Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dr. Lillian Na’ai Alessa Speaks on Water, Technology, and Sustainability

As part of the course requirements for FOR797, students share responsibility for reporting on the WiSE Professions Speaker Series.  The following was prepared by Emily Handelman, Dana Burke, and Elysa Smigielski.
Dr. Alessa brought humans to the forefront in her discussion on water and technology on Tuesday, April 17, 2012, where she not only brought powerful ideas on sustainability but also enthusiasm and dry wit that kept the audience engaged and enlightened.
            Dr. Alessa works within the framework of Social Ecological Systems, a concept noting that humans exist within a biophysical environment. Humans, she said, are the drivers of land use change and have kept sustainability in an ivory tower, but also possess the power to work with and adapt to the changing environment. Her talk centered around the concept of adaptation and its use in addressing the problem of climate change.  In particular, she framed her discussion around the use of place based knowledge, the use of humans as environmental sensors, and the use of technology as a tool, rather than the means to an end.   Technology, she said, cannot be engineered to apply everywhere.  Thus, by relying on our human sensors – our expert observers and note-takers of places in which they live – researchers and scientists can better use this place based knowledge in developing solutions and policies.  
Alessa’s talk concluded with a discussion of some of the tools she and her team have developed in order to document and analyze placed based knowledge. In particular, she explained a software program called Architecture for Integrated and Dynamic Data Analysis (AIDA) that collects social data information in order to map social values across the landscape. She noted that AIDA is in essence a social networking tool for information.
Dr. Lilian Na’ia Alessa is the Director of the Resilience and Adaptive Management Group at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. Dr. Alessa received her B.S. in general biology and her Ph.D. in cell biology from the University of British Columbia. She has also served on the board of the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States. This talk was a joint presentation of  SUNY ESF’s Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Seminar Series and the Cross-Disciplinary Seminar in Hydrology and Biogeochemical Processes.   The seminar was sponsored by the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, the Graduate Student Association, and the ESF Women’s Caucus.

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