A new video series on the science behind natural disasters was recently released by the National Science Foundation, the Weather Channel and NBCUniversal News Group.

The series spotlights NSF-funded geoscientists studying volcanoes, hurricanes and flashfloods, among other, often catastrophic, natural events to help explain how to mitigate disasters’ human and economic cost. The National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Geosciences (NSF-GEO) partnered with NBC Learn, the educational division of NBC News, and the Weather Channel to produce the 10-part series released on September 29.

Logo for the video series. Credit: NSF, NBC Learn, and the Weather Channel.

Logo for the video series. Credit: NSF, NBC Learn, and the Weather Channel.

The series, titled “When Nature Strikes, Science of Natural Hazards” is among various recent promotions of Earth Science, including Earth Science Week, which began October 11, and Representative Mike Honda’s Earth Science resolution.

“Our nation has become increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters,” Roger Wakimoto, Assistant Director of NSF-GEO, said in a statement. “Important research to improve our understanding of these hazards will lead to improved forecasts and warnings that will save lives and help mitigate the impact on society and the economy.”

Wakimoto led an event at NSF’s headquarters in Virginia on October 7 to introduce the series and its host, Marshall Shepherd. Shepherd is the director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia and hosts a video series on the Weather Channel called “Weather Geeks.

“Professors have to get outside of the ivory tower or we’re doomed,” Shepherd told participants at the event, alluding to misleading weather reports among news outlets. Although tornados and hurricanes are visually striking and likely to attract viewers, reporters need to focus on flood warnings and preparations since floods are typically more deadly, Shepherd said.

Although Shepherd commended South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for responding well to the historic flooding in her state, he said that people were still making bad decisions, like driving in torrential rainfall. Boosting social behavior research should be a priority, Shepherd said, so that warnings resonate with people facing hazards. Yet, both NSF’s geoscience and social behavior science research are facing potential cuts in funding authorizations.

The videos attempt to highlight proper social behavior during a disaster by teaching viewers how they can access tools and resources to minimize human and economic tolls. Soraya Gage, vice president and general manager of NBC Learn, said in a statement, “Our partnership with the National Science Foundation has provided a great platform for showcasing the latest research on natural disasters through original video content.” The videos feature gripping footage of erupting volcanoes, spreading wildfires and other events as cinematic orchestration builds intensity. “When Nature Strikes’ breaks down the science behind natural disasters through powerful storytelling and captivating video,” Gage said.

Washington, D.C. – New legislation recognizing the importance of Earth Sciences on everyday life was introduced by a Northern California Representative on October 8.

Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) introduced the House “Earth Science Week Resolution” just prior to the 18th annual international Earth Science Week, which began October 11. “With recognition of Earth Sciences by the House, we can bring more attention to the broad impact of the research and exciting discoveries that affect our daily lives,” Honda said in a statement.

Dusk on Capitol Hill. Credit: Elizabeth Goldbaum.

Dusk on Capitol Hill. Credit: Elizabeth Goldbaum.

The “earth sciences are integral to the discovery, development, and conservation of energy, water, and natural resources and to the safe disposal of waste products,” part of the resolution reads. The resolution includes marine science, planetary science, STEM education and natural hazard research, among other topics in Earth science.

The resolution has 36 cosponsors and extensive support among earth science organizations including the Geological Society of America. “Whether people are filling a glass of water, putting gas in their car, or choosing a stable site for their home, they are building on a foundation of geoscience information,” P. Patrick Leahy, the Executive Director of the American Geosciences Institute, said in a statement on behalf of 51 scientific and professional Earth Science societies.

“Geoscientists and researchers in our country continually push the frontiers of human knowledge, help develop and incubate the concepts and programs that keep us at the innovative forefront of the world’s economy, and inspire future generations of researchers, scientists, and informed citizens,” Honda said.

Washington, D.C. – On October 8, President Obama signed a bipartisan bill supporting existing science, technology, engineering and math education programs at the National Science Foundation.

The “STEM Education Act of 2015,” or H.R.1020, adds computer science to the umbrella of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs covered by the bill. The bill authorizes NSF to award grants to support research on effective ways to engage students in STEM and bolster STEM education outside the classroom in museums, science centers and afterschool programs. The act also emphasizes support for teaching STEM to K-12 students, their teachers and the general public. No new spending is authorized in the bill.

