Dr. Peter Goodwin: Six things the Delta science community has learned in the last two years

Science conference
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Dr. Peter Goodwin is an internationally recognized expert in ecohydraulics, ecosystem restoration, and the enhancement of river, wetland and estuarine systems. Among his many accomplishments, he is the Presidential Professor in Ecohydraulics and professor of civil engineering at the University of Idaho, and the founding and current director of the Center for Ecohydraulics Research.  Since January of 2012, Dr. Goodwin has served as the Lead Scientist for the Delta Science Program. In this third installment of speakers from the plenary session of the 2014 Bay Delta Science Conference, Dr. Goodwin talks about how far the Delta science has since his appointment, listing six things the Delta science community has learned in the past two years.

Many of you were here two years ago when we started with the Delta science planning processes,” began Dr. Peter Goodwin, Delta Lead Scientist. “What we had to realize is that science is not an end point; it’s much more of a journey.”

Plenary Goodwin no video_Page_02If you recall, Director Cowin made several very insightful comments about getting a handle on uncertainty, but he also asked a question, ‘how can we begin to do collaborative science if the next day if we’re in the courtroom on opposite sides?

Secondly, in that same town hall meeting, the chair of the Delta Stewardship Council, Randy Fiorini, challenged the science community about how do we begin to build understanding in this complex system, so instead of just looking at a single scientific challenge, how do we begin to connect models so that we can start being predictive in this incredibly complex system?,” he said. ““Then at the PPIC, summary of the stress relief in May of 2013, in a very interesting panel discussion, Jeff Kightlinger made the insightful comment that uncertainty that is something that affects everyone, whether you’re running a business, or whether you’re a scientist, and we really need to get a better handle on the science.”

Under the direction of the Delta Plan, most of 2013 was spent on building the Delta Science Plan. “We developed the moniker through the science community of ‘One Delta, One Science,’” he said. “It’s really a shared vision for how we undertake science. How do we work together to accelerate knowledge discovery? How do we go about collaborating and exploring competing hypotheses, so instead of trying to do that in the courtroom or a public hearing, how can we be much more thoughtful and insightful to build the common knowledge about these testable hypotheses?

080One Delta, One Science doesn’t mean there’s a single opinion; in fact, if there was a single opinion, we’d be failing,” he said. “One Delta, One Science is the ability to embrace different opinions and different models, and if we look at different modeling approaches and we can structure testing those models in a constructive way, we’re going to learn much, much faster.”

But to achieve all of that, we’ve had to unlearn it,” Dr. Goodwin said. “How do we go about unlearning? When you’ve been totally focused on a particular science issue for maybe ten or fifteen years, and then that issue is part of a much bigger question, getting folks together to explore those differences and perspectives and to look at a slightly bigger picture is really challenging.”

Dr. Goodwin acknowledged that it’s difficult but there are some positive examples of how we can make progress. “For example, with the Collaborative Adaptive Management Team that’s been put together, and some of the structured collaborative thinking that has gone on around that, and IEP reaching out to stakeholders to see how their science is relevant to the various decisions that need to be made. Most recently, with the SFCWA science program, how they’ve actually chosen to distribute their funding, and when you see the types of projects that are being funded across their program with their open PSP, I think it really bears witness to bringing the science community together.

He then ran down his list of six things the science community has learned in the last two years.

Thing One:  It is the people who create change

We all agree we need change, and scientists and managers, many of the people in this room, have invested a huge amount of time in planning and understanding how we do that. And fortunately, we were able to find some historic footage for the Yolo Bypass, and what’s actually happened there …

He played the video, How to start a movement, by Derek Sivers.  (Maven note: It’s a short 3 minutes, and well worth watching.) “His point in this video is that it isn’t the creative genius that’s out there, sometimes referred to the nutter, with the idea that starts a movement,” Dr. Goodwin said. “What’s really important is that first person that steps up and says, ‘Hey there’s something in this concept. How do we go about building on this?’ And then, once you get your first convert, then there’s three or four others folks … and before long, we reach a tipping point where suddenly those people who were sitting there watching wondering who is that nutter out there, decide suddenly it’s cool not to be part of the group … so the important point here is how do we institute change? Some of the innovative things that have been put out there in the last year, how do we step in behind those leaders and create this kind of party?

