IEEE Earthzine: 10 Years of Science Communication, Community and Hope

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In this annual series, IEEE Earthzine staff and guest contributors offer short essays on their sources of hope and inspiration in the face of widespread global change. With 2017 marking Earthzine’s 10th anniversary, the series takes on added meaning for all of us.

Each December, we gather a collection of essays about what keeps us going as writers, science communicators, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) professionals. Given the challenges humans pose and face, this isn’t always an easy task. This year, IEEE Earthzine celebrates 10 years of connecting our audience to the latest in Earth observation news and research.  We think we have a great deal to be hopeful about and we’re excited for what lies ahead.

Here’s what our team had to say about Earthzine’s 10th anniversary:

Reflecting with Gratitude

By Paul Racette

new earthzine design

A sneak peek at the newly redesigned IEEE Earthzine website, which is rolling out soon.

Ten years ago, IEEE Earthzine embarked on a mission to support the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and promote the benefits of Earth observation and the use of Earth information in support of decisions. Since our first article, an interview with Admiral Lautenbacher, we have published approximately 1,400 original articles that span a broad range of applications of Earth information and technologies. As the editor-in-chief during these 10 years, I couldn’t be more proud of Earthzine’s accomplishments and appreciative of Earthzine’s staff, the support of IEEE and NASA, the many contributors and volunteers and our sponsors who have made it all possible.

Reaching and engaging a diverse audience are essential to advancing the value of Earth observations and the applications of Earth information in people’s daily lives. Our aim is to publish articles that are informative for the expert yet accessible to the non-specialist. We have strived to incorporate the arts, include the voice of indigenous peoples, and promote equitable representation within the sciences throughout all we publish. These goals haven’t always been easy; we’ve spent hours debating and defining our target audience, the appropriate level of technical content and the scope of topics to include in our published articles. This discussion continues today as we prepare to launch a newly redesigned website and adopt a new software system to manage our editorial process. One objective is steadfast: Earthzine’s policy is to publish content that is respectful and tolerant in a way that cultivates constructive discourse about the pressing issues of our times.

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Editor-in-Chief Paul Racette during his September 2017 trip to Alaska.

When we first began publishing, I didn’t foresee the important role that capacity building for science communication would be for Earthzine. Over the years, Earthzine staff and volunteers have mentored student interns, organized essay writing competitions and developed a writing fellowship and training program. Through these and other efforts we’ve established a network of volunteer writers that continues to grow. Earthzine staff and volunteer editors regularly work with students and young professionals to improve their writing, in addition to working with expert professionals to write in a way that effectively reaches a non-specialist audience. The lives that we’ve touched and careers that we’ve influenced are part of IEEE Earthzine’s lasting legacy.

A guiding philosophy that inspires my involvement in Earthzine is that observation is intrinsically linked to awareness. By observing our environment we become aware of society’s influence on Earth. It’s this awareness that allows us to take steps to respond to the challenges humanity faces and adapt to environmental change. One small way that we strive to increase environmental awareness is to distribute newsletters in cadence with the lunar cycle.

Two factors have been influential in shaping my perspective of the role and potential for Earth observations. The wisdom in structuring the work of GEO around societal benefits is impressive. While much of GEO’s work can be abstract, (e.g., establishing data brokers, defining protocols for interoperability, etc.) the emphasis on societal benefit has sustained and amplified the impact of GEO’s work. I try to mirror the emphasis on societal benefit in my professional and personal development.

The second factor comes from IEEE Earthzine’s partnership with NASA DEVELOP.  The hundreds of NASA DEVELOP projects featured in Earthzine have deepened my appreciation for the wide variety of applications for Earth information. It’s through the prism of these factors that I see a future where instrument and Earth information systems are increasingly deployed for their societal utility (e.g., food security, water resource management, disaster response) rather than to address scientific inquiry.

