Taking science on the road
Alex Bryan joined the NE CASC in 2014 as the newly-created Climate Assessments and Scenario Planning Postdoctoral Fellow. NE CASC staff created the position with a vision for an individual who would serve as a climate scientist with the capability to develop models and understand climate phenomena but whose purpose was to engage with managers. This role as an ‘outreach scientist’ was designed with the idea of meeting directly with natural and cultural resources managers to help interpret downscaled climate change data to meet their needs.
Alex was an ideal choice with his background in meteorology and climate studies and his post-doctorate research exploring atmospheric interactions with vegetation in climate and atmospheric chemistry models. In addition, he possessed the service-oriented mindset essential to the task ahead. "I was eager to meld my loves for science and service," he reflects and for him, it was a perfect fit. He wanted his work to be applied to creating real world solutions, and he jokes, the job description was in essence “taking science to the road.“
His work with conservation managers was diverse and broad reaching, from threat comparisons of winter tick parasitism and heat stress on moose populations in the northeast, to drought projections for managers at Saguaro National Park as part of a detail with the Southwest CASC. His work was designed to focus on actionable science and emphasize iterative development of research and information dissemination to provide climate science guidance for natural resource managers to make decisions. Along the way Alex learned some key lessons from his experiences, which he has shared with his fellow NE CASC scientists-
- Get to know what managers know. Managers do research too, they have local expertise, and they know best what challenges they can address (or not). Let this dictate what information you provide.
- Know what stages of planning the managers are in. While some managers are looking for specific data, for many managers, this is the very first time they are thinking about climate change. Some managers aren’t ready to get downscaled precipitation models, just need the overall trend of “it’s going to be drier.”
- Don’t be afraid to advocate for the long view. Managers, due to their daily demands, often need to be reactive and address issues on short timescales. Giving them information and support allows them the opportunity to get in front of the challenges ahead.
- Learn how to localize. Start with broad regional trend, then consider how it affects your localized landscape. Remember downscaled data means more precise but not always more accurate.
- Climate change is not always their top threat- and we should honor that! For example, while reviewing how climate change could inhibit habitat connectivity with a manager at Saguaro National Park, the manager expressed that the challenges of a new highway development and its threat to habitat connectivity were a more pressing concern.
- Climate science fits in, but not necessarily through direct data use. Problems facing managers are complex. Be informal, keep it simple, and ensure your support is something they can use.
Overall the role has been an amazing experience for Alex, providing the opportunity to empower managers across the country by laying the groundwork to address climate change. “Alex has been an invaluable colleague and member of the NE CASC family. In his four years here he has committed himself to the stakeholder-driven paradigm of research, bringing complex climate science in an accessible and relevant way to our partners, including tribal members, state managers, and National Park Service.” relates, ecologist Toni Lyn Morelli.
Mary Ratnaswamy, former NE CASC federal director describes her impressions of Alex: “The NE CASC has been so fortunate to have Alex as part of the team for the past four years. His collegiality, team spirit and dedication shine through, and his commitment to helping managers is exemplary. Alex showed leadership in so many areas, including with other scientists in our network, with states, federal partners, and Tribes and mentoring Fellows and undergraduate students. Alex pushed the envelope to make climate data and science serve managers, listening to them and wholeheartedly embracing the service role while doing cutting edge interdisciplinary research on so many natural resource questions, from forests to Great Lakes to wildlife. Alex is a great colleague, great partners and collaborator always willing to go the extra mile, and just a great person who brought so much to the Center.”
NE CASC science coordinator Michelle D. Staudinger says, “Working with Alex has been a pleasure. He is always willing to help solve problems and is genuinely interested in making sure not only that he gets you an answer, but that you also understand the outcome and can convey it yourself. He brings "Minnesota-nice" to a whole new level.”
Deputy university director Addie Rose Holland adds, “Alex has been a joy to work with these past 4 years. He has fulfilled our vision for his position and much, much more. He embodies the ideal of a truly collaborative scientist, committed to co-production of knowledge, and has set a high bar for actionable science that actually meets the needs of natural and cultural resource managers. So high, in fact, that he doesn’t feel he has met it! I know that Alex will continue on to improve the field of applied climate science, and I look forward to future collaborations with him.”
The legacy of his work will impact National Parks, wildlife conservation professionals, and local communities across the country for years to come, and we at the NE CASC are so grateful to have worked alongside him.
Written by Communications Intern Mike Crowley