Solving Environmental Problems

Most scientists are trained to S T U D Y problems and they develop the following attributes:

Scientific rigor—mostly through peer review of proposals, presentations and papers;

Total commitment—extensive training to be able to collect good and appropriate data;

Understanding complexity—particularly in natural systems with multiple variables;

Developing methodology—many scientific questions require new tools or approaches;

Yearning for truth—the quest for the underlying truth provides a strong motivation.

These are important and critical skills that scientists develop during their extended educational and apprenticeship programs that lead to higher degrees.

However, in order to S O L V E environmental problems, a different set of attributes is required:

Shared vision—developed not with scientific peers, but stakeholders;

Organized and balanced approach—combined management, research and monitoring;

Leadership—scientific, political and community level leadership is needed;

Varied communication—peer group as well as non peer group communication;

Effective actions—targeting activity to channel resources wisely.


Diagram depicting management, monitoring and research interactions with various stakeholders

It is the combination of attributes for studying and solving problems that we are striving to develop as part of IAN.

IAN will also strive to facilitate the transfer of data into information into knowledge and ultimately into problem solving. We have dramatically increased our data gathering capabilities—it can be termed an “observation revolution”. This increasing data gathering capability is analogous to trying to get a drink from a fire hose—the torrent of data particularly from remote sensing and in situ sensors, can be very difficult to turn into information. We are developing tools for information generation, for example modeling, geographical information systems, and other spatial analysis tools, but we also need to build knowledge out of this information, for example, synthesis and visualization techniques. Ultimately we would like to apply this knowledge to problem solving, using an integrated and applied approach.

There are several attributes that transcend both studying and solving environmental problems:

Credibility — needed for both peer scientists and stakeholders;

Creativity — required for developing experiments and for developing action plans;

Tenacity — persistence in the face of adversity often distinguishes success from failure;

Virtue — summed up in the quote by a fisheries biologist and Stanford University president, David Starr Jordan, “Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it”.

IAN will provide opportunities for scientists to build credibility with stakeholders, as well as enhancing the already substantial credibility with scientific peers. Creative ways of synthesizing data, communicating results and developing solutions are being pioneered at UMCES, using established and emerging technologies. In terms of tenacity, UMCES is in the business of environmental problem solving for the long term. From the creation of Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in 1925, scientists at UMCES have been devoting their professional lives to studying and solving environmental problems. In terms of virtue, the creation of IAN represents the latest in a series of faculty initiatives to stimulate and enhance the effectiveness of their research.