Environmental Science

Environment, Predictions and Climate Change:
Co-producing Governance of Dust Critical Events and Expertise

Prediction in the environmental sciences has been identified predominantly with atmospheric movements, weather forecasting and climate change. The challenge in weather predictions emerged from interactions of nested and interconnected systems: the atmosphere, the oceans, the cryosphere, the earth surface and the biosphere (Nebeker 1995; Fleming 2005; 2016; Harper 2012; Edwards 2010; Heymann et al., 2017). Complexity, as an endemic characteristic of the contemporary practice of researchers and modelers, increased uncertainty in predictions, while at the same time triggered tensions among practitioners of different epistemic communities with diverse epistemological priorities (Edwards, 2010).    A cluster of extreme meteorological phenomena with particular importance for the geographic area of the Mediterranean is the Sand and Dust Storms (SDS). These phenomena play a significant role in environmental science and represent a serious hazard for life, health, property, environment and economy. Dust storms in the region of the Mediterranean are events of transnational and international interest. Since the 1980s it has been acknowledged by physicists, geoscientists, environmental scientists and policy makers that understanding, managing and mitigating SDS risks require cross-disciplinary knowledge.

This work-package of PYTHIA will focus on the coproduction of SDS predictions and regimes of accuracy and credibility for the Mediterranean since the 1980s, where competing computing models and numerical predictions acquired legitimacy within different networks of end-users, with diverse and sometimes conflicting interests and priorities. The social groups that configured the meanings of predictions and played a substantial role in the epistemological and social legitimization of computing models were comprised of private companies, public authorities, national governments and transnational entities like the EU. The research on the predictions and the modeling in Dust phenomena will be based on the study of the largest research network of institutions, laboratories and scientific stations that study dust phenomena all over the world. The In-Dust research network that is led by the research team of the Supercomputing centre in Barcelona is the longest-running European framework supporting trans-national cooperation among researchers, engineers and scholars across Europe.  The study will focus on the way that research networks organize their data and their observations (from both ground-based and satellite platforms) in such way in order to effect better understanding of the phenomena as well as better suit to the needs of the end-user. Emphasis will be given on the credibility and trustworthiness of the variety of data used in monitoring and forecating dust. This is related and will be studied the issue of the credibility of measurements from ground stations versus those mounted on satellites. Furthermore, the case will study the way that models on Dust function as governance tools and as a tool on which decisions are taken in managing the uncertainty of the prediction of critical events. Since the 1980s the theories and the modeling methodologies have been influenced by parameters introduced by the climate change both at global and local context. Climate change adds in the complexity of the phenomena mostly in the area of modeling and the computation of the circulation of dust in atmosphere. The study is researching the interaction between climate change science and modeling with the dust scientific community. The issue at stake is to understand the circulation of knowledge and the interaction of two epistemic communities and the way the existing and used tools, and methodologies are co-shaped in the context of concerns about critical dust events. Finally, the study will unravel the way that atmospheric science and relevant knowledge and technologies over critical dust events has been transformed/translated to policy relevant knowledge, infrastructures and a civic epistemology that valued knowledge and assessed models in the context of social and economic impact as well as of the urgency of the situation in taking measures for the public health and the local economy. In this context the study explores the way that epistemic communities use research infrastructures and enhance cooperation with institutions from near neighbouring and international partner countries, in Northern Africa and the Middle East to involve them in the European-driven climate change science and mitigation/adaptation strategies.