NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists coming to USC Annenberg for 'ClimatePalooza'

By Jeremy Rosenberg

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory is about more than Mars.

That's not taking anything away from the extraordinary and widely celebrated achievements of the scientists, engineers and administrators behind recent missions to the Red Planet starring rovers such as Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity.

But for decades, and with significant results, JPL has also focused its research and analytical expertise on Earth Science. Fourteen NASA spacecraft orbit our planet, gathering and remitting data about Earth's oceans, atmosphere, land, biosphere and cyrosphere – or, frozen zones.

This information is then used to study the likes of sea level rise, El Niño and La Niña, drought, desiccation, snow and ice melt, cloud-climate feedback and agricultural patterns. In short: much of the information used to detect and confirm climate change.

On Thursday evening, Jan. 24, from 5:30-9 p.m., a group of scientists and staff members from JPL who work on climate topics will come to USC Annenberg for "ClimatePalooza 2013."

ClimatePalooza is a free-of-charge event open to all members of the USC community and the general public. RSVPs are requested by visiting this page. Food will be served and a small eco thank you gift is scheduled for distribution to the first 200 people to RSVP and attend.

"ClimatePalooza is a collaborative effort by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism to put a different focus on climate change," journalism professor Larry Pryor wrote in text posted to the event website,

"Climate change is an issue that goes far beyond science and into domains of technology, morality and public policy," Pryor said in a recent email. "Events like ClimatePalooza can help expand our vision into these dimensions and build a public consensus on what has to be done. We have to make sure that people know that paths exist to prevent the worst scenarios of climate damage from happening."

Pryor, a former Los Angeles Times environmental reporter and editor, is a founder of the USC Annenberg Earth Sciences Communication Initiative (ESCI). This cross-disciplinary team of students, staff and faculty members from schools and offices around the university meet weekly at USC Annenberg to work on climate change and communication issues. ESCI and JPL are the co-organizers of ClimatePalooza.

"We are trying to communicate to a broader audience," said Laura Faye Tenenbaum, an education specialist at JPL and ClimatePalooza participant. "Also, we wanted to partner with Annenberg as experts in communication because we come from the science side and want to expand our communications skills."

Joshua B. Fisher is a JPL scientist who studies the global cycling of carbon whose multi-faceted work involves supercomputers and satellites – as well as leading field expeditions through the Amazon and Andes. He is scheduled to appear at ClimatePalooza.

"We scientists unfortunately have a well-founded reputation of being shoddy communicators," Fisher emailed. "We tend to talk primarily in nerd-speak, full of jargon, and completely mind-numbing to a general audience."

Fisher says the ClimatePalooza panelists won't be like that. "Any event with the word "palooza" has got to be fun, right?" he said. "Maybe I’ll have to bust out some juggling or something if it gets slow."

In contrast to the usual desperate gloom-and-doom mood of more formal conferences and climate change-related gatherings, the ClimatePalooza format is intended to pay homage to the more optimistic traditions of multi-stage cultural gatherings such as Lollapalooza.

ClimatePalooza will take place in three USC Annenberg locations: The Annenberg Auditorium (G26) and both of the school's lobbies. Check in for attendees is slated for the West Lobby, across from Heritage Hall. (The complete ClimatePalooza schedule is available here.)

The Auditorium will host a welcoming address and then three panel conversations with JPL scientists as well as USC and visiting experts. The first of those panels, about the science of climate change, includes JPL scientists Christopher Borstad, Fisher, Chip Miller and Jorge Vasquez. That quartet, respectively, study glaciers, water and carbon cycles, carbon in Artic reservoirs, and oceans and ice.

The second of the panels, "Scientists on the Ground," features Sarah Feakins, an assistant professor of Earth Science at USC Dornsife; J.T. Reager, a UC Irvine expert in global terrestrial water storage; and JPL's Stephanie Granger (western water resources) and Tom Painter (snow hydrology).

The third panel, about communication, climate and policy, features Bonnie Reiss, global director of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, part of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy. Representatives from the governor's office and the Sierra Club are expected to join Reiss on stage.

While the panels take place in the Annenberg Auditorium, over in the school's West Lobby JPL staff will demonstrate and discuss, "Eyes on the Earth: Vital Signs of the Planet," JPL's popular climate change data visualization web application. (Download the app here.)

And in the East Lobby, JPL oceanographer and climate scientist Bill Patzert will be available to speak informally with students and others. Patzert is the 2010 winner of the American Geophysical Union Athelstan Spilhaus Award for communicating science to the general public.

Also in the East Lobby, representatives of non-profit organizations will exhibit and explain how climate change affects the work they each do. Participants are scheduled to include the likes of: Heal the Bay, Aquarium of the Pacific, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, Orang Utan Republik Foundation, Theodore Payne Foundation, NOAA/NWS, Citizens Climate Lobby and the Sierra Club.

For those who can't physically attend, ClimatePalooza is also taking place online. In keeping with ESCI's focus, its members are hosting an ongoing conversation here centered around the discussion question: "How can climate scientists better communicate their work to the public?"

Early respondents include Bob Sipchen, communications director of the Sierra Club and a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Los Angles Times editor and columnist; and Jonathan Parfrey, executive director and founder of the Los Angeles-based organization, Climate Resolve.

And finally: USC undergraduate and graduate students are invited to participate in ClimatePalooza by offering for display their past or current research regarding climate change. Students interested in submitting a poster, paper, video, blueprint or other such material should visit this page by Jan. 21.

In addition to JPL and ESCI, ClimatePalooza 2013 is sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Teaching, the Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy and the USC Graduate Student Senate.

Jeremy Rosenberg is a member of the USC Annenberg Earth Science Communication Initiative. He has also written for the NASA Global Climate Change website.