Associate Editor Paulo Moutinho contributes to NPR conversation on Amazon deforestation concerns



“It will be necessary… to establish a policy to provide financial sustainability to those actions protecting forests”

In an NPR news story by Lourdez Garcia-Navarro on October 14th, 2014, Paulo Moutinho, Associate Editor for Elementa‘s Sustainability Transitions domain, from the Amazon Environmental Research Institute expressed his concerns about a change in Brazil’s government potentially harming progress against Amazonian deforestation.  The story In Brazil, Conservationists Worried New Congress Could Harm Amazon, also features the views of Greenpeace representative Pedro Telles, and Alberto Verissimo from Imazon, who monitors deforestation in the Amazon.

Paulo Moutinho expands on this story, stating: “Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon dropped 70% since 2006 as a consequence of protected areas expansions, law enforcement and other actions. But, to reach the zero deforestation and consolidate it we need to do more. It will be necessary – for example – to establish a policy to provide financial sustainability to those actions protecting forests. So, the Brazilians have in their hands a chance to do in the Amazon the so dreamed sustainable development. I hope our new Congress does not miss this opportunity.”

Elementa will be publishing research on this topic in the forthcoming months.

Associate Editor Lisa A. Miller explains more about her support for Elementa


Elementa has the potential to be a really valuable resource to both the scientific community and the public, including policy-makers.”


Please tell us a little bit about your position and your areas of research.

I am a chemical oceanographer and Climate Geochemist with the Canadian ministry of Fisheries and Oceans. My research focusses on the air-sea exchange of climatically-active substances, mainly carbon dioxide, but also organic aerosols. I look at how climate impacts the oceanic production and release (versus consumption and absorption) of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and how those processes feed back onto the climate system. This involves the study of biogeochemical processes controlling not only concentrations within the water, but also the actual transport across the air-sea interface, and much of my work has been focused on the biogeochemistry of sea ice and the sea-surface microlayer. 


Why did you decide to become an Associate Editor for Elementa‘s Ocean Science domain?

Jody’s description of the plans for Elementa made it sound like a very worthwhile and interesting endeavor, and I knew that she would be a very good person to work with on this.


What are your thoughts on the quality of the Ocean Science articles already published in Elementa?

I have been very impressed by the quality of the articles, so far. Of course, having had a hand in assuring the quality of those articles, I’m biased…. 


Is it important to you that Elementa is a multidisciplinary journal?

This has proven to be more valuable than I had anticipated. At first, I was disturbed that the articles are being mixed in the list on the website – in most multidisciplinary journals, I usually find that articles outside my immediate fields of interest are too esoteric, and it’s oppressive to have to wade through their titles to find the papers that interest me. However, with Elementa, as more papers have accrued, I have found that I really appreciate having the articles mixed, because so many of them actually are clearly relevant beyond their domains and into mine. I’ve been surprised by how many of the articles from outside the Oceans domain I open and peruse.


Why do you believe that research surrounding human impacts on the atmosphere within the epoch of the Anthropocene to be of significance?

With the possible exception of the search for a cure for cancer, this may be the single most important scientific problem facing our era. Again, I’m biased – it’s what I study, and I wouldn’t be doing it, if I didn’t think it was important. However, it is true that human impacts on the Earth system have the potential to influence nearly every aspect of human experience through climate and health, and our understanding of this complex system is still only rudimentary.


What are your thoughts on the importance of open access journals?

I think this is very important, and not just for scientists working in small institutes in developing countries that cannot afford many journal subscriptions. I do not know how much the general population, interested amateurs or ‘lay scientists’, are actually reading open-access scientific journals. However, from my apocrophyl perspective, it seems that people are becoming more scientifically literate, and it’s hopefully valuable for solid, peer-reviewed science to be available to anyone with the motivation to dig and try to understand these things. Of course, there’s a risk with that – we’ve heard way too many stories in recent years in which a little bit of knowledge in public gadflies has created tremendous difficulty for some climate scientists, but that’s a risk we have to learn to live with and manage.


Do you think it is important that Elementa is a nonprofit publication?

Yes, I do believe that is very important to helping keep publication costs down for individual scientists. Particularly during this period of transition in scientific publishing, there is still a problematic disconnect between the institutional budgets that support publishing. With the rise of open-access journals, libraries are saving money in subscription fees, while individual scientists are having to pay higher publication fees. However, few institutions have figured out how to apply the savings in one area to the higher costs in the other, and some fundamental financial restructuring is necessary. In the meantime, journals like Elementa, that aren’t trying to actually make money out of all this, really help.


Why do you believe that colleagues should consider submitting their papers to Elementa?

