CaféUSA Pours a Good Story During GEOWeek 2017


People seated at CaféUSA. Image Credit: Sanna Darwish

To many, the concept of an Earth observation is removed, something done by people in labs with expensive equipment. A U.S. team including members from NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Agency for International Development attended the GEO-XIV Plenary and attempted to show attendees that Earth observations affect people on a daily basis.

Amid several information booths on the floor of the 2017 plenary in Washington, D.C., the team set up a  “CaféUSA” with “impact” counters, networking tables, and learning tables. At the counters, an “observista” served up a story from a 23-item menu about how an Earth observation impacts daily life. All of the stories were meant to be a minute long, but still meaningful. The goal was to make Earth observations accessible and relatable to the general public.

“We wanted to tell the stories in a comfortable setting that people felt at ease in,” said John Bateman, an observista and contractor at NASA. “We thought about doing a house or a grocery store, but decided to do a cafe instead since it’s an international concept that many people recognize and feel comfortable in.”

The menu was split up into sections like “small bites” and “sweet finishes” and included bits of information about the nature of the Earth observation. Stories included the relevance of Earth observations to buying a home, ordering wine and using GPS.

John Bateman, an observista, stands at the impact counter. Image Credit: Sanna Darwish

For example, if one were to order the “Paddlefish Ceviche” from the menu, the observista would serve up a story about how a paddleboarder underestimated the ocean weather in Hawaii and ended up lost at sea. Through the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing Systems (PacIOOS), coast guards were able to use information about currents to determine where the paddleboarder most likely ended up. The paddleboarder was found within 12 hours and brought home.

Other aspects of the cafe related to the theme of telling stories, but in a different way. The networking tables were set up so that plenary attendees could complete the CaféUSA quiz on Earth science and observations. Winners of the quiz received a copy of the “Earth as Art,” a book which showcases the beauty of the Earth in images obtained from satellites. Although unplanned for, the casual feel of the cafe helped attendees talk to each other about the work they were doing. Breaking the barriers of traditional lecturer and listener learning was another goal for the U.S. team, which hopes to inspire others to make Earth observation information more available in their respective countries.

A final section of the cafe consisted of learning tables lined with video screens so that attendees could learn more how the U.S. is supporting Group on Earth Observations’ activities and tasks, as well as the full and open nature of Earth data in the U.S. Additionally, there were videos showcasing how international partnership in providing Earth data can lead to systems that benefit the world.

Together, the counters, networking and information tables made for a cafe that was buzzing with people and excitement. The U.S. team hopes to set up a website to complement the project. The goal is to show others how Earth data can keep people healthy and aid communities in managing resources.

Sanna Darwish is a student science writer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and a senior hearing and speech sciences major at the University of Maryland.