A view of the Kenneth E. Behring Family Rotunda at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The new STEM education bill supports learning in informal settings, like museums. Credit: Elizabeth Goldbaum.

A view of the Kenneth E. Behring Family Rotunda at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The new STEM education bill supports learning in informal settings, like museums. Credit: Elizabeth Goldbaum.

Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman, and Representative Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) introduced the bill. The bill passed the House and Senate and was presented to the President on October 1.

“A healthy STEM workforce that is literate in all STEM subjects, including computer science, is critical to America’s ability to create jobs and compete in the world,” Smith said in a statement.

In addition to STEM education programs by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the bill also supports efforts by the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Although less comprehensive, the act follows a similar vein to S.1177, the “Every Child Achieves Act,” which was proposed by the Senate as a successor to the “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001” and includes a new section focused on STEM education.

The STEM Education Act of 2015 also amends H.R.1472, the “National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002,” to allow math and science teachers with Bachelor of Science degrees to apply for NSF Master Teaching Fellowships in addition to teachers with Master of Science degrees. The NSF Master Teaching Fellowship provides funds to support fellowships, academic programs and professional development for STEM professionals who enroll in a master’s degree program leading to a teacher certification.

“More and more jobs of the 21st century require science, technology, engineering, and math skills. Final passage of the bipartisan STEM Education Act demonstrates that we can come together to help our children thrive and to help ensure that they can be competitive in a global economy,” Esty said in a statement.

By Elizabeth Goldbaum, GSA Science Policy Fellow

Washington, D.C. – On September 30 President Obama signed H.R.23 “National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act Reauthorization of 2015” into law, reauthorizing the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program.

Sponsored by Representative Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), the 2015 Act amends and reauthorizes the “National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act of 2004” through FY2017. The House passed the “National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act Reauthorization of 2015” on January 7 and the Senate agreed to its version of the bill on July 23. After working out minor differences between the two chambers, the bill made its way to President Obama on September 21.

The National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program bolsters research into more precise data collection on wind measurements, wind loading and other aspects of severe wind. The program studies how severe wind hits communities and works with both private-sector organizations and federal agencies to develop wind standards, model codes and improved building practices.

A windstorm rages over Oregon and Washington State in December 2006. NASA image by Jesse Allen, Earth Observatory, using data from the MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center.

A windstorm rages over Oregon and Washington State in December 2006. NASA image by Jesse Allen, Earth Observatory, using data from the MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center.

The program was created by the 2004 act and originally led by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which advises the President and Executive Office of the President on how science and technology affects domestic and international affairs. In the amended act the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a federal technology agency, will assume leadership of the program for the foreseeable future.

The 2015 act puts NIST in charge of planning and coordinating agencies affiliated with the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); requires NIST to closely monitor the program; and changes the definition of “windstorm” to explicitly include northeasters.

Each affiliated agency has specific tasks within the program. NSF will support research exploring the economics and social factors that affect windstorm risk reduction measures, and NSF and NOAA will support atmospheric science research to better understand how windstorms behave and how they can impact infrastructure. FEMA will collect windstorm-related data and encourage households, businesses and communities to prepare for windstorms with developing mitigation techniques.

Comparing funding authorizations from the 2015 act to the original 2004 act, funding for NSF’s windstorm-related programs increased around 11 percent, for NIST around 37 percent, for NOAA around 8 percent and decreased for FEMA around 39 percent. The 2015 bill authorizes $9,682,000 to NSF, $4,120,000 to NIST, $2,266,000 to NOAA and $5,332,000 to FEMA for fiscal year 2015. The values stay the same for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

By Elizabeth Goldbaum, GSA Science Policy Fellow

Washington, D.C. – Policy makers, scientists and science enthusiasts celebrated quirky, federally funded research, including geoscience, at the fourth annual Golden Goose Award ceremony last Thursday, September 17.

The nerdier sibling of the more glamorous Golden Globe Awards honors seemingly obscure research, funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies, that enabled major breakthroughs in health, natural and computer sciences. Three teams of researchers were honored with speeches by members of Congress and awarded Golden Goose statuettes, each featuring a stylized metal goose entwined with an egg.

