A Journey with Dr. Jane Rigby, Senior NASA JWST Project Scientist

The discussion moderators of the first ISSI Breakthrough Workshop co-organized by Jane Rigby (4th person from left).
The discussion moderators of the first ISSI Breakthrough Workshop co-organized by Jane Rigby (4th person from left).

Odyssey through space and time

Already at the age of 5, Jane Rigby—now Senior NASA JWST Project Scientist and one of the conveners of the first ISSI Breakthrough Workshop—got hooked by a TV show about the cosmos. Growing up in a small town, she says, makes people go search for things to do. For Jane, this was the public library of her town. In this library, she found books that fulfilled her curiosity about what’s beyond her little town, and also beyond our planet. Four decades later, Jane is presenting the first JWST images to the President of the United States, Joe Biden, at the White House.

Trials and Triumphs

Given her early fascination with space, her career path seemed quite like a straight line, but there were definitely moments that changed its direction. Overseeing submission proposals for using the world’s sharpest lenses on the universe, she acknowledges the importance to withstand academic rejection. Space scientists putting their greatest ideas out there to be evaluated is making people vulnerable to some degree. Every year there are great ideas submitted worth to fill nine years of telescope usage, Jane says. That many ideas—no matter how great they are—simply cannot be accommodated. So, great ideas must be rejected frequently.

Pioneering Diversity and Inclusion

Having attended many meetings as the only woman in the room, Jane has seen significant development towards a more gender-diverse and welcoming work environment. She says that a major factor that has changed, and contributed to continue this change, is that more scientists today are challenging bullying in the work place and advocating for change more readily. The readiness to speak up not only counteracts widespread harassment directly, but also helps to prevent it as the problem gets more widely acknowledged and understood.

A Collaborative Endeavour

Jane appreciates the ISSI workshop not only because they assembled a diverse group of researchers in the welcoming environment at ISSI, but also because it allows her and her peers to take a step back and contemplate what has been learned. The JWST telescope is about 100 times more sensitive than the best performing telescopes before, which critically also leads to much, much faster observations: „What used to take a year before, can now be done in one hour, creating new possibilities. And these new possibilities are approached with so much joy.“ Jane says enthusiastically and further elaborates that it feels like watching a firework show, where fascinating discoveries are made in all parts of the field at the moment.

At ISSI, Jane says, they brought a broad team of experts together to take a step back and have a coordinated look at all these fireworks and and find the biggest, overarching themes. She further elaborates: „The excitement of the workshop participants is palpable, and we can’t help to discuss about what’s next.“

By having a more complete view on the recent insights, it becomes clear that there are some key advances in our understanding of the first Billion years in the Universe. Surprisingly, thousands of galaxies seemed to have formed already that early on. They formed fast, converted gas into stars very efficiently, and a significant amount of these early galaxies host massive black holes. „We see a fast, organised growth of galaxies that are brighter and have appeared earlier than what we have thought“, Jane says with similarly bright eyes underscoring her excitement.

Another New Era of Discovery

As technology evolves, so does our understanding of the cosmos. From Galileo and the discovery of the Jovian planetary system—a little „solar system“ within a solar system—Jane says it is how space science uses to evolve. However, back in Galileo’s days, and even a few years back, it was unlike harder to get access to the latest data. Today, JWST data is openly available, latest one year after they have been recorded. This caused quite a surprise when Jane one day came back to the house after mowing the lawn and looked at her phone just to find the data she just collected being already used and shared by space enthusiasts online.

Sharing the Wonder of Space

Jane is all in when it comes to sharing her knowledge about our universe, such as directly with the president of the United States or in plenary lectures with American Astronomical Society. Here in Bern, Jane takes on the role as moderator of the panel discussion at the ‚ISSI Cosmic Beginnings’ event. She takes this opportunity to share the excitement of the space science community with the public and promote the humanity of the recent discoveries: „The JWST telescope is a true human endeavour, crossing geographic and other boundaries, and something inherently good.“



Re-watch the ISSI ‘Cosmic Beginnings’ lectures and panel discussion here.