Thing two: We need to sustain our intellectual capacity

Dr. Goodwin then asked the scientists, engineers, or managers working in the Delta to stand up. He asked them to sit down if they were going to retire or leave the system within the next three years; the next five years; and finally the next ten. “How many of you will be still active on Delta issues ten years from now?” A significant portion of those who were standing originally had sat down. “Look around at the problems we’re going to face. Ten years is not that far into the future. Ten years is about the time that the Pelagic Organism Decline study took. And if you look at the massive loss that we’re going to have with our intellectual capacity, just in the next three years and looking out beyond that, we need to start looking at things differently, because about ten years is the time scale for the big science which we need understand, this collaborative science to really get to the heart of the issues.”

Plenary Goodwin no video_Page_06Dr. Goodwin said the challenge is much bigger than that, and he presented a slide of the breakdown in demographics of the workforce.  “You all very familiar with the changing demographics of California, so what I’ve done here is plotted the percentage of California’s population on the logarithmic scale, but I wanted to differentiate some of the cultural differences which we enjoy here in California.

Plenary Goodwin no video_Page_07Presenting the next slide, he noted, “I’ve superimposed on the right hand side, the U.S. science and engineering workforce as we have today.”

First of all a few facts,” he said. “We know unequivocally that culturally diverse groups working on innovative science are much more constructive and reach innovative solutions much faster than if you have a monolithic group. Of course, fairness also comes into this – a great American ideal. But there’s a third trend going on that’s really worrying folks back in DC; many of the top students around the world that used to come to the U.S. to study, particularly at the PhD level, are now choosing to go or stay in India, to go to Europe, or to go to Australia, so we’re seeing much greater competition.”

Plenary Goodwin no video_Page_08Acknowledging that the graph is somewhat out of date, Dr. Goodwin pointed out that the Hispanic community has not become the largest ethnic group in California. “If you look at the science and technology across the US, the number of Hispanics within S&T fields is 5%, and so we’re facing this huge disparity,” he said. “This doesn’t mean that certain cultural groups aren’t going to university or that they are not smart – it’s that they are not choosing to go into science and technology. So we’re facing this huge potential gap in being able to fill science and technology.”

Plenary Goodwin no video_Page_09This is also happening in Native American communities. “These are the folks that if you look in Canada or up in the Columbia Basin, the ability to have PhD trained scientists that can also integrate traditional knowledge is a huge asset to your system, and yet we’re seeing this vastly disproportionally small number of folks choosing to go into science and technology.”

Plenary Goodwin no video_Page_10There are also challenges with women, even though in 2010, about 50% of our college population was women,” he said. “We lose about 15% in the areas of science and engineering, and then we lose a further 10% of people who are actually engaged in science and engineering occupations. If we’re going to maintain a balanced and a fair workforce, we need to be thinking about we can fill these gaps.”

This is important for us as a community because a report earlier this year from the National Science Board emphasized the importance of role models in engaging those who might not otherwise consider science or technology careers. “If your daughter’s best friend’s mother is a rocket scientists, suddenly rocket science becomes an available career to you,” he said. “If your soccer coach is also a scientist and is passionate about science, the chances of those kids getting involved in science and going and asking questions goes up quite dramatically. And so we need to be very mindful of how we move ahead on this.”

Our people are definitely a diminishing resource, particularly in this community,” he said. “What are we doing to thoughtfully supplement this diminishing resource? If we’re looking at ten year programs, how can we bring in earlier career researchers to take leadership roles, so like the Ted Sommers and the Jim Cloerns, they will actually see these programs through and will be able to lead and drive. It’s a professional responsibility for us all.”