The technical challenges of adapting to a changing environment are surmountable. However, what Lautenbacher said 10 years ago remains true today, “The human and the political dimensions are the most difficult.” While there may always be setbacks due to competing agendas, the nearly unanimous multilateral consensus for decisive climate action that stems from the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Accord and the recent 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 23) is a huge step forward and great reason to have hope.  The past 10 years have given those of us at Earthzine much reason to hope, and to be hopeful as we look forward to the next 10 years of fostering Earth observation and global awareness.

I am fortunate to have many great blessings in my life: my two daughters, a loving family, good friends, an interesting and challenging job, a nice home. I consider Earthzine among my best blessings. While managing Earthzine is often challenging and at times takes more attention than I’d prefer to give, the experiences and friendships I’ve developed have been a source of personal growth, happiness, and feeling of satisfaction that comes from giving back to society. I believe that the past 10 years of publishing have made positive impact on our planet. For that, I’m very grateful.

To all those who have helped along the way—Earthzine staff, volunteers, and many contributors—thank you.

IEEE Earthzine has benefited from the support of many sponsors over the years including: NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), IEEE, Oceanic Engineering Society (OES), government of South Africa, government of Japan, European Space Agency, EUROGEOSS, Northrop Grumman Corp., XPRIZE, Esri, and individual donors. Thank you. Without the generous support of our sponsors, we wouldn’t be able to publish.

Finally, I would like to thank YOU, the IEEE Earthzine reader. After all, it’s all about you!

Paul Racette is Earthzine’s Editor-in-Chief. Follow him on Twitter @PaulERacette


By Jeff Kart

jeff kart earthzine managing editor

I never used to pay much attention to the moon.

Sure, I noticed when it was full and the night sky was a little brighter than usual. It wasn’t until something called Earthzine, however, that I really took an interest.

If memory serves, it was late 2010 and I had recently left the field of journalism after about 20 years, the last several as an environmental reporter. I was working as a communications consultant, and out in Washington, D.C., when Earthzine Editor-in-Chief Paul Racette called me.

I had applied for the managing editor’s job, and of course, the rest is history.

But back to the moon. Earthzine sends out a couple of newsletters every month, on the New Moon to contributors and on the Full Moon to subscribers. For that reason, I now have a Phases of the Moon calendar taped to the wall next to my desk.

We send out these “moonletters” to call attention to the influence that the moon has upon the Earth, from tides to climate. And to call attention to the articles we publish.

Earthzine’s influence on me has been one of awareness and appreciation. Sure, when I first talked to Paul I told him about my familiarity with satellite instruments like MODIS, which helps monitor the Great Lakes.

MODIS stands for Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, by the way. At Earthzine, we aim to spell out what acronyms like MODIS mean, and spell out the beneficial impacts of Earth observation, and work done above the land and on-the-ground.

I’ve found in my years as managing editor that Earth observation is about more than electronics, even though it’s supported by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). Earth observation is about community. It’s a worldwide community of people who spend their lives developing better ways to examine and study and come up with solutions to issues like algal blooms in the Great Lakes (like where I live, near Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay). It’s a community of organizations that support this research and development. And it’s a community of readers.

During my time here, Earthzine has grown from a small online site with a skeleton crew of staffers and volunteers to a larger network of staffers, volunteers, regular contributors, guest editors and advisers. Happy Anniversary.

Jeff Kart is managing editor of IEEE Earthzine. Follow him on Twitter @jeffkart.

The Intern

By Sanna Darwish


Sanna Darwish during initial NASA facility tour. Image Credit: Yasmin Alamin

The day I got the call about the NASA internship offer, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was my dream to be a writer and an even bigger dream to work at NASA.

Initially, my family and friends were surprised to hear that my internship actually required me to write for IEEE Earthzine. To them, it seemed like a restriction to focus on the Earth. Explaining to them all that Earth has to offer, not just on the planet, but also in relation to the rest of the universe as we know it, helped me realize my passion to communicate science about our magnificent planet.