Panel discussion moderated by Jane Rigby at the ISSI ‚Cosmic Beginnings‘ event.
Panel discussion moderated by Jane Rigby at the ISSI ‚Cosmic Beginnings‘ event.

Breaking Boundaries in Cosmic Exploration: Day One of the ISSI Breakthrough Workshop

Participants welcome for the ISSI workshop "Chronology of the Very Early Universe According to JWST: The First Billion Years".
Executive Director Dr. Antonella Nota welcoming the participants of the first ISSI breakthrough workshop “Chronology of the Very Early Universe According to JWST: The First Billion Years”.

ISSI is currently witnessing a vibrant exchange of ideas as experts from across the globe are convening for the inaugural day of the “Chronology of the Very Early Universe According to JWST: The First Billion Years” workshop.

Together with Professor Christina Williams from the National Optical Infrared Astronomy Research Lab and Professor Kristen McQuinn from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, astrophysicist Professor Daniel Stark of the University of Arizona led the first discussions amongst the almost fifty experts probing the mysteries of the early universe, fuelled by the excitement surrounding new observations from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Sitting in the comfortable couch in ISSI’s lunch room, Stark emphasises the importance of leveraging ISSI’s unique work environment to foster collaboration and bridge diverse perspectives.

Stark usually focusses on the first galaxies of the universe that were brought to light with the reionization after the early „dark ages“. Because the novel JWST observations produce a wealth of new insights on these topics too, new questions have arisen. Today, he therefore tried to shine light on those key aspects of the early universe for which the interdisciplinary participants can reach consensus in their understanding, and those for which they cannot.

While sharing experiences and pizza slices during lunch break, Dr. Susan Kassin of the Space Telescope Science Institute, along with Dr. Melanie Habouzit of the Max-Planck-Institute for Astronomy and Kirk Barrow of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, point out the crucial interplay between modelling and observation in unraveling cosmic enigmas. To not inhibit out-of-the-box discoveries, Kassin reminds us that modelling should usually follow observations: „Making observations solely based on the current understanding inhibits unexpected insights“ and, as history tells us, this would slow down scientific advances immensely. 

The three colleagues appreciate the welcoming environment here at ISSI and think that a workshop such as this one is key to bring the specialised knowledge and understanding on a more complete and broad level. This seems to be of particular importance, given the current inflow of new observations and understanding on the early universe. By meeting with other experts from different disciplines here at ISSI, they also think that this broader understanding will eventually trickle down to the entire community when the participants go home and disseminate their broader knowledge within their scientific circles.

Habouzit, Barrow, and Kassin think that the field moves in tune with the new (space science) instruments and their observations. Most JWST data becomes open-access quite quickly after it has been made, which opens the question whether research and researchers have become overly competitive and focus on quick academic success rather than elaborate, long-term research. While they agree that there is some unhealthy competition here and there, they also point out that thanks to the sheer amount of new and complex data distributed all over the sky, the collaborative rather than competitive approach is still possible and apparently more common.

One table further, postdoctoral scholars Dr. Seiji Fujimoto of the University of Texas at Austin and Dr. Rohan Naidu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are lauding ISSI’s inclusive atmosphere: „This workshop facilitates dialogue among researchers of varying experience levels.“ ALMA and Hubble used to provide them with sharp insights. Since recently, JWST observations are filling the plates of Naidu and Fujimoto. While Rohan stayed in the USA during his past career, Seiji has already worked in Japan, Europe, and now the USA. Well travelled or not, they agree that the ISSI setting allows them to learn from, and discuss with other international experts, also the ones that are more senior, in a unique way.

As discussions unfold, participants reflect on the transformative potential of collaborative research environments in shaping the future of astrophysics. Dr. Susan Kassin’s unconventional journey from aspiring artist to pioneering astrophysicist served as a testament to the power of curiosity and interdisciplinary exchange in driving scientific discovery.

With a commitment to nurturing a culture of collaboration and curiosity, the first ISSI Breakthrough Workshop promises to illuminate the cosmic dawn and inspire future generations of cosmic explorers.

