Monday, October 19, 2015

Solving Big Problems @SOLVE_MIT

Recently I was fortunate enough to participate in the inaugural SOLVE conference, held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  In the words of the conference organizers, ‘Solve’s mission is to inspire extraordinary people to work together to solve some of the world’s toughest problems.’   The event was organized around four pillars: Fuel, Make, Cure and Learn.  As anything agriculture or climate related was housed under the Fuel pillar, most of my interactions were among participants with an agriculture, energy or climate focus.  Fortunately, the Food-Energy-Water nexus theme was present throughout many of the sessions.  I was certainly grateful to be invited to participate in this event and my expectations were exceeded.  Most of the conference was subject to Chatham House Rule so specifics can not be discussed, but a notable highlight from the opening (public) keynote is described below.

SOLVE kicked off with a keynote by Dr. Jeffrey Sachs (@JeffDSachs) who directs the Earth Institute at Columbia.  He energetically delivered the updates around the new Sustainable Development Goals, with one very noteworthy announcement.  I have seen Professor Sachs discuss the SDGs in the past, but this time he really emphasized the importance of data and analytics towards meeting these goals so that they really do what they set out to do.  For years, many of the goals have been platforms for project based work, but in the end when it is time to evaluate the effectiveness of the instituted measures, the results were unclear.  It was very refreshing to see the emphasis on what the analytics related approaches can provide; further, it was clear that without a data-driven emphasis, many of the goals are doomed to failure.  In addition, this approach plays right into the business model and platform that we offer at aWhere.

Many potential partnerships were established, with equal representation among other commercial companies, not for profit organizations and academia.  As expected, many of the themes ran across pillars, so cross fertilization of ideas should lead to the development of some interesting tools that can tackle these big global problems.  I will continue to report on any collaborative activities that were germinated at SOLVE, and I hope to be back again next year for the next session.

Photography credit: Dominick Reuter

Friday, August 28, 2015

Eyes in the Sky: 'Other' Careers in the Atmospheric Sciences

I get several calls/emails each week from undergraduate students, graduate students, post-grads, potential career-changers, etc., all asking what 'other' career options are available to those with a degree in the atmospheric sciences.  By 'other', I mean non-meteorologist careers (I am not a meteorologist; my background can be found here).  Since I receive inquiries like this so frequently, I thought that it would be a good idea to put together a list of job titles from people that I know who have an atmospheric science background.

This list is intentionally informal (sample size = 1) and is obviously not meant to represent all possibilities, but as I started thinking about the careers taken by colleagues past and present (myself included), I even surprised myself when I realized the interesting opportunities that this foundation provides.  Also, I only listed those positions with a scientific/technical focus; there are many other possibilities if we expand into other areas of business, where the mathematics, problem solving and critical thinking that comes with the rigorous curriculum are highly sought after skills. 

Atmospheric Scientist*
Meteorologist (non-forecasting, ie., air quality)
Physical Scientist
Data/Informatics Scientist*
Aviation Meteorologist
Risk Management Specialist*
Renewable Energy Scientist (Wind, Solar, Hydro)
Geospatial Information Specialist/Developer
Space Weather Scientist
Marine Geologist
Remote Sensing Scientist
Climate Modeler*
Planetary Scientist
Paleoscientist (oceanographer)
Agricultural Climatologist
Atmospheric Chemist
Aerospace Engineer
Planetary Scientist
Environmental Scientist*
Environmental Engineer*
Information Systems Specialist
AMS President
Systems Engineer
Commodity Specialist*

(*titles that I hold or have held)

Feel free to send along suggestions to add to the list.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The 5th International Workshop on Climate Informatics

The 5th International Workshop on Climate Informatics,          September 2015  Boulder, CO

New: This year, we are excited to add a climate informatics "hackathon" immediately following the Climate Informatics workshop, on Saturday September 26th

