Response by Esteban Jobbágy
Over the past 2 decades we have learned that native vegetation replacement with annual crops in the extremely flat landscapes of the Pampas and Chaco in southern South America has pushed the system into a new hydrological state of shallower water tables and more frequent waterlogging and salt buildup in surface soils and waters. Following an “alternative state dynamics,” these plains engaged in positive feedbacks that reinforce flooding or drying depending on the fraction of the territory that is cultivated and the decision rules and options of farmers. Not only farming but also infrastructure and rural settlements are affected. Seen as a regional emergency, most actions so far have been focused on pure hydraulic solutions that ignore the overwhelming importance of land use and land cover in the generation of water excesses and floods. Conceptual models linking agronomy, ecology, and hydrology are crucial to guide any land use decisions and adaptative management aimed at controlling the flooding and salinization. A shared narrative of the process, problem, and likely solutions is crucial to progress in the science-policy link but is still missing.
This grant will help to fill this gap by supporting ongoing work that I initiated 2 years ago, including (i) coverage of the science of hydrological changes in national and provincial newspapers, (ii) production and release of short documentary films, and (iii) coproduction workshops with key stakeholders. The grant will be specifically used to fund travel costs for two meetings with policy makers at the state and province level from farming regions of the plains of Argentina and Paraguay that are currently subject to fast and very widespread flooding and salinization processes. The goal of the meetings is to develop a unified vision of what has so far been coined “the hydrological crisis of the plains.” Better narratives of the flooding and salinization processes that are taking place in several agricultural hot spots of the plains will be developed. Only when local communities acknowledge and understand problems can appropriable solutions emerge. An open presentation of the science and an honest treatment of its uncertainties are the necessary first step that this project takes.
—Esteban Jobbágy, Universidad Nacional de Sa Luis, San Luis, Argentina; also at Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, San Luis, Argentina
Response by Michael Wysession
I will be working with Washington University’s Institute for School Partnership (ISP) to support them in their revolutionary approach to bringing modern high-quality science to St. Louis regional elementary and middle schools. This nonprofit science program involves a complete curriculum of phenomenon-based scientific storylines designed from the ground up around the Next Generation Science Standards that is open source and available at cost to local Missouri schools. It is imperative that all American students, regardless of income, race, or other demographics, have access to high-quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, and this is where the ISP program is revolutionary.
The program is very inexpensive, to the point that over 250 elementary and middle schools in the St. Louis region (Missouri and Illinois) have now adopted it. Schools rent modular curricular “kits” for around $200/semester (largely to replace consumables). At four to five kits per grade, the entire cost of a school’s yearly science program is less than $1,000/grade. The ISP staff even drop off and pick up the kits. The program now has over 9,000 kits used by over 2,500 local K–8 teachers to reach over 100,000 St. Louis area students per year. However, the program runs on a shoestring budget, and this grant will make a positive impact on the continued development of the program.
I will be contributing to the program in a variety of pro bono advisory roles, particularly in the way of scientific professional development for St. Louis region K–12 science teachers, helping them to increase their understandings of the fundamental big ideas of science, new cutting-edge scientific discoveries, best practices in science education (particularly in phenomenon-based learning and the importance of developing engaging storylines of instruction), and the goals of the Next Generation Science Standards.
—Michael Wysession, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Mo.