Thing 3: The role of technology

Technology has been playing a larger role in recent years. “First is that we’re in this era of big data,” he said. “Many of you participated in the big data summit at UC Davis in June and where that white paper, the vision paper, is going is quite remarkable. We had close to 1500 people participating in that online as well as the folks that showed up, and folks from across the agency spectrum really spent a lot of time trying to think what this might mean to California down the road. The white paper for this is due by December of 2014.”

Plenary Goodwin no video_Page_13Sensor technologies and innovations like the Smelt Cam and the work that JPL and Ames is doing are quite wonderful, he said. “Six of the top 20 universities in the world are here in California; we have Silicon Valley which is absolutely the hot spot in the world for innovation, and are we really accessing that type of capacity to the level to which we really could, given the complexity of this system? … These could transform what we’re doing, but what’s next? How do we begin to support these technological innovations in a way that could be targeted directly at the problems we face?

The Delta Science Program is helping to host an integrated modeling summit in early 2015 that will be focused on the Bay-Delta, but will also set precedence in the future not just for what’s happening in the Bay Delta, but with international participation, it will have influence around the world, he said. He note that we have wonderful tools to build on, such as TNC’s Delta EFT, the life cycle models, and the integrated modeling that’s being done in the Yolo Bypass. “We have much to build on but we need to do more,” he said.

Thing 4: Science discoveries such as the role of historical ecology

Plenary Goodwin no video_Page_14The role of historical ecology,” Dr. Goodwin said. “I think for many of us, when we first heard folks like Robin Grossinger talk about this, we wondered what is the application? But in the communication of this was the understanding of what used to be there in the past, fully recognizing that we can’t restore what was there historically, but understanding the elements in the landscape that fit together to create critical patches for the ecosystem is absolutely essential. That historical ecology study is widely cited … Truly, that is a landmark study, not just for our system, but for how historical ecology fits in.”

Historical Delta
Click here for more on SFEI’s Historical Ecology Investigation of the Delta.

The most important thing about the way that the study was structured is that it took a community of scientists, we’ve heard that. The reason that that was so successful is that Robin Grossinger was able to reach out and people understood that it was a real cool thing to be involved, and they invested a considerable amount of time to make this project so successful.”

Thing 5: The role of climate change

Click here to read this article on ArkStorms from Scientific American.
Click here to read this article on ArkStorms from Scientific American.

As for science discoveries, there are many things I could have spoken about here,” Dr. Goodwin said. “Much of the climate change research that’s going on in California is cutting edge … It’s not just doing great science, it’s how we communicate it, and I think Mike Dettinger has shown us in a very masterful way how you communicate this very complex system and very complex consequences in a way that’s easily understandable through concepts such as atmospheric rivers.”

Plenary Goodwin no video_Page_17The Yale Project said several interesting things in a 2014 report aimed at communicating and tracking the effects of climate change. “From the National Climate Assessment, they have this very visual graphic that shows how, every decade for the last 50 years, the temperature of the earth has gone up … as of 2013, of all of the published literature on climate change science, 97% said yes it’s happening, and yes, it’s human induced. And that’s not too surprising when you think that probably you looked at the theory of gravity, it’s probably a less percentage of that.”

Plenary Goodwin no video_Page_19But if you look at this, the American people who have an opinion, three Americans for every one American believes that global warming is happening and its serious. Three to one. Is that’s really what’s put across in the popular press? Is that what Congress is talking about? Probably not.

Thing 6: There is no magic bullet

Plenary Goodwin no video_Page_21My final comment is that there is truly is no magic bullet, and this has been covered by many reviews,” he said. “The Interagency Ecological Program and the POD studies that the NRC called out as a landmark study and a landmark change in thinking determined that there’s not just one factor, there’s going to be several out there.”

What it is going to take is a sustained science synthesis,” he said. “It’s essential to understanding and keeping pace with this rapidly changing dynamic system. What’s going to be the next shift? It’s going to take a sustained effort of science that we haven’t seen in the past.”

Dr. Goodwin noted that the updated State of Bay Delta Science is underway and will be completed in 2015.

Thank you for your attention and please keep your efforts in helping us understand and manage this dynamic and complex system.”

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