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NASA UNBOUND: ESIP Collaborates on Environmental Justice Workshops

NASA UNBOUND: ESIP Collaborates on Environmental Justice Workshops

Throughout 2022, Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) brought together data users to discuss better ways to leverage NASA data for environmental justice and equity. The report on the four-part workshop series is now available.

Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite on October 1, 2022, show sediment plumes a few days after Hurricane Ian’s landfall. Credit: NASA

Understanding Needs to Broaden Outside Use of NASA Data for the Environmental Justice Community (UNBOUND-EJ) seeks to make NASA tools and resources more usable and accessible to a wider audience. Environmental justice is one of several high-priority domains identified by NASA’s Earth Science Division.  The four UNBOUND-EJ workshops took place between April and June 2022 and now the ESIP recommendation report is available. 

“Making data accessible and actionable by those working to advance environmental justice is one of the most important areas of this work,” said Susan Shingledecker, ESIP Executive Director. “Many environmental justice organizations are working urgently to bring in trusted data to the communities they serve. This requires intuitive formats that are easily understandable by people who are not data scientists.”

ESIP Recommendation Report: Environmental Justice

The ESIP report documents this and other recommendations from the workshop participants. The group represented HBCUs and other academic institutions as well as government agencies and nonprofits.

“I was able to learn about multiple impactful resources NASA provides to support our NSF TIP grant, which focuses on tackling food injustice and sustainability in underrepresented communities,” said workshop participant Uzoma Chikwem, computer science instructor from Lincoln University. “Since the workshops, I have pulled in new data such as extreme heat comparisons between current temperature and a decade ago prior to our campus redesign to a walking campus.”

Chikwem is also working on gathering campus data from NASA’s Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor (T-SIS 1) to find the best area for a new solar energy farm, as well as sites for Lincoln University’s newly funded Artemis moon dust greenhouses. Like many of the UNBOUND participants, Chikwem finds value in accessing global data with high local resolution.

UNBOUND for Environmental Justice

Shingledecker, Susan; Patterson, Regan; Haley, Charley; Mills, Allison (2022): Recommendation Report: Understanding Needs to Broaden Outside Use of NASA Data for the Environmental Justice Community (UNBOUND-EJ). ESIP. Report.  

NASA Grant 80NSSC21K0365

NASA News Brief: UNBOUND-EJ Report

Understanding Needs to Broaden Outside Use of NASA Data (UNBOUND) for Environmental Justice (EJ) is a series of four workshops that took place in April, May, and June 2022. Watch some of the workshop presentations and demos:

Environmental Justice Centers Community

Many of the participant observations  focus on user interface and navigation — and not simply for the workshop participants themselves. Environmental justice data users do their work with their communities foremost in their minds. The analysts ask whether or not their uncles, neighbors, school boards and local government officials can see, understand and use the data provided.

“This gap between acquiring data and applying it is why the UNBOUND project matters,” said Gerald Guala, the NASA program scientist leading the project. “What our team aims to do is identify and address specific pain points and barriers for data users who do not currently include NASA datasets in their work. NASA has vast amounts of comprehensive, accurate and global data, but the potential is not fully realized.”

The environmental justice workshops did help some participants make direct connections to their work.

“Environmental Justice (EJ) research is vital to building equitable and just community resilience to natural hazards, such as heat waves, so that historically marginalized people will be less vulnerable to extreme weather and climate events,” said workshop participant Ebone Smith, graduate researcher from the University of Oklahoma Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability. Smith's work weaves together physical as well as social data to analyze how extremely hot temperatures impact people of color and low-income households.

“While participating in the UNBOUND workshop series, I was introduced to the NASA EarthData Extreme Heat Pathfinder tool, which connects me with resources I need to conduct my research analysis.” Smith added, “Even though localizing the data will be a challenge, I believe mapping the physical aspects of heat by incorporating NASA Earth science data, and overlaying them with social data for the Oklahoma City community, can demonstrate the need to enact extreme heat mitigation and adaptation strategies for our underserved communities.”

Earth Science Data for Environmental Justice

In particular, the most common household association for NASA is launching rockets. Many do not even know that NASA’s Earth Science Division expertise is looking back at our home planet. From agriculture to disasters, from diseases to sea level change to wildfire, the Earth Data Pathfinders pull in many resources. 

“More than 76 petabytes of NASA Earth data are free and available to all users. These resources can help communities understand and solve some of the most pressing environmental issues,” said Yaítza Luna-Cruz, a program officer in the NASA SMD Chief Science Data Office. She co-leads the Earth Science Division’s Equity and Environmental Justice activities as part of the NASA Equity Action Plan that connects Earth science and socioeconomic data to underserved communities. She added that “the key is to make the communities part of the process — to identify their needs, to expand  awareness of the data and make data more meaningful and easy to use.”

This blog post was written by Allison Mills with edits by Susan Shingledecker, Yaítza Luna-Cruz, and Gerald (Stinger) Guala. The UNBOUND participants volunteered to provide additional quotes for the story. NASA’s Earth Science Division communications staff assisted with sharing the story and built the NASA UNBOUND webpage

The UNBOUND participating organizations included: Coalition of Black Trade Unionists’s Education Center, Environmental Data and Governance Initiative EDGI, Environmental Policy Innovation Center, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, Lincoln University, University of Oklahoma Dept of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, Pew Charitable Trusts – Flood-Prepared Communities Initiative, Pima County Department of Environmental Quality, Savannah State University, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS). 

ESIP stands for Earth Science Information Partners and is a community of partner organizations and volunteers. We work together to meet environmental data challenges and look for opportunities to expand, improve, and innovate across Earth science disciplines.

Learn more and sign up for the weekly ESIP Update for #EarthScienceData events, funding, webinars and ESIP announcements.