Joan Aron

AronJLDr. Aron is a Science and Technology Policy Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the Office of the Science Advisor of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Her focus at EPA is on building U.S. and international partnerships to apply new technologies and methods for Earth observations to reduce risks and improve global health. She was the local Washington coordinator of Using Earth Observations for Health, a workshop of the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO) that was held in Washington DC on Nov. 12 – 13, 2009.

Dr. Aron’s scientific background is in public health, global environmental change, climate change, Earth system science, ecology, epidemiology, population biology, and mathematical modeling. Her experience in global change and public health includes:

1) editing and contributing to an interdisciplinary graduate textbook deemed outstanding by the NASA Earth Science Education Product Review — Ecosystem Change and Public Health: A Global Perspective (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001);

2) organizing a conference and workshop for the World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization, and United Nations Environment Program on climate change and variability and their health effects in the Caribbean (Barbados, 2002); and

3) coordinating an interdisciplinary professional development workshop on climate and health in the Americas for the Inter-American Institute on Global Change Research (Jamaica, 2005).

Other recent accomplishments include editing a design guide for undergraduate Earth system science education and publishing a textbook chapter on the use of mathematical modeling in infectious disease epidemiology. Her prior professional positions include being president of a nonprofit organization Science Communication Studies, associate faculty in the Dept. of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, assistant professor in the Dept. of Population Dynamics at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and senior staff fellow at the National Cancer Institute. She earned her Ph.D. in biology at Princeton University (focus on mathematical biology and ecology with application to models of malaria transmission), her masters in information technology management at Johns Hopkins University, her post-graduate diploma in mathematical statistics at Cambridge University, and her B.A. summa cum laude in applied mathematics at Harvard University.


Building Partnerships to Use Earth Observations to Improve Global Health:
A Perspective on the Interaction of Science, Policy, and Decision-Making

The Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) is an international network of satellite- and ground-based sensors for Earth observations that began in 2002 with the aim of improving Earth observations to support decisions for human health and other societal concerns. Interdisciplinary partnerships in the realms of science, policy and decision-making are essential for advancing these efforts. Three examples of health and environment issues are shown as works in progress that provide illustrations of this theme.

The population of El Salvador is vulnerable to climate effects, such as extensive flooding caused by heavy precipitation and exacerbated by deforestation. Addressing these problems requires better information systems that integrate data on health, population, climate and other environmental factors (such as land use and land cover) in a format that makes it relevant to decision-makers. A project to help El Salvador address climate and health problems is being formed to engage multiple partners: government ministries in El Salvador; international organizations; agencies in the United States with experience in health and environment as well as linking data from Earth-observing satellites and ground-based measurements for decision-making; and their Brazilian agency counterparts. Many policies underlie these interactions, including U.S. – Brazil cooperation in science and technology, U.S. foreign assistance, and the promotion of data sharing by the Group on Earth Observations.

Water scarcity and airborne dust are increasing threats to human health and well-being in the American desert. Adverse respiratory outcomes (e.g., bronchitis, asthma) are expected from exposure to airborne dust, including allergenic and toxic components. Shifting precipitation patterns and development pressures interact to alter native vegetation and soil structure, disrupting ecosystem functions that are critical to human uses of the landscape. An environmental decision support system is currently under development for the Santa Cruz watershed, an 8,000 square mile area encompassing the city of Tucson and the sister border cities of Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora (Mexico). The partnership includes EPA’s Ecosystem Services Research Program, U.S. Geological Survey’s Western Geographic Science Center, the Tohono O’odham Tribal Nation, and the state of Sonora.

U.S. federal and state agencies are partnering to address the adverse impacts of drought on health and the environment (e.g., lack of potable water; forest fires causing burns or exposure to particulates; loss of habitat for endangered species). Water conservation by using graywater (recycled water) is under assessment for risks to humans and ecosystems. The recent drought in the U.S. southeast has initiated serious consideration of graywater use in that region. That U.S. planning for water scarcity has extended to the southeast is an indication of the growing extent of this problem worldwide.