Penn State Researchers Lead AGU’s Natural Hazards Section

Pennsylvania State University

As Guido Cervone takes the reins as president of the natural hazards section of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) he brings with him decades of experience in using machine learning, remote sensing and increasing representation to forecast, respond and mitigate dangers from natural hazards.

Cervone, who is the E. Willard and Ruby S. Miller Professor of Geography, Meteorology and Atmospheric Science and associate director of the Institute for Computational and Data Sciences (ICDS), assumed the two-year post in 2023, after beginning a term as president-elect in 2021.

Cervone is among a trio of Penn State faculty members elected to the section. He is joined by Christelle Wauthier, associate professor of geosciences, selected as president-elect and Carolynne Hultquist, adjunct instructor in the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, selected as secretary.

Cervone’s background is in computational science and remote sensing. He directs the Geoinformatics and Earth Observation Laboratory in the Department of Geography, which takes computational approaches to make better use of data from everything from satellites to social media so that we can better understand and respond to environmental hazards.

Cervone aims to make a difference in a few areas. The goal of the natural hazards section is to promote interdisciplinary research about hazards and disasters which cross the boundaries of individual sections. He wants to increase the footprint of the section by stressing the importance of studying hazards, and by engaging with domain and computational scientists within the AGU’s annual fall meeting, which brings in about 23,000 of the world’s top experts. It’s the largest collection of Earth and planetary scientists on the planet. He is also committed to continuing the past president’s effort to increase engagement with underrepresented individuals in the field. Elected section members like Cervone form a council that helps organize the fall meeting.

“Being on the council is quite important, because you can influence and really see all the moving parts that are often behind the scenes for scientists,” Cervone said. “You’re privy to discussions about Congressional funding, research priorities, and interagency and international collaborations.”

Cervone’s tenure comes at a time when natural hazards like flooding, droughts and wildfires are increasing, a trend that’s predicted to worsen, Cervone said.

“Natural hazards really pose a threat to our civilization like never before,” Cervone said. “This includes the loss of life, infrastructure and property, landmarks and the economy. It also has global security implications.”

But our tools for mitigating these dangers are also increasing, Cervone said.

“The College of Earth and Mineral Sciences is well positioned to tackle research related to natural disasters with our relevant departments,” Cervone said. “We have a central footprint in this research, a collaborative approach to research and also the essential computational facilities at ICDS.”

Wauthier, who uses remote and ground-based observations to detect hazards such as volcanoes, earthquakes and landslides, said as president-elect she’s honored to work with Cervone before taking the reins herself. She praised Penn State’s faculty expertise in hazards.

“The faculty in our College of EMS have strong expertise, funding and publication records in natural hazard science including volcanoes, earthquake, landslide, climate change and flooding,” Wauthier said. “Even though we are in one of the safest places regarding natural hazards in Central Pennsylvania, our expertise and reputation for these global events is excellent.”

Hultquist, who is now a lecturer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, remembers her first trip to AGU’s fall meeting as a Penn State graduate student. She said she was surrounded by great research, almost an overwhelming amount of it. In her role as secretary, she plans to offer advice on how to navigate and synthesize offerings so new attendees can get the most out of the experience. She sees opportunities for better experiences for early career researchers that lead to productive networking and collaborations.

Her expertise is using citizen science – data contributed through mobile applications and social media from people on the ground – to research natural hazards.

“One thing about AGU that I really appreciate is it’s a diverse group of scientists who are approaching natural hazards from different angles and perspectives, from the physical sciences and the social sciences and approaches that work towards environmental justice,” Hultquist said. “AGU offers a chance to collaborate and approach these problems with broader perspectives.”

Established in 1919 by the National Research Council, AGU is an international nonprofit association supporting an inclusive community of Earth and space scientists and partners dedicated to discovery and solutions to societal challenges.

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