Geophysicist Christopher Small, a professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and mathematical population biologist Joel Cohen, a professor at The Rockefeller University, were honored for their work on “hypsographic demography,” the study of where humans live in relation to altitude.

Small and Cohen found that about 50 percent of the world’s population lives on less than four percent of available land area, and that over one third of the world’s population lives within 300 feet (91 meters) of sea level, according to the 1994 census. They also discovered that some low elevation dwellers live in densely populated cities, like Shanghai, Los Angeles and Buenos Aires, while many others are spread out along coastlines.

Small and Cohen published their findings in 1998 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their work helped spur future researchers, including some who found that a rare rumor is more likely to form in humans living at high altitudes. The duo’s research also piqued the interest of Proctor and Gamble, whose soaps form and mix bubbles differently at different altitudes, and Intel, whose microchips cool more or less efficiently depending on elevation.

Golden Goose Awardees on stage at the Library of Congress. Credit: Elizabeth Goldbaum.

Golden Goose Awardees on stage at the Library of Congress. Credit: Elizabeth Goldbaum.

Small and Cohen’s fellow awardees included Torsten Wiesel and David Hubel, neurophysiologists who studied how cats’ brains respond to moving dots and lights on a screen in the 1950s and 60s until they accidentally pushed a glass slide across their projector, spurring a flood of discoveries on how mammals’ brains absorb their surroundings.

The third team, including psychologists Walter Mischel, Yuichi Shoda and Philip Peake, was celebrated for their “Marshmallow Test,” which tested young children’s ability to delay gratification. The premise of the test was to offer a child one treat (typically a marshmallow) now, or wait for two treats later. Although the initial tests in the late 1960s were not filmed, more recent tests have made their way to You Tube, and the results are adorably hilarious. The results also revealed the cognitive skills and strategies that govern self-control, which the researchers found is more easily taught and learned than previously assumed.

The honored researchers join a growing list of scientists from various fields. The Golden Goose Award is the brainchild of Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN). The Golden Goose acts as a foil to the Golden Fleece Awards, which were issued monthly between 1975 and 1988 by the late Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) to federal spending Proxmire considered wasteful. Much of the targeted funding went toward scientific research that sounded odd or obscure.

However, Proxmire was forced to apologize after targeting a study on the sex life of screwworms, which may have sounded bizarre, but led researchers to understand how to sterilize entire populations of the livestock parasite, saving millions of cattle and billions of dollars.

Cooper, along with fellow members of congress including Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Charlie Dent (R-PA), Robert Dold (R-IL), Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Randy Hultgreen (R-IL), supported the event.

Cooper, dubbed “Father Goose” by Hultgreen, pledged to continue federal support for scientific research and said that research “benefits all mankind.”

By Elizabeth Goldbaum, GSA Science Policy Fellow

Washington, D.C. – Geoscientists working in academia and industry shared their research with policy makers in an effort to highlight the societal and economic benefits of federal investment in geoscience research.

Representative Mike Honda, a Democrat from Northern California who is the ranking member of the subcommittee that funds many science agencies, hosted the briefing on Capitol Hill on September 17, and American Geophysical Union, Geological Society of America and American Geosciences Institute, sponsored the reception, which included various geoscience societies and agencies. NASA, NSF, USGS and NOAA hosted booths illustrating the diversity of federal geoscience programs. Guest speakers included an engineer, a Google employee and two professors.

Honda quickly reminded his audience of his former life as a science teacher when he paused after introducing himself, expecting a chorus of, “Good morning, Mr. Honda,” in return. Having got the civilities out of the way, he bemoaned some of his fellow congressional members’ lack of financial support for geoscience and spoke of the importance of including geoscientists in the process of drafting policies. He pointed to “draconian” cuts to geoscience research at NSF and NASA in the House Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill.

Honda thanked his staffers, including geoscientists on congressional fellowships, for pushing legislation focused on reducing land-based marine debris. He cited numerous environmental issues, including fire storms, droughts and floods, and evoked the drama of the movie, “San Andreas,” (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2015) quipping, “It’s true, man.”