I do think that Elementa has the potential to be a really valuable resource to both the scientific community and the public, including policy-makers. We have some distance to go, before we get there, but we’re on the correct path. Unlike many new journals that have arisen over the last decade, journals where none of the names of the editors are recognizable, Elementa is, indeed, a real journal, being edited by real scientists, and we are publishing high-quality papers of broad significance. I understand why some of my colleagues are hesitant to let their students submit to Elementa – it’s not yet clear that we will indeed ‘take’ and become the force we hope to be. However, we are attracting papers from established scientists with substantial stature, and that bodes well for our future. As long as we keep up the hard work.


Associate Editor Ming Xu gives his thoughts on Sustainable Engineering and why he thinks Elementa is important


“Given that sustainability encompasses three dimensions (environmental, economic, and social), sustainable engineering by nature is highly interdisciplinary.”


Your academic appointment at the University of Michigan is somewhat unique in that you are part of both the School of Natural Resources and Environment and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. What’s the connection?

My background is in environmental engineering (all degrees in environmental engineering). I think people have realized that engineering solution alone cannot solve sustainability problems we face today. We need to use a systems perspective, putting engineering systems within a larger system including relevant socioeconomic factors. My research has strong engineering background in the way that I mostly study engineered systems such as clean vehicles, renewable energy. On the other hand, I rely on systems thinking in my research to understand environmental implications of these engineered systems. Being affiliated with both Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and School of Natural Resources and Environment gives me accesses to faculty and students with diverse background and skill sets, which has been extremely helpful for establishing productive collaborations to address issues that are beyond my own expertise.

Your record of research also spans the gap between the natural world and the engineered or built world to inform decision making. Can you share an example of how such a coupling affects economic decisions, engineering design, or resource choices that are made?

In a recent paper published in Environmental Science & Technology, my student and I looked at the adoption and utilization of plug-in electric vehicles in a taxi fleet. Our results show that, to achieve the maximal amount of fleet VMT (vehicle miles traveled) being electrified, the plug-in vehicles should have batteries that can store enough electricity to operate the vehicle for approximately 70 miles. Therefore engineering design should focus on vehicle with 70-mile battery or similar size for this particular fleet. We also found that the cost of batteries will continue to be a hurdle for fleet-scale adoption of plug-in vehicles unless it drops to $200/kWh (currently $400-$500). This gives engineers developing battery technology a target to work on. Also we found that fleet electrification in this particular city does not do any good to the climate, as it increases greenhouse gas emissions mainly due to carbon-intensive power generation. This tells decision makers that the power grid needs to be changed first if they want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fleet electrification.

You accepted an invitation to become an Associate Editor for Elementa’s Sustainable Engineering domain. What does “sustainable engineering” mean to you? How is it different from traditional engineering?

To me, sustainable engineering uses a systems perspective to evaluate true implications of engineered systems on sustainability. Given that sustainability encompasses three dimensions (environmental, economic, and social), sustainable engineering by nature is highly interdisciplinary. The economic and social components are equally important to, if not more than, the environmental component which is usually the main focus of traditional engineering addressing sustainability issues.

Elementa is multidisciplinary and systems oriented. Is this important to the field of sustainable engineering?

Definitely. That is because sustainable engineering by nature is multidisciplinary and systems oriented. Moreover, I think Elementa should also encourage inter-disciplinary research in addition to multi-disciplinary research to truly integrate theories, methods, and tools from multiple disciplines in a cohesive way.

Practically speaking, Elementa is envisioned as a modern journal designed for a post-analog era. It is different from other journals in many ways: open access, rapid publication and dissemination, fully digital and available in multiple formats, non-profit and backed by a consortium of university libraries and academic publishers, and fully integrated with social media. Does this reconcile with the trends and directions that you see academic publishing moving, especially for the emerging and next generation of scientists and engineers? What are their needs? Is Elementa a pragmatic choice of publishing platform for engineers publishing in 2013 and beyond?

I certainly hope Elementa can be a pragmatic choice for engineers. However, that might happen in a relatively slow pace. Current system of evaluating researchers in academia highly depends on publication metrics. To gain creditability and visibility in various professional communities, Elementa need to accumulate certain amount of high quality papers that can be cited by others. However, at this point, researchers, especially junior people, need to take risks if they decide to submit papers to Elementa instead of other traditional journals. I would recommend Elementa to target to senior scholars to jump start a high quality line of papers, because they are less concerned being evaluated than junior scholars. I will certainly encourage my senior colleagues to consider Elementa.


Associate Editor Samuel Oltmans tells us about his experiences in the Atmospheric Science field


“The atmosphere is the place where many of us probably see most dramatically a number of the impacts of human activity in, for example, climate change and degraded air quality.”

 Please tell us a little bit about your position and your areas of research.