We have greatly increased the volume and diversity of climate data from satellites, environmental sensors and climate models in order to improve our understanding of the climate system.  However, this very increase in volume and diversity can make the use of traditional analysis tools impractical and necessitate the need to carry out knowledge discovery from data. Machine learning has made significant impacts in fields ranging from web search to bioinformatics, and the impact of machine learning on climate science could be as profound. However, because the goal of machine learning in climate science is to improve our understanding of the climate system, it is necessary to employ techniques that go beyond simply taking advantage of co-occurence, and, instead, enable increased understanding. 
The Climate Informatics workshop series seeks to build collaborative relationships between researchers from statistics, machine learning and data mining and researchers in climate science.  Because climate models and observed datasets are increasing in complexity and volume, and because the nature of our changing climate is an urgent area of discovery, there are many opportunities for such partnerships.
Climate informatics broadly refers to any research combining climate science with approaches from statistics, machine learning and data mining. The Climate Informatics workshop series, now in its fifth year, seeks to bring together researchers from all of these areas. We aim to stimulate the discussion of new ideas, foster new collaborations, grow the climate informatics community, and thus accelerate discovery across disciplinary boundaries. The format of the workshop seeks to overcome cross-disciplinary language barriers and to emphasize communication between participants by featuring tutorials, invited talks, panel discussions, posters and break-out sessions. The programs of previous workshops can be found here (CI 2014CI 2013CI 2012CI 2011). We invite all researchers interested in learning about critical issues and opportunities in the field of climate informatics to join us, whether established in the field or just starting out.
Important Dates
Monday, August 3, 2015: Poster abstracts due
Monday, August 17, 2015: Author notification
Monday, August 17, 2015: Travel fellowship notification
Tuesday, September 8, 2015: Revised abstracts due
Thursday-Friday, September 24-25, 2015: Workshop takes place at NCAR, in Boulder, CO
**Saturday, September 26, 2015: Climate Informatics Hackathon

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Postdoctoral Research Scientist @NASAGISS

Postdoctoral Research Scientist

The Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics at Columbia University in New York seeks applicants for a Postdoctoral Research Scientist appointment in the area of modeling radiative processes and their effect on planetary climates in a three-dimensional general circulation model. The appointment is for a 2-year period.

The successful candidate will participate in a groundbreaking NASA research initiative, the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS), with an interdisciplinary team of scientists from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), the Goddard Space Flight Center, Columbia University, and other institutions. The broad goals of the team’s research are to address questions about the habitability of past Solar System climates, to use these insights to assess the habitability of exoplanet climates, and to inform the design of future spacecraft missions for detecting and characterizing habitable exoplanets. The candidate will be expected to perform original research, present the results of the research at scientific meetings, and publish first-author papers in peer-reviewed journals. The candidate will be resident at NASA GISS, located in New York City near the Morningside Campus of Columbia University.
Successful applicants will have a Ph.D. in atmospheric science, planetary science, astrobiology, astronomy, physics, or a similar field. Expertise in radiative transfer and a willingness to become involved in radiation parameterization development are required, but the broad scope of the research initiative allows for many possible research directions and collaborations using the model. Strong mathematics and programming skills are also a requirement. Strong candidates will be interested in highly interdisciplinary questions and the challenges of interacting with scientists from diverse fields. For more information about the GISS-Columbia role in the new NExSS research initiative, see

Columbia University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled. For application requirements and instructions please visit:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

President Obama announcing @dpatil as the first Chief Data Scientist

At Strata 2015, nice shout out for data, science, weather, climate.