Stay tuned for more insights and revelations from what feels like the forefront of astrophysical insights here at ISSI.

Towards a Deeper Understanding of the Connections between Space and Terrestrial Weather

The dynamic connections between space weather and weather in Earth’s lower atmosphere was the target of last week’s ISSI workshop. This gathering, between leading experts in space, Earth observation and atmospheric science, delved into the intricate physical interplay shaping our planet’s weather and climate.

Building on the success of the November 2022 Forum, the workshop aimed to deepen our understanding about the various geospace energy and momentum transfer processes, crucial for addressing natural and human-induced hazards. In the light of solar-terrestrial interactions, participants were discussing the conceptual design of future space-borne and ground-based observing capabilities, laying the groundwork for an Ionosphere-Thermosphere-Mesosphere Observatory.

During the week at ISSI, collaboration across scientific disciplines were fostered, synergies were assessed, and communication among agencies were enhanced. The outcome will culminate in peer-reviewed papers published in Surveys in Geophysics and the ISSI Space Sciences Series. So, watch this space to witness new insights into this complex intersection of space and atmospheric sciences.

Participants group photo of the ISSI Bern workshop "Physical Links Between Weather and Climate in Space and the Lower Atmosphere
Participants of the ISSI Bern workshop “Physical Links Between Weather and Climate in Space and the Lower Atmosphere” held on 22–26 January 2024.

The Economics and Law of Space-Based Commerce (Conference hosted by WTI and ISSI | 17–18 January 2024)

This conference (17–18 January 2024) will focus on the economics and governance of commercialisation in outer space. It will look at the applicability of economic concepts, the concepts of international economic law, and the concepts of economic governance to space-based commerce.

The goal is twofold: The first goal is identifying promising areas for future research along the lines outlined above, specifically a cross-disciplinary mix of economics, law, political science, and applied natural science. The second goal is to enlist interested researchers in setting up a research and workshop agenda and loose organizational/coordinating structure (a researcher network) based on the areas identified.

The conference will be hosted jointly by the International Space Science Institute and the World Trade Institute.

Find here the complete program >>

You can join online the conference, therefore please register here.

Magnetic Switchbacks in the Young Solar Wind

Workshop Report Magnetic Switchbacks in the Young Solar Wind convened by Marco Velli, Maria Madjarska, Stuart Bale, Olga Panasenco, Etienne Pariat, Anna Tenerani, Tim Horbury, and Thierry Dudok de Wit

The observation by NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission of very strong magnetic field fluctuations in the inner heliosphere, leading to strong deflections locally reversing the direction of the field itself, called switchbacks, has attracted considerable attention from the heliophysics and space physics communities.

Workshop Participants 

A recent ISSI workshop (18–22 September 2023) brought together solar and solar wind scientists with the objective of better understanding how these structures are formed and how they contribute to solar wind heating, acceleration, and the scattering of energetic particles. Though there remain competing theories for the formation and development of switchbacks, a major outcome of the workshop was the recognition of role played by small scale energetic magnetic field annihilation (or reconnection) events, exchanging plasma between open and closed fields in the lower corona, that lead to the development of small-scale jets of hot plasma. There is general agreement that these may provide the necessary conditions for the formation of switchbacks in the corona and inner heliosphere. A series of review papers describing the current state of our understanding of switchbacks and the outcomes of the workshop will be published in the journal Space Science Reviews and as a volume in the Space Science Series of ISSI.

The Economics and Law of Space-Based Commerce (WTI-ISSI Conference 17–18 January 2024)

This workshop will focus on the economics and governance of commercialisation in outer space. It will look at the applicability of economic concepts, the concepts of international economic law, and the concepts of economic governance to space-based commerce.

The goal of the workshop is twofold. The first goal is identifying promising areas for future research along the lines outlined above, specifically a cross-disciplinary mix of economics, law, political science, and applied natural science. The second goal is to enlist interested researchers in setting up a research and workshop agenda and loose organizational/coordinating structure (a researcher network) based on the areas identified.

