Katie Pratt (of DCO’s Engagement Team) and Darlene Trew Crist (manager of Synthesis Group 2019) sat down with Claude Jaupart (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, France) on Skype to talk about the mission of Task Force 2020 and plans to achieve an evolution of DCO beyond 2019. The following is an excerpt of that conversation. A report on the workshops discussed below is available here.
Could you tell us what TF2020 hopes to accomplish by the end of 2019?
We have three main tasks that we’d like to achieve. The community of scientists around the globe is probably the strongest and most significant legacy of the DCO, and we want to make sure we keep it alive. That’s the main task, and the first and foremost thing we have on our mind.
The second task is to secure all of DCO’s legacies. DCO has accomplished many things since 2009, and some of these are tangible products that have to be stored and made available to the community well beyond its decade of support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
The third task is to outline a few avenues for the future. These will be oriented or organized around things that have not been done so far, or areas of research, which need more detailed or interdisciplinary attention. Our goal is to identify avenues that will clearly carry deep carbon science forward into the next decade. Our hope is that through developing these exciting ideas it will be easy, or at least, stimulating, to write successful proposals to keep the field of deep carbon science going.
It must be made clear that we, Task Force 2020, are not here to make decisions or choose the future direction for the DCO community. We are supposed to develop good ideas and offer good solutions, but wherever possible, provide multiple solutions for each path forward so that others can choose how to proceed. The more possibilities we outline, the clearer it becomes that DCO/deep carbon science has a bright future ahead of it.
Who makes up TF2020?
We wanted a mix of experienced and early career scientists—the experienced scientists because they are grounded in structures that can help make things happen and young scientists who are emerging leaders in new fields. And some members of the team were chosen to address different topics. For example, geodynamics is something that hasn’t been pushed enough in DCO, so we chose a geodynamicist. Likewise, we also chose several biologists, to improve the integration of biology in DCO activities and research. The idea was to fill missing gaps and give these disciplines a more central role as DCO moves into a new phase.
What’s TF2020 doing to ensure that databases and sample repositories are accessible in 2020 and beyond?
There are three types of dataset issues we considered at a recent workshop (Firenze, Italy, 19-20 April 2017). The first we identified deals with all the data deposited in stable systems. The legacy of these data is already protected, so we don’t need to do anything to address these datasets. The second are orphan datasets, datasets we know, or suspect, exist, but are not located or hosted on accessible systems. While we have identified some of these “orphans,” we need to make a complete list so we know where they are and what to do with them. And the third challenge is that many datasets don’t have the required metadata. That is something we definitely need to improve, to make sure people think about metadata. Metadata make datasets so much more valuable to a broad range of scientists, since one person’s metadata is another person’s data. Without complete metadata, only one research community is served by a given dataset, which is not good for a multi-disciplinary program.
Similarly, what are your plans for maintaining DCO-developed instrumentation and software for future use beyond 2019?
Software is rarely a problem because institutions usually host it. Our challenge is to develop a structure for making sure people know that various software packages exist and how they can access them. For instrumentation, our focus is not on maintaining existing instrumentation, but on finding ways to improve these instruments and evolve the technology. One way to achieve this is by actively pursuing cooperative relationships with manufacturers since they share an interest in improving existing instrumentation.
What are some of the ideas you are discussing to fund a future deep carbon science program, regardless of how it evolves?
Well funding is never easily resolved, but we think there are several solutions, particularly at intermediate levels, such as within the European Union. To pursue international programs similar to the DCO, we are considering large foundations. We have many ideas for matching interdisciplinary programs based in deep carbon science to fit with the specific focus of large foundations.
There has been much discussion about whether we should shoot for a small number of very large-scale programs or a bigger number of smaller ones. From our experience, big programs are usually built from smaller ones coalescing, so it’s perhaps more sensible to start with smaller or intermediate scale programs. But starting out, it is important to make sure that all the pieces you want to coalesce in the end are there at the beginning. Also at the top of our mind is finding ways to have young scientists on board and finding ways to train them, for they will carry deep carbon science forward.
TF 2020 also has tackled modeling. Can you bring us up to date on how that will play into deep carbon science beyond 2019?
The big problem in every natural science is how to upscale things. How do you take the observation you make of something on a small scale and project it onto a larger scale? This is true for biology, for geology, and for both biology and geology together. Our second workshop (Moscow, Russia, 24-26 May 2017) focused on this challenge. What we concluded is that geodynamics is opening a way to bridge the gap between biologists and geologists. Geodynamics can help both disciplines answer questions because we’re not only interested in the carbon cycle for figuring out the quantity of carbon, we’re also interested in finding out the ways and in which form carbon was made available for plants and animals and other species over geological time.
For example, it’s quite clear that subduction plays a role in the carbon cycle, but we don’t know when in Earth’s history it started. It’s a simple question, but if we can’t agree on the answer we won’t be able to make much progress. Volcanic systems in themselves are also very important to the overall carbon cycle. DCO has done a great deal of research regarding degassing, but there’s also a lot going on below the surface of interest to biologists, as well. Again, the importance of proper metadata is key to successful modeling and we need to pay attention to this issue now to ensure the future success of deep carbon science.
Your third and final workshop scheduled for September will focus on Early Career Scientists. What do you hope to accomplish there?
We want to help new leaders step forward, and that’s what we are aiming at. We want to promote multi-disciplinary and international science, and this can only be done with people who want to push that forward. And we want to find out who might be willing to do that. This workshop is going to take the form of directed brainstorming, with discussion about the many exciting opportunities for big science. The future of science is multi-disciplinary and will be taken up by the younger scientists amongst us. The risk is that after DCO, scientists will retreat to their own comfort zone. TF2020 wants to help them avoid this by convincing them that the future of deep carbon science involves looking at questions through a multi-disciplinary lens.
How can scientists get involved in the work of TF 2020?
TF2020 is part and parcel of the deep carbon community, and is supposed to act as a facilitator and an incubator for new deep carbon programs. We welcome everyone’s ideas and input regarding the future direction of deep carbon science. That’s why we surveyed the entire DCO Science Network late last year and learned that more than half of the respondents want to remain involved beyond 2019. We encourage members of the network to share with us their thoughts, and let us know how, and if, they’d like to become involved in charting a way forward beyond 2019.
Download detailed reports from the TF2020 workshops here.
Note: These workshop reports have been seen, amended, and vetted by Task Force 2020 Committee Members, but also are out for review by all workshop attendees. The final reports, including any further changes, will be included in TF2020's global analysis.