Reflectance October 2021

Quick Updates, Environmental Data Science, Q&A with Ty Tuff

Persied Meteor Shower

Perseid Meteor Shower over West Virginia.

(Credit: NASA Image of the Day)

Quick Updates

  • Happy Birthday Earth Lab! This September, our group turned 6 years old. Since our founding in 2015, we have published 74 papers, with an additional 61 in the pipeline, and reached over 250 members of CU. Our EDS learning portal, with 303 open-access tutorials, is visited by >200,000 unique visitors a month. Our work is reaching increasingly broad audiences -- we are excited to see what the next six years will bring!
  • This October marks the two-year anniversary of the first NEON Science Summit, hosted by Earth Lab in 2019. A special issue in Ecosphere with work started at the Summit is set to release by the end of the year, including the lead paper, headed by Chelsea Nagy, Jennifer Balch, and 118 Summit Participants.
    • Harnessing the NEON Data Revolution (Nagy et al., in press)
Bird Perching

What is Environmental Data Science?

This is a collaborative piece by several of Earth Lab's staff and affiliates, including Natasha Stavros, Jennifer Balch, Claire Monteleoni, Chelsea Nagy, Virginia Iglesias, and Elizabeth Woolner.


In an age of big data, widespread environmental change, and buzzwords like “machine learning” and “artificial intelligence”, you may be left wondering - what is environmental data science?


Earth Lab is at the frontier of environmental data science (EDS) in the information age. We define EDS as the integration of data sciences with environmental sciences through the use of big data and analytics to advance knowledge of the dynamics of the Earth system, towards actionable insights and tools. EDS is an emergent discipline from convergent research across a broad swath of fields including natural and social sciences (e.g., ecology, geography, atmospheric science,and sociology) that explore human-environment systems using cutting-edge data science (e.g., computer science, information science, mathematics, econometrics). EDS is a rapidly evolving field that would benefit from a community-driven agenda to identify key research priorities.


Our vision is that new discoveries in open and inclusive EDS provide a pathway to greater planetary and societal resilience—urgently needed as natural disasters increase and vulnerable communities are disproportionately affected by global environmental change. Similarly, open science and open education that engage diverse communities aiming to enhance equity, inclusivity, and access will advance a decadal research agenda for EDS that identifies transformative science themes and urgent global environmental challenges at the intersection of novel data combinations (Opportunity 1) and powerful AI-informed analytics (Opportunity 2). We’ve identified five emerging themes that align with EDS principles and are vital for combating environmental problems:


  • Continental Scale Ecology
  • AI for Earth
  • Environmental justice and equity in the era of big data
  • Adapting to our changing world: from predictions to resilience pathways
  • Creating a digital model (or “twin”) of the Earth


We believe an EDS community should connect a diversity of perspectives that will yield radically new environmental data science that we desperately need to foster resilience in our changing world. To learn more about the latest research in this area, check out the new journal Environmental Data Science, founded by Dr. Claire Monteleoni.

Ty Tuff Headshot
Ty and Baby

Meet Earth Lab's New Data Scientist

Ty Tuff


Where did you work before coming here and what did you do?

I’ve spent the last three years in Montreal working with the McGill Sustainable System Initiative to design green corridors for future cities. I completed all of my graduate work in CU’s EBIO department.


What interested you about working for Earth lab?

Earth Lab has done an amazing job of exchanging ideas and developing new science that helps advance global sustainability goals. I love the way Earth Lab leverages open data and promotes open scientific methods.


What are you most looking forward to in your new position?

Working with new people to answer new questions…and using really big computers. I have found this to be a wonderfully creative space with a very friendly population of brilliant scientists.


What are some of your hobbies or interests?

I have two daughters under the age of 5. I ride bikes with them, I take them to amazing places. Before children, I focused much of my time on individual sports and I am a tech enthusiast and hobby brewer.


What is your favorite animal/plant and why?

I love birds, usually weird ones. Birds fascinate me because they share the same geographic space as humans but they use that space in completely different ways.

Field Work Summer 2021

A Return to Fieldwork

Post-Doc Nayani Ilangakoon and Data Scientist Ty Tuff conducted a series of field visits this summer to collect drone images and vegetation measurements. The goal of the project is to advance our understanding of how forest ecosystem resilience and carbon storage responds to interacting disturbances and climate change.

We are thrilled to be back in the field!


3 Sites (Coldspring Fire, Niwot Ridge, Table Mountain)

13 days (7/5 - 9/23)

13 volunteers