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Exploring the Impact and Integration of Geoscience for Societal Benefit

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By Natasha Udu-gama, Senior Specialist, Thriving Earth Exchange


Thrilled to get a chance to represent Thriving Earth Exchange internationally for the first time, and excited to return to a city I had enjoyed as a doctoral candidate back in 2012, I arrived at Arlanda airport with my bag laden with Thriving Earth paraphernalia and the Thriving Earth banner ready to take on a week’s worth of geoscience and society through AGU’s inaugural Geoscience and Society Summit. While in Stockholm, I participated and helped co-facilitate the 18-21 March summit at Stockholm University, where I also had the opportunity to present Thriving Earth Exchange to students under the advisory committee vice-chair, Dr. Kevin Noone, involved and interested in community engagement.

The 60 summit participants came from Europe, North America and some part of the Global South with perspectives ranging from industry to academia, but shared a passion and drive to bring the best of the geosciences to various aspects of society. The summit started with agenda-setting keynote addresses from Jane Meara Sanders, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ wife and founder of the Sanders Institute, and Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University economics professor, author, innovative educator and global leader in sustainable development.

Personally, I was struck by a few interesting thoughts and points that emerged through the summit’s panels and workshops:

  • Listening, communicating and educating were prevalent themes throughout all of the workshops. The importance of listening to people, understanding local context and respecting the local and indigenous sources of knowledge other than advancing scientific agendas. When communicating, how do you do so with those of different cultures and values? How do you get past the jargon?

Schematic of elements needed to better connect geoscience to society (Image created by         Damien Corbally)


  • Learning to communicate science through an understanding of community culture is a must. For instance, scientists must often communicate that certain elements in soil may be harmful to health, yet eating soil is a necessary supplement to the lack of food and vitamins in certain cultures (e.g. Southern Africa). How can geoscience be informative and culturally-sensitive to local norms and practices?
  • There is a real need to collaborate across sectors and across borders in order to ensure the relevance and application of geoscience. Collaboration needs to happen locally, between the Global North and South, across sectors and in ways that are intentional and build local sustainability and resilience.


We learned that there were many overlaps in what participants knew about listening, communicating and educating. Interestingly, Thriving Earth Exchange came up a couple of times in various groups. The emerging ideas focused on a 100 Resilient Cities-like platform for community science: a “network of networks” model that Thriving Earth is moving towards. Another idea focused on ways that ‘geoscience problem-solving’ could gain more credibility and funding through development of relevant linkages and connections to relevant organizations.

Being part of the program committee was exciting because GSS presented a unique opportunity to understand the thinking of the broader geoscience community on societal benefits. By supporting the development and facilitation of the summit, Thriving Earth’s input not only guided the summit but the experience helped me understand our role in encouraging more societal interactions with the geosciences.

In future iterations of this summit, I hope to see more community perspectives directly included in the programming, such as specific cultural practices, community knowledge of hazards and local mitigation, or how we might truly understand priority areas where geoscience might have the most impact.

Take Action! Add your thoughts and comments on the impact and integration of geoscience for societal benefit.

Natasha Udu-gama editor

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