Happy New Year 2013 from NCEAS


Dear NCEAS community,

Happy New Year from Santa Barbara! As we proceed into 2013, we would like to take a moment to share with you some of NCEAS' 2012 highlights.

Last year 14 outstanding postdocs resided with us to work on a wide range of topics in ecology and environmental informatics, raising to 117 the number of postdoctoral fellows who have resided at NCEAS. Recent arrivals include Ben Adams (semantic modeling for data interoperability), Mark Browne (fate and transport of plastics in the marine environment), Derek Gray (climate change effects on plankton communities of Lake Baikal), Stacy Rebich Hespanha (effectiveness of scientific data practices) and Benoit Parmentier (global geospatial data for climate change ecological research).

Postdocs who departed this year to take up faculty or other professional appointments include Jennifer Balch (Penn State Geography), Jarrett Byrnes (U. Mass Boston), Darren Johnson (UC San Diego), Stephanie Pau (Florida State U.), Lesley Lancaster (Lund U.), Lindsay Scheef (U. Texas) , and Mary Turnipseed (Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation). To each of them, our best wishes for continued success!

NCEAS has now sponsored over 500 working groups and hosted over 5,000 visiting scientists and other professionals! Last year was only slightly quieter than past years, as we hosted 624 visiting scientists and supported 19 working groups. Eleven new working groups are just getting underway.

NCEAS groups continue to produce a steady stream of influential publications. Here are a few examples from a long list of research highlights:

  • Jennifer Balch and co-authors synthesized evidence revealing that human land-use activities are beginning to change regional climate, water and energy cycles in the Amazon Basin (Nature, January 18)
  • Pete Peterson and co-authors reviewed agency responses in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon well blowout, offered a new model for understanding what happened, and suggested modifications to current laws and policies to better deal with oil drilling in the deep sea and other frontiers (Bioscience, May issue)
  • David Hooper and co-authors conducted meta-analyses with data from nearly 200 published papers to show that the loss of species from communities is a major driver of ecosystem change (Nature, May 02)
  • Lizzie Wolkovich and co-authors showed that warming experiments tend to under predict plant phenological responses to climate change (Nature, May 21).

It was a busy year for NCEAS Associates studying marine ecosystems. NCEAS Associate Ben Halpern and his team introduced the Ocean Health Index in the August 15 issue of Nature. In October the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awarded NCEAS Associates Carrie Kappel , Ben Halpern and Kim Selkoe a four-year grant to study ecological and socio-economic thresholds in marine ecosystems.

NCEAS continued to advance informatics solutions for ecologists through a number of projects. Here is a sample of 2012 activities:

  • The highly collaborative DataONE project remained a major research focus, with NCEAS efforts led by Deputy Director Stephanie Hampton and Ecoinformatics Director Matt Jones, and engaging four full-time software engineers plus a postdoctoral researcher.
  • We received an award from NSF to develop a community vision for a "Software Institute for the Environmental and Earth Sciences" (ISEES) to improve the quality, awareness, and support for the increasingly sophisticated software needed to accomplish integrative ecological research in a networked world. ISEES and several other ongoing informatics projects at NCEAS, notably the Scientific Observations Network (SONet) and SemTools, include a focus on formal semantics approaches to data.
  • We established a strong partnership with U. Arizona and the iPlant Collaborative to build a generalized framework for storing vegetation data, supporting the Working group led by Brian Enquist. We are also working with the Environment and Organisms working group led by Brian McGill to develop global high-resolution environmental coverages for species distribution modeling.

As you know, NCEAS is in a time of transition as we spend out remaining NSF core funding that largely supported our operations for 17 years. In March 2012 we convened the Trends in Ecological Analysis and Synthesis symposium to acknowledge key individuals associated with “NCEAS 1.0,” to examine trends in ecological analysis and synthesis since 1995, and to identify emerging needs and priorities for future synthesis research. The National Science Foundation Division of Environmental Biology provided funds for the event, and Pacific Standard Magazine co-hosted the opening night’s reception and dinner. It was great to gather with current and former residents, members of our Science Advisory Board, university leaders and other friends of NCEAS. Check out the website for videos of NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco’s keynote address and five discussion panels. Thanks to Henry Gholz at NSF for his support of NCEAS and for helping fund this memorable event.

Last year at this time we identified development of new funding as our major challenge for 2012. We are happy to report the receipt of a three-year grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation that will cover a large fraction of our operating costs through 2015. The funding will be focused on launching a new collaboration between NCEAS, The Nature Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Society for synthesis research to rapidly advance conservation science. Peter Kareiva was instrumental in creating the project and, with help from M. Sanjayan, in raising funds to get it off the ground.

Stay tuned: We will have much more to say about this effort in Spring 2013, as well as some new initiatives in education and training!

On behalf of all of us here at NCEAS, our very best wishes to you for a joyful New Year.

Frank Davis, Director
Stephanie Hampton, Deputy Director
Mark Schildhauer, Director of Computing
Matt Jones, Director of Informatics Research

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Posted on January 11, 2013