Reflections on the AGU September 2018 Board meeting


Dr. Lisa Graumlich, Member, AGU Board of Directors and Dean, College of the Environment, University of Washington in Seattle

AGU members think at global and interplanetary scales. As a result, small talk at an AGU gathering is never small. This was on display during the September meeting of the AGU Board of Directors. We hosted a visit from the new Director of USGS, Jim Reilly. No one batted an eyelash when Director Reilly gestured to the trees outside the window while asserting that a deeper understanding terrestrial biogeochemistry was critical for developing the technology that will enable humans to survive on Mars.

Dr. Lisa Graumlich

Earlier that day, incoming AGU President Robin Bell explained to me why sea level rise in New York City depends most critically on the dynamics of Antarctic ice sheets and not on the melting of Greenland ice. That evening, former AGU President Margaret Leinen and I recalled how the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program set in motion our current understanding of Earth processes. As typical geoscientists, we relish launching high-level discussions to understand fundamental Earth systems and dynamics.

When it came time for this group of scientists to gather as the AGU Board of Directors, we stretched our science muscles and tried to imagine the many ways we might connect our work with society’s greatest challenges at local and global levels.

AGU’s mission is to promote discovery in Earth and space science for the benefit of humanity. To build a bridge between science and society, we need to understand what buttresses each side. As members of AGU, we’re good at the science side. The challenge we face is developing strategies that create robust and relevant connections to society that build bridges leading to places where our scientific inquiries serve humanity.

How do we direct the power of AGU to the task of linking science and society? AGU Executive Director/CEO Chris McEntee set the tone of the Board meeting with a report on trends in global politics, economics, and culture. She presented a data-infused synopsis of trends, as well as a sober assessment of the implications of the rise of nationalism for international collaboration. This is important context that must underpin our strategies going forward.

What can we do next as a powerful, relevant, and nimble Earth and space science society? And what should we do next? Our Board discussions are wide-ranging and unabashedly ambitious. We are fortunate to be able to think big, knowing that we can deploy resources that represent the wise financial stewardship of both former and current AGU leaders.

As we look forward, we ride on the momentum of the deep, dynamic collaborations between our members and the AGU staff. I can’t say enough about the synergies that are evident in the Board presentations and discussions. Some standouts include the new strategy for diversity and inclusion, AGU’s Centennial celebration, and the innovations in both in-person and virtual meeting formats.

And, of course, a highlight of the Board meeting was a sneak peek of the long-awaited renovations to produce a net zero AGU headquarters building that will help us do our part in reducing the organization’s environmental footprint.

In the coming year, AGU will update its strategic plan. An emerging theme is how to position AGU for the kind of global institutional leadership that matches the scope and scale of our scientific breadth. Stay tuned as we call on all of you practical visionaries for your help.

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