Through my internship, I’ve developed a lot as a writer. I’ve learned how to approach a subject I don’t know much about and how to make my writing clearer and more effective. I have a much better understanding of the editorial process. The internship has allowed me to learn so much from so many scientists and people who are passionate about science. Writing is a process, and I feel incredibly honored to be learning as much as I am from the entire team. I know that the knowledge and skills that I gain from this internship will serve me well, no matter what I decide to do.

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.

The Story Finds You

By Dani Leviss


Visiting the American Writers Museum in Chicago, Dani Leviss tries typing on an antique typewriter. Image Credit: Dani Leviss

I first learned about IEEE Earthzine when I was a senior in college looking for science writing opportunities post-graduation. I read about their Writing Fellowship and instantly knew I needed this program. As a chemistry major, I had scientific understanding, and as a writer and editor for the campus newspaper, I had plenty of journalism experience, but I wanted to learn how to put the two together. I applied and later received what would be the first of many emails with Writing Fellowship Coordinator Jenny Woodman, my invaluable mentor Elise Osenga, and other wonderful members of the Earthzine staff. Every single exchange I’ve had with staff members has been constructive and positive, and I learn so much with every conversation.

The Writing Fellowship was everything I hoped for and more. I learned the research, brainstorming, interviewing, writing, and revising for science writing alongside fellow newbie science writers. One of the most important things I’ve learned writing for IEEE Earthzine is that often you don’t find the story, but the story finds you. I start off thinking I know where a story will lead and how I’ll craft the narrative to lead readers to main points, but then an interviewee says something off hand that leads to a new story angle I had no idea existed when I first started researching. The Earthzine staff completely embraces these unexpected discoveries and pushes their writers to uncover them.

Dani Leviss is a volunteer writer for IEEE Earthzine. She has a bachelor’s in chemistry from Drew University with minors in writing and art.

A Volunteer Transformed


Elise Osenga covering GEO XII in Mexico City for Earthzine in 2015. Image Credit: Osha Gray Davidson

By Elise Mulder Osenga

In 2010, I joined IEEE Earthzine’s team as a volunteer writer. Over the years, the Earthzine team has pushed its writers to expand their skills in parallel with its own growth. Personally, I have seen my capacity as a writer expand: honing skills in response to feedback from different team members and aiming to become more concise and fluid in my narratives, and more story-driven in my approach to content.

In 2013, I moved from volunteer status to an official member of the staff. I took on management of our volunteer writers. These committed, engaging, and talented folks are critical in helping to provide coverage of a wide spectrum of Earth observation happenings.

As IEEE Earthzine continues to grow, volunteers will remain an essential part of that progress, and exploring how best to support them in their own learning trajectories will continue to be vital to our publication’s success.  My own learning process still continues as well, as both the Earthzine team and the stories push me to consider how I can better capture the complex and inspirational stories that represent our human endeavor to understand the Earth.

Elise Mulder Osenga is IEEE Earthzine’s senior science writer. You can follow her on Twitter @mountain_lark.

Seeing with New Eyes

By Erica Spain


During her master’s work, Erica traveled aboard the RV Investigator to Heard and McDonald islands. Image Credit: Pete Harmsen

As a first-year Ph.D. student, I joined the Earthzine Writing Fellowship in 2017 for the chance to combine my love of the deep ocean with something new: science communication.

Interviewing scientists and engineers gave me a view from the other side, as a spectator rather than a scientist. It allowed me to delve into other fields, and fully grasp the groundbreaking science and complex engineering feats occurring all over the world.

I’m continuing this exploration as a volunteer writer for Earthzine, learning skills, which now enhance and support my Ph.D.: clear, effective writing and the daunting, but exhilarating, art of the interview.

Erica Spain is a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies in Hobart, Australia, and a volunteer contributor to Earthzine. She’s using AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles) to explore extreme environments in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. Follow her on Twitter @xSmerica.

Oceans of Change

By Jenny Woodman


In 2017, Woodman served as a science communication fellow on board the Exploration Vessel Nautilus. Image Credit: Jenny Woodman

Since joining the team in 2014, I’ve focused my efforts on ocean health and technology. In the beginning this task was daunting. My first stories about the ways human activities were impacting our planet’s life support system were depressing. I felt as if I was writing obituaries for the planet and for us all.

Over time, I looked to existing research on science communication and how people process information about climate change and risk. As a result, I strive to be a storyteller who weaves hope into my writing, because without hope there is no reason to act.

I’m grateful for the chance to work for a publication that gave me the freedom to stretch and find my way: here’s to 10 more years!

Jenny Woodman is a science writer and editor for IEEE Earthzine; she also serves as coordinator of our Writing Fellowship. Follow her on Twitter @JennyWoodman.

A particular contribution of Earthzine is the Writing Fellowship. I am convinced that the writing fellows develop an eye for engaging communication during the fellowship and that this investment in communicators of the future is worthwhile for the Earth science discipline. – Barbara Hofer, Associate Education Editor

Different Perspectives

By Annie Dye and Nelson Robby

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Annie and Nelson have been collaborating with Earthzine since 2012. Image Credit: Carolina Rojas

With the simple idea of promoting more authentic reading experiences of science texts in the school where we work, we contacted Earthzine in 2011 to ask Paul Racette, editor-in-chief, to suggest some reading about Earth observation and then chat with high school physics students during a long-distance video conference. That request turned into six years of students working in groups researching Societal Benefit Areas, learning to find and understand satellite images, and connecting with international experts to produce posters that have been selected for publication on Earthzine.

This has been an exciting project for the students – and for us – at St. George’s School in Bogotá, Colombia, as they seek to connect with the international scientific community and begin to discover academic and professional possibilities related to science professions around the world. We also have realized the necessity for students to connect to and reflect on changes taking place on Earth, to awaken their awareness about the ecology around them, and to explore their world through a lens like the Societal Benefit Areas.

In addition, in 2017, for the first time, posters and abstracts were published on Earthzine in both English and Spanish, giving those selected students a bilingual publishing experience, and creating more connections with Earthzine from South America.

Nelson Robby is a high school physics teacher at St. George’s School. He also created and led an aerospace club with a group of students in 2016-2017 in which students designed, programmed, built and launched a cubesat from the soccer field to take climate measurements at the school.

Annie Dye is the Cambridge International Coordinator at St. George’s School. Dye and Robby work together on the annual Earthzine poster project, “Earth Observation: Science from Another Perspective.”

Connections Everywhere

By Kelley Christensen


Kelley Christensen and Elise Mulder Osenga at the 2017 GEO XIV Plenary.

I joined the IEEE Earthzine team in 2015. I was finishing a master’s degree in technical communications and knew that while I loved science writing, I didn’t want to return to traditional newspaper journalism. To me, Earthzine represents the best of science journalism today—the publication’s staff, volunteers and readers have a passion for science, the planet and Earth observations, and understand that in order for scientific discovery to matter, it has to shared.

Humans are storytellers and we understand our world through stories. Sharing stories of science gets me out of bed in the morning because like so many people who work in science-related fields, we are always on the lookout for opportunities for wonder. We are the lucky ones, those of us who realize the beauty of world each day, and know that despite the challenges we have so much to give us hope.

It’s said most modern humans interact with a satellite more than 30 times a day. I’ve been amazed numerous times in the past year when a topic from an interview I’ve conducted, an article I’ve edited or a conference I’ve attended has manifested itself in my everyday life. Earth observations touch our lives daily whether we realize it or not.

I’ve gained so much from my experience so far at Earthzine, and I hope this publication has impacted your life in a positive way too.

Kelley Christensen is a science editor for IEEE Earthzine. Follow her on Twitter @kjhchristensen.