, Ocean Conservancy, Institute of the North, Cold Climate Housing Research Center, Oil Spill Recovery Institute, North Slope Science Initiative, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Alaska Satellite Facility, Alaska Center for Energy and Power, Geographic Information Network of Alaska, Scenario Networks for Alaska and Arctic Planning, International Arctic Research Center, WWF, Wilderness Society, Alaska Ocean Observing System, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Dartmouth College. Suffice it to say, there was a palpable energy in the room as we all delved into scenarios creation.

Essentially, this fascinating technique allows for an informed projection of plausible futures that extend beyond the normal time frame of predictive forecasting. You can engage in long-range strategy development with time frames beyond 20 years out (e.g., Arctic Council’s Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment,2007), and through the process you identify components within the separate narratives that are connected. Multiple scenarios allow for a wider exploration of possibilities without being tied to a singular compromised outlook. The scenarios, created primarily through imagination and cognition and grounded, when possible, in science and expert opinion (e.g., local knowledge, traditional knowledge, regional knowledge), create an awareness of long-term futures under conditions of uncertainty. These uncertainties are constrained through plausibilites (not probabilities), and they enable traditionally disciplinary thinkers to approach complex systems with a tool to identify and describe inter-related key factors and forces.

Despite the time constraints, class participants felt enriched by the experience. Okay, I certainly did, and all of the folks I had a chance to ask concurred. For the most part, most felt this strategy could be translated into their own professional experiences. This technique of scenarios creation is a great tool to have in your tool box. If anything, it highlighted how the process is the most important component in scenarios creation and futures planning. Gathering experts together and communicating on a topic (focal question) helps establish broader understanding and identifies key factors (provided there is good moderation, which there was in our class “example”). Ideally, you would also have decision-makers involved in the process so that, by virtue of their participation and observation of the exercise, they become educated in the topic, invested in the scenarios, and motivated to integrate viable strategies.

Class time in Fairbanks
A view from my classroom perch.

The class was such a hit, organizers from the Institute of the North wanted to somehow showcase this summer workshop in their annual Week of the Arctic in Anchorage, AK. As luck would have it, I was able to stay awhile longer in Alaska and volunteered to participate in the Wednesday session (Northern Energy Science and Technology Fair). Images and experiences from that little add-on will follow shortly!

Week of the Arctic Poster
A shot of the poster from the Wednesday poster session.

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