ZOOMing into the Age of Digital Collaborations

Contributed by Bart van Osnabrugge, Antara Dasgupta, Louise Arnal, Rebecca Emerton and Shaun Harrigan

Are physical meetings strictly necessary to foster effective collaborations? 

The Context

Hearing the laments about online conferences, limited interactions and zoom fatigue, it seems easy to go with the answer “yes they are”. Yes, meeting in person is fun and makes connecting a lot easier. There is no rivalling going out for dinner or partying after a full day of presentations.

However, the virtual world also offers new opportunities for connecting. This is a story about how a group of early career scientists and young professionals came together online to collaborate on writing a review paper.

The Call-to-Action

It all started with the Joint Virtual Workshop, “Connecting global to local hydrological modelling and forecasting: challenges and scientific advances”, held from 29 June to 1 July 2021. It was co-organized by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the Copernicus Emergency Management (CEMS) and Climate Change (C3S) Services, the Hydrological Ensemble Prediction EXperiment (HEPEX), and the Global Flood Partnership (GFP). This workshop was attended by an amalgam of scientists, disaster managers and stakeholders operating at the local, national, continental and global scales, with vibrant keynotes leading to rich scientific discussions. At this workshop, Rebecca Emerton, Shaun Harrigan and Louise Arnal co-organized an informal catch-up meeting of a new early-career initiative: Early Career HEPEX (EC-HEPEX), following its kick-off in May 2021. As a result, the new EC-HEPEX group was invited by the workshop organisers to write a review paper about it. Over the next few months, 10 EC-HEPEX scientists from a diverse community (see Fig. 1 below) responded to this call to action and collaborated with more established scientists and professionals to produce the manuscript.

Figure 1. A snapshot of the geographical distribution of the highly diverse EC-HEPEX community. [Source]

The Paper

The manuscript followed the workshop structure and was sub-divided into five key themes, addressing various aspects of hydrological modelling and forecasting: 

  • Forecasting and uncertainty
  • Co-production and incorporating local knowledge
  • Earth Observations and data assimilation
  • Hydrological model development
  • Applications and decision-making

The following conclusions are drawn (see Fig. 2):

  1. Operationalising the Science: The hydrological community is working actively to operationalise the science and produce cutting-edge forecasts. This is well-aligned with the long-term goals of the WMO Strategic Plan (2020-2023) to improve global resilience to water extremes.
  2. (Forecast) Communication is Key: Helping decision-makers and end-users interpret forecasts is key in preventing impacts on the ground. Using creative methods such as serious games and art can foster a better engagement with forecast users and help to effectively communicate complex concepts such as forecast uncertainty.
  3. Users as the First Mile: Co-production and co-designing forecasting systems with diverse local user groups is necessary to ensure that the forecasts are useful on the ground.
  4. Data, data, everywhere: The rise of Earth Observations and big data processing architecture provide an opportunity to improve current prediction systems and to investigate scale-relevant hydrological processes. Incorporating domain expertise and making training data/models available to the community by following FAIR principles could accelerate the pace of advances in the field.
  5. Beyond hydrological forecasts: Minimising damages from water extremes requires an understanding of expected socioeconomic impacts through impact-based forecasting.
  6. Timing is everything: Anticipatory action triggered by impact forecasts is a way forward to effectively mitigating disaster risk. Further research on adapting global forecasting services for local anticipatory action is necessary.
  7. Unified earth system modelling: As compound disasters become the new normal in a changing climate, understanding their co-occurrence and predicting their coupled impacts is crucial. This highlights the need for interdisciplinary collaboration.

We expect that the new digital collaboration possibilities (made more prominent during the global pandemic) will enable reaching these goals more rapidly in the future and hopefully foster a stronger societal resilience worldwide.

Figure 2: Conceptual diagram linking the key conclusions from our paper with the Workshop themes in the context of Earth system modelling and predictions for weather/climate/hydrological services.

What’s Next?

What is next you ask? We are looking forward to continuing to collaborate on projects in the future. The limits of cooperation used to be governed somewhat by the availability of travel funds. This disproportionately affected young scientists working out of developing countries. In the new more inclusive scientific community we hope to foster, the new limit is only the bandwidth of your internet connection, which is only a small step down from the limit of your imagination.

If any of the above sparks your creative spirit, please feel free to give our labour of love a read! We also welcome you to join the vibrant EC-HEPEX Community on Slack (note: link expires 18 Feb 2023, request a new one from any of the authors on the paper)!  


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