Weather Brains discussion - Agriculture Commodities

Weather Brains discussion - Agriculture Commodities

While I have been a long time listener of the show, last night I participated as a guest in my first Weather Brains hangout.  Weather Brains is a weekly podcast that is pure weather geekery, with no agenda other than the open-ended questions geared towards the interests of the invited guests.  I try to listen every week, either on the live broadcast or through the archives  as shows are posted for viewing shortly thereafter.  If you are not truly a weather geek there is no reason to tune in, but as weather is a subject that touches everyone in a unique way, the interest in the weekly discussion is generally pretty high.  Recent episodes have addressed a wide variety of topics including (of course) the recent extreme cold and ice in the US, model scoring, a discussion from past AMS president Dr. Marshall Shepherd, and aviation/transportation weather, among other subjects.  For last night’s discussion, I tried to focus most of my contributions around the close relationship at the confluence of weather/climate, agriculture and global commercial activity.

The conversation touched upon some of the tools and recommendations that aWhere develops and provides to our customers in the global agriculture sector, how I became interested in this field including my graduate work at Rutgers, and ways in which companies in the food and beverage sector (including organizations such as Mars and Coke) utilize weather and climate information as a source of competitive advantage.  Throughout the chat, we touched upon the general state of the weather and climate services enterprise several times, which I described as healthy. From the number of companies that have emerged in the agritech and weather information services space to the amount of investment capital that has entered this sector over the last 1-2 years, I feel that the current position of our field is quite strong.  In addition, the conversation allowed for my perspectives of climate science as data science, and specific financial instruments that commodity risk managers can access and utilize towards efforts to manage price volatility as a result of weather-driven markets.  Most people understand the relationship between weather/climate and agriculture on the surface, but many don’t dig deeper to uncover how valuable it is when using our data as a cornerstone in fundamental analysis of global commerce.  This goes beyond what is happening the field, as the analysis expands into topics such as plant disease, nutritional requirements, water stress, foreign exchange rates and geopolitics.  The use of financial futures and options as tools to manage the risk is available to a wider sector of participants than just the traders, and should be used accordingly.

I think that I was able to provide a slightly different perspective for viewers and listeners.  This discussion was more about ‘applied weather intelligence, as opposed to weather forecasting, and this is a good thing.  The applied wx intelligence arena is the space where aWhere plays, so we are well positioned to provide new tools to the commodity risk management community, which includes traditional traders, but also encapsulates small farmers, food security analysts, food and beverage companies, and information service providers.  Not everyone in the sciences of climate and meteorology go into forecasting or basic research, and I think that I highlighted just one of many alternatives that students should be aware of.  As weather and climate touch virtually every aspect of society in some way, the options for the next generation of scientists are far wider than what we may have seen in the past.

It was fun participating in the discussion (video below), and I would be happy to become a ‘repeat guest’ in a future episode.  And thanks to the always-entertaining James Spann (@spann) for hosting, in between real-time forecast activities.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Rutgers Journal Club in Evolution, going on its 12th year

Rutgers Evolutionary Biology

Journal Club in Evolution, Spring 2015:
THEME: Speciation at small to large scales

Journal Club in Evolution Spring 2015 will be on SPECIATION,
and include reading of the classics, the experimental, and the natural...

They say there are three things you should never ask a biologist:
 1. What is a species?
 2. What is a population?
 3. What is an individual?

Despite this, we will tackle the first question this coming semester
by reading classic and recent papers on speciation and species concepts
at organismal levels from the potentially earliest, simplest life
(viruses), to unicellular bacteria and eukaryotes, to more complex organisms such as
plants and vertebrates.

We will start with classic papers in species concepts by Ernst Mayr
and others, then go on to experiments and field-studies of speciation
processes.  We will cover the whole breadth of the organismal tree,
from asexual to sexual organisms, and also include hybridization,
polyploidization, colonial organisms, and parasites...

The journal club is now going on its 12th year, and
generally has 10-20 students and faculty attending on a regular basis.
This is both an informal discussion event open to all interested
faculty, postdocs, and students, as well as a graduate class (graduate
course name 'Advanced Evolution', 1 credit; 16:215:550).

If you are interested in joining us for credit, or just to show up
and discuss when you have time, make sure you are subscribed to the
Evolution mailing list at Rutgers, which we use for our announcements.
If you need to sign up for the mailing list, sign up here:
If you want to sign up for credit as a graduate student,
e-mail us for a Special Permission Number so you can register.

