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Bridging Communities: The First Centennial Project

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This blog was originally posted on the AGU blog, From the Prow

Written by Carol Finn, AGU Past-President and United States Geological Survey Geophysicist, and Raj Pandya, AGU Thriving Earth Exchange Program Director


During the last century, discoveries in Earth and space science have changed society’s understanding of the world around us and improved economic security and public health and safety around the globe. And looking to the future, science can help society address the challenges – and take advantage of the opportunities – it faces.

So, it’s no surprise that, in 2012, the AGU Council came together in Washington, D.C. to discuss how, with its Centennial on the horizon, AGU might be able to impact not just our own community, but the world. The group discussed many things, but ultimately kept coming back to the idea of a “grand challenge,” in particular, how could AGU help to bridge scientists and the communities that benefit from their research.

The program that grew from that initial meeting, the Thriving Earth Exchange, launched as a unique opportunity for communities to partner with Earth and space scientists and access the expertise needed to address problems arising from hazards, disasters, resource limitations, and climate change.

In 2013, three pilot challenges were launched: 1) scientists developed high-resolution drought monitoring tools with water resource managers in southern Kentucky; 2) in Minnesota, a team of scientists and local leaders collaborated to design a protocol for monitoring key water quality variables associated with the health of wild rice, fi­sheries, and water recreation for the White Earth Reservation; and 3) a scientist-community leader team implemented a citizen-science campaign to monitor air quality issues within a Denver neighborhood and shared its ­findings with community members.

A fundamental insight we gained from the early projects we worked on has become the foundation for all Thriving Earth Exchange projects: Scientists cannot be distant experts offering abstract advice. We must work with community leaders to combine practical scientific knowledge and hard-earned community wisdom to make real-world impacts in the places where people live, work and play. Communities – especially communities that have been historically marginalized – have to be given the opportunity to participate in, benefit from, and help guide science.

While we have undergone a few evolutions since then, Thriving Earth Exchange now a well-established and respected force within the geoscience community, and more importantly, within cities, towns and regions around the world. We have been asked to share our model for enabling community-scientist partnerships with other professional societies, regional and local governments, and with other non-profit organizations. In 2017, the Thriving Earth Exchange was invited by the White House to be one of the lead partners on a new initial called the Resilience Dialogues, a collaborative effort between federal agencies, non-profit organizations, and private partners, to help local communities address risks associated with climate change. And in recent years we have work to build our partnerships with a wide variety of other organizations to help identify and refer communities to participate in the Thriving Earth Exchange projects, sponsor and host Project Launch Workshops, help us develop and scale our program to support more communities, and spread the word about the impact of community science on local communities.

Since we launched Thriving Earth Exchange, it has helped more than 70 communities solve local problems using Earth science, and by AGU’s centennial in 2019, we aim to reach 100 communities and impact 10 million lives. In the future, we envision tens of thousands of projects touching hundreds of millions of people. As you will see in the coming months and throughout the Centennial, there will be many opportunities for you to be a part of this wonderful and fulfilling experience, so keep an eye out for our announcements.

The passion the Earth and space science global community has for using science to build a world in which people – all people – and nature can thrive is inspirational, and there is perhaps no better example of that passion than what we see in the work of the Thriving Earth Exchange. AGU’s Centennial marks a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring the global community together with the shared goal of transforming Earth and space science to meet not just the challenges of today, but the opportunities of tomorrow, and we’re so excited to be a part of the journey.

mgoodwin editor

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