The workshop will be hosted jointly by the World Trade Institute (WTI) and the International Space Science Institute.

Venue: WTI, Hallerstrasse 6, CH-3012 Bern (ground floor)

Call for Papers

Submission Guidelines: Please submit paper proposals on original and unpublished research related to this call for papers. Abstract submissions must be between 300-500 words in length and should be accompanied by a short CV.

To submit your proposals, for further details, or to express interest, please contact Sophia Thompson, sophia.thompson@wti.org.

Deadline for abstracts: 15 September 2023.

Accepted authors will be notified by 15 October 2023.

Further information >>

Climate Tipping Points: Earth Observations to Address a Key Climate Uncertainty

Workshop Report Tipping Points and Understanding EO data needs for a Tipping Element Model Intercomparison Project (TipMIP) by Annett Bartsch, Hannah Liddy, Mike Rast, Narelle van der Wel, Richard Wood, Sophie Hebden, Tim Lenton, Victor Brovkin

It’s fair to say that climate tipping points — defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as critical thresholds in a system that, when exceeded, can lead to a significant change in the state of the system — are by now a familiar concept, often used to convey the urgency of addressing climate change. World leaders at the COP27 climate conference of the UNFCCC in Sharm el-Sheik in November 2023 agreed on the need to understand the impact of tipping points on the cryosphere. 

The growing popularity of this concept for motivating climate action also underscores the need for the scientific community to better understand the risks posed by self-reinforcing and difficult-to reverse processes taking place in the climate system. We need to understand the impacts that tipping points will have at different levels of global warming in order to guide mitigation and adaptation efforts. 

The risks gaining particular attention include shifts in the Amazon from rainforest to savannah, a slowing- and potential shutting down of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets as well as growing CO2 and CH4 emissions from thawing permafrost. Our best global climate models don’t yet include all potential climate tipping processes. This limits the scientific information available to guide policies to manage the risks to social systems, and we are still a long way from implementing an observing system that can monitor the onset of tipping points. 

Future Earth has been working closely with the World Climate Research Program (WCRP) through the Earth Commission and the AIMES global research network to build the research agenda in this area, hosting a series of webinars focused on different climate tipping elements. One key research activity is to improve climate model representation of tipping elements through a model intercomparison exercise. From the observations side, researchers came together with climate modelers at a Workshop hosted at the International Space Science Institute in Bern, Switzerland in October 2022, supported by the European Space Agency (ESA)-Future Earth joint program.

ISSI Workshop Participants

Animated discussions covered how Earth Observation (EO) together with modeling efforts can support monitoring and process understanding of tipping points and their interactions, climate feedbacks, and abrupt climate change more broadly. The EO and modeling communities have operated somewhat in silos. This workshop illustrated how important it is to get scientists from both communities into one room to understand one another’s challenges and priorities. This is what was achieved in the ISSI Bern Workshop, and it highlighted how exciting it is to examine research questions from observational, modeling and theoretical perspectives.

What is TIPMIP?

Coordinated coupled-model intercomparison projects are a useful approach to assess our understanding of climate processes by providing a standard set of experiments and initialization data that can be run by individual climate modeling centers around the world. The differences in the model outputs create an ensemble of simulated climate behavior that can be used to explore the robustness or uncertainty – both spatially and temporally – of the processes involved.

The ‘TIPMIP’ – TIPping element Model Intercomparison Project initiative, led by Earth Commissioner Ricarda Winkelmann, who is based at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, will outline a set of experiments to explore the sensitivity of tipping behavior in response to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

There is not a strong quantitative understanding within the climate research community about the drivers or processes involved in triggering climate tipping points, since they often fall into the category of ‘High Impact, but Low Likelihood’ events, and so are seen fairly infrequently in model results. Therefore, the first phase of TIPMIP experiments will take a highly idealized approach that can be easily run by a range of models.

It will begin with a set of experiments that provide a strong forcing of the climate system, with an increase in atmospheric CO2 of 1% per year. In addition, three more experiments will be defined to assess the impacts associated with specific levels of CO2. These experiments will lay the groundwork for understanding climate tipping behaviour and how societal activity can both drive and be impacted by abrupt change.

Earth Observations for Direct Monitoring of Tipping Behavior

The limited temporal extent of the satellite record – spanning 4-5 decades at best – means that direct monitoring of trends and indicators for the onset of tipping points is restricted to ‘fast’ tipping points that occur over decades, that would apply to winter sea ice in the Arctic, the subpolar gyre, the Sahel/Monsoon system, forest dieback – both tropical and boreal, freshwater ecosystems, and Arctic permafrost. The workshop heard of the potential to develop proxy indicators of tipping behavior and instabilities, for example to indicate the triggering of collapse of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

A major strength of EO is the ability to capture multiple temporal and spatial scales of tipping behavior, from local to regional to global, and from daily to interannual. Across these scales, there is potential for studying feedbacks in the Earth system that can lead to tipping points. There is opportunity to exploit satellite observations of the timing of events, to study extreme events and their impacts – including impacts on society, as well as cascading impacts and pace of change. The workshop identified the value of indicators with multiple variables that combine information from different sources to build a fuller picture of the processes occurring; for example to study the pressures affecting vegetation. It also called for better integration of EO data and platforms to facilitate the detection of tipping events.

Earth Observation for Modeling

EO has a key role to play in improving the ability of climate models to project possible climate futures. Climate models rely on long-term EO datasets like the Essential Climate Variables (ECVs), many of which are based on remote sensing data. ECVs developed by programs like the ESA Climate Change Initiative are used for model development, to assess model skill, (judged by how well models can reproduce past observations) and to constrain models – helping to determine certain parameters, for example, and to set initial conditions of part of the climate system at the start of a model simulation. The Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) is an international scientific body that maintains the definitions of the ECVs required for systematic observations of the Earth’s climate. The goal is to help solve research challenges like climate tipping points, and to underpin climate services and adaptation measures.  

Applied to tipping points, there is huge scope to ‘assimilate’ — a statistical approach that brings the model’s outputs closer to the observational data — EO to improve process-based models. For example, ocean color and sea surface temperature data could be used to better constrain biogeochemical or ecosystem processes in ocean ecosystem models to lower the uncertainty of predictions of thresholds and timescales of regime shifts. 

Research Frontiers

Recent wildfire and flooding events have highlighted society’s fragility in the face of worsening climate extremes. Society also faces compound climate extremes whereby multiple hazards occur in the same location, or concurrent extremes occur at different locations. An open question is how extreme events might interplay with tipping points to drive worse impacts on society. Research frontiers will push our current EO datasets and modeling tools into new territory, in combinations that enable an exploration of the interactions between tipping points in the climate and society. 

Through this workshop and other coordinated efforts by Future Earth and WCRP, there will be more opportunities to engage with the tipping point research community and TIPMIP initiative. Recordings of past webinars and information about those upcoming can be accessed here. Moreover, scientific sessions and meetings at EGU in April 2023 will be another opportunity for building bridges across scientific communities to enable us to better characterize the interfaces and identify and constrain the risks posed by tipping points.

This report was orginally published on www.futureearth.org




Workshop on Satellite-Based Analyses of Changes in Water and Energy Cycle (26–30 September 2022)

Unknown to many, Space and Earth scientists worldwide dedicate substantial efforts to monitoring the Earth’s climate in order to track changes to our planet, to understand changes to extremes, and the dangers of climate change.

