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  • Writer's pictureCarolina MIlanesi

Three Brilliant Women Scientists Empower Positive Change Through Amazon Sustainability Data Initiati

To commemorate International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Amazon published a blog sharing the story of three women scientists who have been instrumental in creating and running the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative (ASDI).

Launched in 2018, ASDI is a program aimed at democratizing access to climate data through collaboration with scientific organizations like the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The program hosts important climate data on AWS Cloud and AWS, then makes the data available for anyone to access at no cost. Today, ASDI hosts more than 130 datasets, including solar forecasts, ocean temperatures, and climate projections. As analyzing the data can result in high costs, ASDI also provides grants to help researchers cover such costs.

I had the opportunity to interview one of these three scientists: Dr. Ana Pinheiro Privette, the global lead for ASDI. A Portugal native, Dr. Pinhero Privette facilitates collaborations with environmental nonprofits, private companies, and government agencies, including NASA – where she has also worked - and NOAA to give researchers access to ASDI's data catalog information. ASDI has also supported many significant climate-related advancements, including a collaboration with DE Africa, a nonprofit working with Tanzanian leaders to monitor how coastal erosion contributes to the loss of the island's mangrove trees, helping to capture carbon dioxide. Before ASDI's involvement, local African authorities had no way to access critical satellite imagery to help identify where deforestation was taking place so trees could be replanted. Their work was recently featured in an episode of Amazon's Climate Next docuseries.

Data is becoming one of the most valuable currencies, but as is often the case with valuable goods, including technology, it is not equitably accessible.

Dr. Pinheiro Privette's fascination with data started while taking a Master's of Engineering in water quality and taking an extra remote sensing class at MIT. This opened the opportunity to participate in a class that took ten students to NASA for a week. While there, she was exposed to how scientists use satellites to vegetation and crop yield to predict famine and food security for Africa. "Back then, I wanted to save the world, so I decided that's what I wanted to do and from here on, there was data in everything I did. I got involved in the full chain process, from designing experiments to collecting the data to analyzing and building models to predict and extrapolate from that. It was quite theoretical, and while I love the part of using data to understand knowledge and create knowledge, what really drives me is creating impact. How can we take data to help us make better decisions, be more informed, become more resilient?" explains Dr. Pinheiro Privette. So, she progressively moved away from the theory to get more into the applied side of science.

While Dr. Pinheiro Privette was working in the Obama Administration on climate data, someone described our current data issue this way: "we went from having a draught of data to having an open faucet, nobody can drink from." The perfect depiction of the problem scientists face. Hundreds of thousands of data sets with the same variables require expertise to be understood and a multi-step process to make them useful. Once you know what data sets you need, you need to find it. Who produces and owns the data? Where is it stored? How can I actually get it? Disadvantaged communities face even more layers of complexity because they have less access to a broad spectrum of products and tools. This is precisely what Amazon and ASDI can step in to address by making the process cheaper, faster and the data more accessible for people. "No matter where we are in the world, we all must have equal access to the same data," says Dr. Pinheiro Privette.

The model ASDI is using is straightforward: they want to be enablers. They work with scientists, researchers, startups and nonprofits to understand what data is needed. ASDI works directly with data providers to give free cloud storage, but the organizations they work with own and manage the data. ASDI never sees or touches the data. ASDI's role is making the data publicly available to anyone in the world who needs it.

The key to making ASDI's efforts successful is building strong collaborations with the community and being tuned into their needs. "We do not define our strategy internally and push it out. Instead, it's very much meet with people understand where their hurdles are and where we can help," explains Dr. Pinheiro Privette. This understanding coupled with a localized presence in regions such as Europe, Asia and Africa will allow ASDI to scale and continue to tackle an issue that will require a long-term commitment, agile work practice and fresh thinking. "When we started five years ago, most people did not even know what sustainability was," says Dr. Pinheiro Privette. "We must be agile and be ok with not having a clear path because everything around us is always changing."

Given it is International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and knowing the difficulties many women still face in the field, I want to know if Dr. Pinheiro Privette has any advice she wants to share with a young woman wanting to be a successful scientist like herself. Her answer rings similar to what I have heard from other European women scientists: "I always believed I could do it. I never questioned it," she says confidently and then adds, "But I wonder how much of that was because I came from Europe where I didn't feel as much bad stigma about women in science or women in math being outliers. So, I feel like I came here, in America, believing that I could do it, and I just tackled whatever I faced."

I end my conversation with Dr. Pinheiro Privette by asking her if she is saving the world like she wanted to do when she was at MIT and she says: "I'm not sure if I'm saving the world, but I'm at least helping people have more resources to do it." Sustainability is indeed a problem that will require more resources. This is especially true for those areas that are most impacted by climate change and yet have the least amount of funding, data and technology available to tackle it effectively.



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