Honda asked geoscientists to take a more proactive role in reaching out to the public about their research, and emphasized the need to expose young students to science. “I want them to grow up with it,” Honda said.

Representative Honda addressing the briefing attendees. Credit: Kasey White.

Representative Honda addressing the briefing attendees. Credit: Kasey White.

Jenifer Austin, manager of the Google Oceans Program, shared “Google Cardboard,” a goggle-like contraption that can turn a smartphone into an underwater telescope, and spoke of its warm reception in classrooms. Students peering into the 3-D lenses of the cardboard could take a virtual tour of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, all while sitting at a desk, she said.

The Google Oceans Program relied on the federally-funded National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for oceanic data, Austin said. In addition to education, the program also aids maritime activity, fisheries management, law enforcement and research. For instance, Google’s immense capacity for cloud storage allows the program to support ocean research by recording sea surface temperatures over time to pinpoint long-term changes.

Noah Diffenbaugh, an earth science professor at Stanford University, spoke about the California drought and its connection to climate change. Diffenbaugh shared data showing an upward trend in global temperatures and said that droughts are twice as likely to occur in warmer years with low precipitation as colder years with low precipitation.

Diffenbaugh recalled a 27-year-old cover of Discover Magazine, which predicted that California’s snowpack would diminish in response to global warming, and that is exactly what has happened, he said.

Joseph Dwyer, a physics professor at the University of New Hampshire, talked about science that is still nascent. Atmospheric science, in particular, may take place relatively close to Earth, but is mostly a mystery, he said. Researchers discovered that sprites, or massive lightning flashes above thunderstorm clouds, can extend over a distance equivalent to around 10 Earth moons in the 1990s, and are actively working to better understand smaller scale everyday events, like how lightning builds up in thunderstorms, Dwyer said.

Funding academic research not only helps answer pressing scientific questions, it can largely affect higher scientific education. Cynthia Dinwiddie, a principle engineer at Southwest Research Institute, talked about the importance of funding geoscience education to prepare people for the workforce.

Dinwiddie works on safe ways to dispose nuclear waste, as well more esoteric projects like determining geophysical analogues to Mars and researching cold regions. She credited federal funding for helping her achieve her education and career goals.

Despite looming cuts to the geoscience budget, the reception and briefing maintained a lively atmosphere, likely enhanced by the vibrant images of vast oceans, towering mountains and endless stars posted to booth walls.

by Thea Boodhoo, GeoCorps America Participant

In the cool shade of ferns and horsetails, at the edge of a sparkling river, a young animal lowers its head to drink. Its tail wags, and tiny spikes on the tip rustle a nearby frond. Startled, the animal looks up, water still dripping from its beak. It sees its parents nearby and knows everything is fine.

It doesn’t see the Allosaurus.

Carnegie Quarry, the famous wall of bones at Dinosaur National Monument. Our project this summer is to help create a website that brings the details of this unique natural history resource to the larger public and researchers around the world.

Carnegie Quarry, the famous wall of bones at Dinosaur National Monument. Our project this summer is to help create a website that brings the details of this unique natural history resource to the larger public and researchers around the world.

“Looks like they really took some liberties with that mural,” I said to Dan Chure, Park Paleontologist at Dinosaur National Monument, the first time I walked by the baby Stegosaurus skeleton at the Exhibit Hall. On the wall behind the corgi-sized assembly of bones is a depiction of the young animal hanging from the jaws of an Allosaurus, entrails dripping on the ferns below.

“Yeah that’s the whole blood and guts thing,” Chure explained. He later clarified that the scene was included to give a full, accurate depiction of Jurassic life and Allosaurus behavior, with as few liberties taken as possible. “Everyone likes to look at the Allosaurus skull in the exhibit and its pointy teeth but [they] rarely think of all the pain and death it took to get an Allosaurus with a skull that large.”

It’s not like I wasn’t surrounded by corpses anyway; the Exhibit Hall was built for the explicit purpose of preserving one of the most spectacular mass death assemblages known to paleontology. The wall opposite the mural is a bone-packed cliff of cool, yellow-gray sandstone, towering two stories above us. Etched out from the rock, in a painstaking process that took decades, are femura as big as I am, ribs that would never fit in any broiler, Stegosaurus plates that are more like serving platters, vertebral columns like small bridges, and up high on the right side of the wall, peeking out from the sandstone in full relief, is a Camarasaurus skull. It feels almost like it’s watching us–strange mammals of the unimaginable future–as we scurry below.

This is Carnegie Quarry, often referred to simply as the wall of bones. It’s why I’m here.

If you knew a bit about my background, you might scratch your head. How does a web content strategist with an advertising degree end up working with paleontologists on a fossil quarry? Besides the fact that I wanted to be a paleontologist when I was kid (who didn’t?) there aren’t many clues from my past that point to dinosaurs.

Dan Chure’s vision for the quarry is bigger than the two-story cliff face that draws thousands of visitors every year. He imagines a digital presence for the quarry–an experience that allows people all over the world to explore the quarry face and access information about its fossils that paleontologists have gained over its 100 years (this fall!) of excavation and public display. Chure’s vision is a large-scale, public, digital paleontology project, and that’s what drew me to it.

I mentioned my degree is in advertising. In 2007, when I started my first internship at an ad agency, it was more like Mad Men than most people would expect. I was even the only woman in the creative department for awhile. Things changed fast, though, and soon I was working exclusively on web projects at digital agencies where our creations were meant to be used and able to be analyzed, instead of just slapped on a TV screen and lucky to be remembered. I loved the challenge of digital media, the gratification of seeing people actually use what I built, and being able to change it if something wasn’t working or we had a better idea. Organizing complex systems of web content and breaking down information to make it useable became my specialty. I was good at making things make sense.

As I also mentioned, however, I wanted to be a paleontologist first. That passion for natural science, prehistory and the alien worlds of Earth’s past never left me. I read about the latest discoveries on my coffee breaks and downloaded Stegosaurus reconstructions for my desktop backgrounds. When I found myself getting addicted to math while researching Khan Academy’s online learning interface, I decided to take a statistics class. Maybe science isn’t out of my reach, I began to think. Soon I was dreaming of a transition into science communication. I decided to start doing the work I enjoyed for the subject I enjoyed, instead of whatever car or credit card brand I happened to be assigned to.

My own feet next to the footprint of a Triassic theropod, left in the Nugget Sandstone when it was merely sand over 200 million years ago. This track and many other paleontological surprises have been found within he bounds of Dinosaur National Monument since the founding of the park 100 years ago this fall.

My own feet next to the footprint of a Triassic theropod, left in the Nugget Sandstone when it was merely sand over 200 million years ago. This track and many other paleontological surprises have been found within he bounds of Dinosaur National Monument since the founding of the park 100 years ago this fall.

Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t that simple. Being a science fan didn’t give me a useful understanding of real science any more than reading Asimov made me a science fiction writer. I needed to understand academia and peer review in order to work with scientists, not to mention half the words I saw the first time I actually downloaded a scientific paper after paying a $30 fee to the journal it was published in. Science was not like any ad client I’d ever had, and there were no account planners to write a creative brief for me.

So school it was. I decided to aim for paleontology, because I knew my eight-year-old self would always resent me if I didn’t. I quickly found out that no one offered a bachelor’s degree in paleontology, so I applied to geology programs and ended up in the Geoscience department at Drexel University.

That’s how I found the Geological Society of America. At last year’s annual meeting in Vancouver, I presented a paleontology website I developed with Drexel’s Ken Lacovara. At the conference, I was told about the GeoCorps America program, and wondered if I qualified for any of the positions. As it happened, there was one that looked perfect: Dan Chure’s digital quarry mapping project at Dinosaur National Monument, offered in conjunction with the National Park Service’s Geoscientists-In-the-Parks (GIP) program. (I am now technically a GeoCorps participant, a GIP, and a National Park Service Volunteer.)

I remembered the wall of bones from a family road trip in 1997, and when I saw it again on my fourth day here, opposite the tragic stegosaurus mural, it was even larger and more spectacular than my fading, dream-like impression from childhood. This time, I got to climb on it. As Dan Chure told me, fewer people have set foot on the narrow ledges of that cliff than have played in the NFL.

Dinosaur National Monument is home to some of the most spectacular and confusing geology on the planet. The Mitten Park Fault is visible in this panorama, towering above the Green River, as seen from Harper's Corner. The other geology interns and I explore the park's many trails every chance we get.

Dinosaur National Monument is home to some of the most spectacular and confusing geology on the planet. The Mitten Park Fault is visible in this panorama, towering above the Green River, as seen from Harper’s Corner.  I explore the park’s many trails every chance I get.

One of the things I’ve noticed about paleontologists is that they never seem bored with their jobs, and Dan Chure is no exception. At least once a week, usually two or three times, he gathers his four geology volunteers (Marie Jimenez, who is in the NPS-GSA Mosaics in Science program, Elliott Smith, Trinity Stirling and myself) and eagerly asks if we’re up for an adventure. We’ve hiked trails, explored canyons, helped the park botanist pull invasive weeds from the banks of the Yampa River, excavated sandstone blocks full of skeletons, examined dinosaur footprints with visiting paleontologists, and even once made a trek across the street to the maintenance building, where an old painting of a Stegosaurus with hilariously misinterpreted anatomy resides. It has human ears.

The work we were actually brought here for has been indoors, largely inside the windowless archives library, and it doesn’t make for an exciting field work story. But it is important, and it’s had its own challenges and victories.

One of the first things Chure showed us was the room of archives that need to be digitized. A couple of flatbed scanners were provided to make it happen. I’d been playing around with mobile apps that made document scanning with my phone easy and fast. Elliott found one called CamScanner that assembled multi-page pdfs, and when I asked if we could get lights to make sure the pages could be read easily with an iPad camera, Chure produced a pair of studio softlights seemingly like magic. Suddenly we had technology and a workflow that sped up the archiving process exponentially.

Most of the project work is done in the Resource Management building on computers. The file open here is an Adobe Illustrator document created by last year's GeoCorps participants. It has proved vital to the work we're trying to complete this summer.

Most of the project work is done in the Resource Management building on computers. The file open here is an Adobe Illustrator document created by last year’s GeoCorps participants. It has proved vital to the work we’re trying to complete this summer.

This week I started tackling a proof of concept for the digital quarry map. Last year’s GIP/GeoCorps participants made a huge Adobe Illustrator file with outlines of almost all the bones in the quarry, and I was able to export a small portion of the map as a scalable vector graphic, which is perfect for use in websites. As of writing, I have a Diplodocus leg live on a test website with bones that light up in different colors when you roll a mouse pointer over them. The tibia is red, the metatarsals cyan, etc. If you click, a modal window pops up. There’s not much information in the window yet, but there will be, including links to the relevant documents we’ve already scanned. It’s a modest demo, but it’s proof that everything Dan Chure has dreamed of is possible, and that we may even be able to finish a nice chunk of it this summer–even with my time here almost halfway over.

An in-progress prototype of the interactive Digital Quarry we're working on. My goal is to have a working demo completed by the end of my GeoCorps internship.

An in-progress prototype of the interactive Digital Quarry we’re working on. My goal is to have a working demo completed by the end of my GeoCorps internship.

Realizing it was week five felt a bit like realizing I was 31 on my last birthday, the day before this project started. There’s more to do than ever, and less time than I imagined to get it done in. It’s not surprising that people assume, when I tell them how I got here after working in advertising first, that I wasted my twenties, or made some mistake, or have a lot of regrets. They’re wrong. Geoscience isn’t something I chose to replace my career in communication; it’s something I chose to expand it. I still love the challenges that attracted me to writing and digital media in the first place, and now I see countless ways to apply those skills to natural science, my first passion, even if I never finish a geology degree.

I’m not the only outsider with something to contribute. This winter, I attended a community college field course on the natural history of a Bay Area wildlife refuge. A class of roughly twenty walked through wetland paths filled with today’s colorful, diverse dinosaurs: migratory waterfowl, sandpipers, Bonaparte’s gulls and Lincoln’s sparrows. I made conversation with one of the women in attendance. She was working in advertising, but had always loved science, and now she was trying to find a way to contribute to the field she couldn’t stop reading about. I felt a chill.

As I listened to the stories of the other students, I realized they were all working professionals, all passionate about natural history, all looking for some way to apply their existing talent and hard-earned experience to something that actually seemed like it mattered. Many of them had run up against the same walls I had, namely the financial barriers of returning to school after working full time and the paywalls of academic journals that prevented them from expanding their knowledge beyond the increasingly questionable science journalism filling their social media feeds.

Every one of them has something to offer natural history. They’re writers, designers, programmers, photographers and people who are observant and learn quickly, who for whatever reason think nature is awesome. They don’t need “blood and guts” to grab their attention, or museum explanations in small words on weekends: those tactics already worked on them when they were kids. Now they need access to the scientists and institutions who would benefit most from their skills.

The GIP/GeoCorps America program has been my access point, more so in many ways than my overpriced attempt at a second degree. I found this opportunity by accident, while juggling work, school and family, after doubling my existing debt with private student loans so that I could legitimize myself in the eyes of scientists.

Being part of the National Park Service is awesome. I can't express how proud I am to be serving this organization.

Being part of the National Park Service is awesome. I can’t express how proud I am to be serving this organization.

As much as I’ve benefitted from it as a science outsider, the GIP/GeoCorps program was strictly designed for geoscientists–not communications professionals. Part of me still feels like I found some loophole, like I don’t belong here, like someone else deserves it more than me. Like I’m not a real scientist. These feelings would have stopped people less stubborn than I am–and the loss would not necessarily be theirs.

The feeling of being excluded from scientific fields is nearly universal in our modern culture, and it makes average citizens resentful and afraid of scientific advancement and research. “Why are our tax dollars going to that,” they say. “Genetic engineering is evil.” “Drones are only for war.” “Climate change is propaganda.” “Evolution is a lie.” It’s the fields of science themselves that hurt most from this way of thinking, as voters follow their fears and research funding becomes ever more elusive.

Yet people like me, and the community college students I walked through the wetlands with, don’t merely tolerate science. We love science. We seek out ways to simply be near it, by taking classes, joining community labs or giving our free time to citizen science projects. When we run up against the paywalls of academic journals, we feel confused and, honestly, a little hurt. “I thought science wanted help,” we think. Yet here it is excluding us, after trying so hard to recruit us when we were children.

What Dan Chure and my fellow GIP/GeoCorps participants are doing for the wall of bones–taking it from a cliff face accessible by only a privileged few, and putting it into a format that anyone can explore and learn from–programs like GIP/GeoCorps can help accomplish for all of science. It was my label as a geoscience student that opened this door for me, but it’s been my experience as a digital media and communications professional that’s served the project and the park for the past six weeks.

The blog where I’m keeping track of my summer is called The Futurist Naturalist. The name has a lot of meaning for me. I got sick of hearing only denial or doom in the popular discourse on the environment, so I came up with an ethos of my own, which I’ve been able to refine here at Dinosaur. I try to write about forward-looking ecology efforts, digital public outreach, how technology can help the environment, and local achievements that go unheard in popular media, but whose aggregate is saving this planet, one watershed, riverbank or forest at a time.

I opened this article with a vision of the distant past. Now I’ll close with a possible future. I’ve been watching it unfold between the headlines, and I’ve come to know it up close through my work in the GIP/GeoCorps program. Sharing it has become the goal of my career.

Envision this future not as a Camarasaurus studying the denizens of some far-off existence it will never know, but as one of the mammals–bold, clever tool-users–whose role is to create it.

In the cool shade of ferns and horsetails, at the edge of a sparkling river, a young animal lowers its head to drink. It is the dinosaur Haliaeetus leucocephalus. It looks up at its parents soaring above, their deep brown wings spread wide, white heads following yellow beaks forward.

Like its ancient relative the Stegosaurus, it once faced extinction. Today it spreads its own broad wings and takes flight, carefree, looking at the world below as it rises.

It’s a green world, speckled with clean cities, whose inhabitants celebrate science because it’s theirs, accessible and welcoming, as it was always meant to be.

The National Park Service Geoscientists-in-the-Parks Program, created in 1996 is run in partnership with the GeoCorps America Program of the Geological Society of America (GSA).  GSA partners with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the National Park Service (NPS).


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