ASU center makes global impact on ecology, conservation science

From working to save Hawaiian coral reefs during the 2019 Pacific Ocean warming event to empowering hundreds of students and researchers with data from the largest constellation of satellites currently in orbit, Arizona State University’s recently launched Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science is already making waves.

Established in January 2019, the center expands upon on a vision that Greg Asner, director of the center and a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, began 18 years ago at the Carnegie Institution for Science on the campus of Stanford University. It’s based on Asner’s lab work of global coral reef mapping, measuring plant biodiversity in tropical forests and hiring and supporting new faculty with a similar vision of discovery and conservation impact.

“We have been building this center since the day we landed at ASU, and with the support of the Knowledge Enterprise, ASU Foundation and the donor community, we have been building it up quickly,” Asner said. “The purpose of the center is to do science in a way and at a scale that has a major impact on conservation resource management and policy decision-making.”

So far, the center is certainly living up to those goals, ending 2019 with a resume packed full of impressive milestones such as securing new grants (including $250,000 in funding from the Lenfest Ocean Program to map coral reefs across the Hawaiian Islands); acquiring the Global Airborne Observatory (which gives the center access to the advanced mapping technology of the Dornier 228-202 aircraft); and launching the planet incubator program to empower students and researchers with a catalog of imagery from Planet, an Earth imaging company with the largest constellation of satellites currently in low earth orbit.

“Our center's work is important because it brings to ASU a capability that we've developed over the last 20 years to generate scientifically robust information at scales unachievable in the past and in a way that has a direct role in environmental decision-making,” Asner said.