The journal club will be scheduled when the most registered graduate
students and others can attend, so we can maximize attendance. So sign
up for credit now or send us an e-mail that you want to attend, and then
we will send out a scheduling Doodle poll in early January after
which the actual day and time will be announced.

With best wishes,
Lena Struwe & Siobain Duffy

Dr. Lena Struwe | Associate Professor & Director, Chrysler Herbarium |
Rutgers University | Dept of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources
| Dept of Plant Biology and Pathology | 237 Foran Hall | 59 Dudley Road |
New Brunswick, NJ 08901 | USA | |
phone (848) 932-6343 (NEW!) | fax (732) 932-9441 |

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Industrial Ecology as a Source of Competitive Advantage

This came in via the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies & the International Society for Industrial Ecology (IE).  The current issue is very timely, and I am particularly interested in this series of papers as a way to asses the progress that has been made in transferring the conceptual tenets of IE to practice.  The Journal of Industrial Ecology can serve as a springboard to push much needed ideas and technologies into the commercial environmental sustainability arena, and the now that the articles are currently available for download (for a period of time), this is a great opportunity for the ISIE to demonstrate the importance of their work. 

I think that IE as a whole has had a difficult time transitioning from lab/theory to practice, as many commercial initiatives that are framed under the IE rubric are oftentimes not exploiting the best available technologies and methodologies (ie, synthetic biology, sensors, advanced analytics, etc).  Hopefully, this issue can help to draw attention these ideas and project to a wider audience.

Industrial ecology has contributed important innovations to the pursuit of sustainability in business. Life cycle assessment and the use of life cycle thinking more broadly, industrial symbiosis and the exchange of resources among neighboring factories, loop-closing, material flow analysis, design for environment are innovations with the potential to reduce environmental impacts and to generate financial benefits for companies. Yet the case that these intriguing approaches actually contribute to corporate competitive advantage has not been made.

In “Industrial Ecology as a Source of Competitive Advantage,” a special feature of the new issue of the Journal of Industrial Ecology, cutting edge research is presented on how, when and why the use of industrial ecology by business can lead to cost savings, enhanced profits and a variety of more intangible business benefits.

Some highlights from the issue include:

• Johnathan DiMuro and colleagues from the Dow Chemical Company use replacement cost methodology and life cycle assessment (LCA) to systematically document the financial and environmental benefits of a constructed wetland at a Union Carbide Corp. plant in Texas.
• Christoph Meinrenken and colleagues from Columbia University and Pepisco present a tool that uses data mining and machine learning to rapidly generate product carbon footprints (PCFs) for PepsiCo and combine them with business key performance indicators on a routine basis in its strategy and business planning.
• Mark Finster and Michael Hernke of the University of Wisconsin develop a typology of strategic benefits related to competitive advantage that are enabled by industrial ecology concepts and methods, drawing on examples from Grohe, Interface, Maersk, NestlĂ©, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever.
• Samuel Short and colleagues from Cambridge University explore the relationship between industrial ecology and business model innovation through a case study of British Sugar, the UK's largest sugar producer.
• Connie Hensler of Interface tracks the 20-year evolution of Interface's use of LCA as a tool guiding the company toward more-sustainable practices in carpet manufacturing.
• Mona ManYu Yang and colleagues of AU Optonics present a case study of how AU Optronics Corp., a global leader in thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal displays, differentiated itself from its peers and competitors by implementing IE approaches, most notably carbon footprint (CF) management and dematerialization.
• Joo Young Park and Hung-Suck Park present a case study of an industrial symbiosis involving a municipal waste-to-energy incinerator and the Hyosung chemical company in South Korea showing economic and environmental benefits of the project as well as an assessment of the competitive advantages for the participants.
Articles will be freely available online for a limited time at