Last week, the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) in Bern hosted a Workshop with scientists from Europe, North America and Japan to assess the current state of knowledge with respect to the monitoring of water cycle changes from satellites. Remy Roca, director of research with the French CNRS and one of the Workshop conveners, explains, “A vivid, truly international, scientific community is fully at work to build and sustain the needed space borne satellites for consolidating the scientific rationale underpinning climate change.“ Sonia Seneviratne, Professor at ETH Zurich and coordinating lead author in the last assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), further emphasizes, “Satellite data products are an essential support to monitor the water cycle changes induced by greenhouse gas emissions.“

The global water and energy budget of the Earth of the early 21st century. Units Wm-2. The number in parenthesis are the uncertainty in the flux estimate. Also in Wm-2. (Figure Credit: Stephens et al., 2022, in revision with BAMS)

Monitoring the Earth’s water cycle is essential for understanding and predicting extreme changes that are occurring, as was illustrated by the extreme drought that affected Europe this summer and the recent devastating floods in Pakistan. “Viewing Earth from space allows us to see how Earth behaves as a whole and sustaining measurements of water and energy, done jointly, is essential for understanding how Earth’s fresh water is changing,” says Graeme Stephens, Director of the Center for Climate Sciences at JPL and principal investigator of the NASA CloudSat Mission.

Topics addressed during the Workshop include: estimates of the water and energy fluxes on Earth, global-scale changes in droughts and heavy precipitation, changes in the Earth energy imbalance and ocean heat storage, and changes in the surface temperature in response to the changing water energy fluxes.

Participants of the Workshop

The participants discussed ways to constrain climate model projections to better prepare for increasing climate change-related dire impacts. “Satellites are instrumental tools to observe the current changes in the water and energy fluxes on Earth and thus are at the core of our effort to improve our understanding of climate change,” says Benoit Meyssignac, researcher at the French space agency CNES and lead author of the IPCC special report on ocean and cryosphere.

The Workshop showed that the science community is now providing consistent satellite estimates of the global water and energy fluxes of planet Earth from the surface of the ocean to the top of the atmosphere over the last two decades. This observational basis serves as a reference to better understand the subtle balances at stake among the Earth’s water and energy fluxes in the current climate. The challenge of the next decade for scientists will be to detect, monitor and understand how climate change modifies these balances and the consequences for society. “Only with a sound and quantitative understanding of the energy and water fluxes on Earth will we be able to support decision makers on how to best protect the climate and environment of our planet,“ says Michael Rast, Director Earth Sciences at ISSI. “The giant hurricane which hit the Southern US last week and had millions watching meteorological satellite images loops, once again served to illustrate what is at stake and the Earth Observing community are taking action to ensure a safe future for our planet.”

Workshop Webpage >>

Probing Earth’s Deep Interior using Space Observations Synergistically

New special issue in Surveys in Geophysics (all papers open access)

During the last two decades, the GRACE and SWARM space missions have provided a wealth of groundbreaking results about the spatio-temporally variable gravity and geomagnetic fields of the Earth. However, more can be learned about the deep Earth’s structure by combining data of the Earth’s gravity and magnetic fields together with Earth’s rotation data routinely measured using space geodesy techniques, such as Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). The synergistic use of these three observables represents a unique way to investigate the physics of the deep Earth’s interior. In addition to the well-known correlation between the Earth’s rotation and magnetic field observed at the decadal time scale, recent studies have reported an unexpected correlation between spatio-temporal changes of the gravity field and of the magnetic field, also at the decadal time scale. Processes occurring in the liquid core and at the core–mantle boundary (CMB) are potentially responsible for this observation. The Workshop “Probing the Deep Earth Interior by using in synergy observations of the Earth’s gravity and magnetic fields, and of the Earth’s rotation” held at the International Space Science Institute (ISSI, Bern) on 1–4 September 2020, gathered about 40 scientists from different horizons and expertise to discuss this novel research topic. The different sessions successively addressed the capability of the gravity and magnetic fields, and Earth rotation observations to detect deep Earth signals on interannual time scales, the current knowledge of processes occurring in the fluid outer core, at the CMB and within the lower mantle, as well as the present-day status of theoretical models describing the deep Earth structure.

This Special Issue gathers together overview articles that provide state-of-the-art knowledge on the various aspects of this emergent research area. It addresses different timescales associated with these deep Earth observed signals as well as associated modeling aspects.

This special issue will be reprinted as as the Volume 85 in the Space Science Series of ISSI and is edited by Veronique Dehant, Mioara Mandea, Anny Cazenave and Lorena Moreira.