Director’s Letter January 2022

A look back on 2021

Director’s Letter, January 2022

It’s deep winter in Crested Butte. My early morning skis above Mt. Crested Butte bring double digit negative temperatures joined by dawns that splash warm, red glows on the surrounding peaks. The summer of 2021 is quickly fading in memory, but I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on RMBL’s 2021 accomplishments. Scientists, supporters, and scientific agencies all contribute to RMBL, and it’s important that we honor those investments by taking a good look at what we have accomplished and, just as importantly, where we are headed.

RMBL has taken a national leadership role in keeping science going through the pandemic. Curating one of the largest collections of long-term field studies means figuring out how to operate every summer, even during pandemics. In 2020, when many colleges, universities, and field stations were completely shut down, we operated at 60 percent capacity. Field research was scaled back, but the critical long-term projects kept going. And while many field facilities around the globe stayed shuttered in 2021, we didn’t just return to full capacity; we also hosted more research and training days than ever in our 90+ years.

In 2021 we began hosting one of the largest collections of atmospheric sensors centered on the Surface Atmosphere Integrated Field Laboratory, or SAIL, an installation of the Department of Energy’s mobile Atmospheric Radiation Measurement facility. Joined by sensors from NOAA, NASA, Colorado State University, and Lawrence Berkeley Lab’s Watershed Function Science Focus Area, we are now hosting more than 200 instruments used in atmospheric and hydrological research campaigns. RMBL’s ability to provide onsite support throughout the epidemic has been critical to launching and maintaining these programs as scientists have dealt with any number of federal, state, and local restrictions on research because of the pandemic. The value of this research is reflected in two Washington Post articles mentioning RMBL research, the Nov. 27th profile of billy barr’s long-term snow monitoring and the Dec. 3rd summary of what research is telling us about the future of water in the west.

RMBL also stepped up financially for scientists. Private donations made it possible to double the fellowships for senior scientists across all stages, adding even more for early career female scientists, who we know have been differentially impacted by the pandemic. In 2020, most summer undergraduate research programs funded by the National Science Foundation shut down. RMBL, on the other hand, doubled the number of NSF-funded students we supported. In 2021, we continued this increased level of support for undergraduate researchers. Further, we supported through a virtual platform another 15 undergraduate researchers who were paired with NSF postdoctoral fellows conducting research around the globe.

Last summer we also laid the foundation for future success. Our science strategy is focused on accelerating discovery by enabling an integrated understanding of complicated ecosystems that crosses disciplines and taxonomies. Dr. Ian Breckheimer has been taking the lead with RMBL’s Spatial Data Platform, collecting spectral data using drones and operating an extensive micrometereological station network. Moreover, by combining this with satellite data and field measurements from scientists, he can link environmental drivers to changes in plants and animals on a scale of meters across the entire Gunnison Basin. Dr. Breckheimer is using an emerging revolution in sensing technology and data sciences to provide scientists powerful data products unavailable anywhere else.

Thank you! Your support has made it possible for RMBL field science not just to survive but thrive! And from the depths of winter, here’s to what the summer of 2022 will bring: Wildflowers that paint meadows red, blue, and yellow. Another crop of budding scientists. And science that will change the world.

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL