From process complexity to communication effectiveness: A challenge to those within and outside of the environmental sciences

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 1:47 PM
Kendra Elena Kaiser, Duke University, Durham, NC, United States and Brian L McGlynn, Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment, Durham, NC, United States
Interdisciplinary work has become a cornerstone in research across the environmental sciences. Our work does so by evaluating biogeochemical cycling, specifically methane, in the context of landscape hydrology. Atmospheric methane is a greenhouse gas 27 times more potent than carbon dioxide and has been increasing at an unprecedented rate. This drastic increase in atmospheric methane has been attributed to anthropogenic activities such as burning of fossil fuels, ruminants, and rice cultivation, which together constitute approximately 67% of global methane sources. Characterizing CH4 flux in natural systems has remained difficult due to complex relationships among environmental variables (e.g. soil temperature and soil water content). To address this, we focus on how the redistribution of water in complex terrain influences the magnitude and direction of flux in upland and riparian soils. Distilling this complex behavior and scaling these observations is complicated by interacting feedback loops and uncertainties associated with global scale modeling. However, progress is critical given that predicting future climate is necessary to forecasting the quantity and distribution of available fresh water, and understanding how ecosystem processes, and energy/food production will be affected. Water sciences and environmental science as a whole must improve communication to a range of audiences, and advocate for researchers, policy makers, and business leaders to work together for a more sustainable future. A crucial step in this process is to optimize the appropriate level of information to convey that is both memorable and meaningful given the complexity of environmental systems. The challenge also extends to artists and filmmakers to present the subject in compelling ways that inspire audiences to take action in their own communities. True integration of professionals across environmental, social, political, and economic disciplines while motivating local involvement will be necessary for development and success of innovative solutions for improving the trajectory of climate change.