I currently have a research position with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), which is a joint enterprise between NOAA and the University of Colorado. Many of my colleagues while I worked at NOAA were affiliated with CIRES. Much of my current research is an extension of research I was associated with when I was at NOAA. Broadly, my research has focused on atmospheric composition and how changes in this composition have changed both due to human activity and natural atmospheric cycles. Long term measurements of atmospheric constituents, especially ozone, and the interpretation of those measurements have been the focus of my career. My largest contribution has probably been in the understanding of tropospheric ozone particularly, in the “background” atmosphere, with an emphasis on longer-term changes. Stratospheric ozone and water vapor measurements also were topics of significant interest. I began my career measuring stratospheric ozone before depletion of ozone was even considered as a possibility. I have had the opportunity to actively participate in the understanding of this human-caused environmental impact on the atmosphere and to see steps taken to overcome the unforeseen consequences of uncontrolled use of the atmosphere as a dumping ground. Currently my focus has been on the impacts of oil and gas extraction on air quality, again with a focus on ozone formation from ozone precursor emitted during exploration and extraction activity.


Your record of scientific achievements is very impressive, having published more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles over more than 40 years.  Why did you decide to follow this invitation to become an Associate Editor for Elementa’s Atmospheric Science domain at this stage of your career?

An important factor was the encouragement of the Atmospheric Science domain Editor-in-Chief, Detlev Helmig. We have worked together on a number of research projects and I wanted to support him in his role as an Elementa editor. Also with open access publishing becoming an important avenue for sharing the results of scientific research, I wanted to be associated with a publication that was focused broadly on environmental change, but also one that captured individual areas of research so that researchers in the area of atmospheric science would see this as a place to go both to read and publish important new research results.


Why do you believe research surrounding human impacts on the atmosphere within the epoch of the Anthropocene to be of significance?

The atmosphere is the place where many of us probably see most dramatically a number of the impacts of human activity in, for example, climate change and degraded air quality. In a study I am currently working on in the Uintah Basin of Utah, ozone levels and methane concentrations have been measured that are not seen even in some of the most polluted urban areas. Understanding the causes and solutions to problems like these are of great societal importance.


Throughout your career you probably have seen a number of models and transitions in scientific publication.  How did this shape your feeling about open access publishing?

Both in terms of how manuscripts were prepared and the way they were published have changed dramatically. The change to open access publishing has been the most recent change and adapting to it like other changes requires a shift in the way I have become used to doing things. This will be right up there with the shift from a paper-based publication process to the current primarily digital process of both manuscript submission and publication. Adapting to the open access format is part of staying relevant and expanding opportunities for making ones research available to as wide an audience as possible.


You have been working as a US government, (i.e. publicly funded) researcher for most of your life.  Have you seen differences in how government, university, or private industry scientists pursue the publishing of their work?

Up to this point my perception has been that in the atmospheric science field there has not been as strong a push or requirement to publish in an open access format. There has been a much stronger emphasis and even requirement in the biological/medical related research areas toward open access. Because of the cost of journal subscriptions and the pressure this puts on research and academic institution libraries there will definitely be encouragement to use open access publishing. Government funded research publication will be more broadly pushed in this direction both to control costs and to keep from giving the perception that government funded research is enhancing the coffers of a for profit business.


Do you think it is important that Elementa is a nonprofit publication and how do you foresee that this publication model will affect your colleagues from these different sectors?

I think most researchers want to see their work have as broad an impact as possible. This has traditionally meant that for profit publishers like Nature have been venues that carry a particular status. Publications of professional societies like the American Geophysical Union or the American Meteorological Society where I have published are seen as less profit motivated. My hope is that as a nonprofit Elementa will have a particular place among open access journals that will achieve recognition since much of the proliferation of open access publication appears to be associated with for profit publishers.


Why do you think researchers should consider publishing in Elementa?

It is exciting to be part of a new enterprise and help shape its direction. A focus on providing strong credibility for the quality of the research that is published with respected editors and a commitment to quality peer-review will help build the reputation of Elementa. Also as I mentioned earlier, having both a broad environmental perspective and focused discipline domains is attractive for publication of papers with a range of audience interests.

Why should authors publish with Elementa? Ecology Associate Editor Jessica Hellmann provides insights…

“Researchers should publish in Elementa if they want their work to have the seal of scientific approval – of peer review – and they want their work to reach as many potential users and consumers as possible.”

Please tell us a little bit about your position at the University of Notre Dame and your areas of research.

I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame. I also lead the Climate Change Research Program in the Environmental Change Initiative, an interdisciplinary institute at Notre Dame focused on “science serving society.” My long-term research interest–and the foundation of my research program–is organismal biology and ecology. My students and I study how climate and other human-caused environmental change affects species and ecosystems. We also work hard to see our science used to design sound strategies for managing nature. I also engage in research involving climate science, political science, and economics. For example, members of my group are studying how to make better climate models for local and regional resource planning. And we are building innovative tools for climate change adaptation including an index that ranks countries for how prepared they are to deal with climate change and an online community where researchers and managers can design management strategies for climate change.


Why did you decide to become an Associate Editor for Elementa’s Ecology domain?

I decided to join Elementa on the advice of its fearless Ecology leader, Don Zak. I knew when Dr. Zak was joining the project that the journal would be well-managed and its objectives were well-crafted. The editorial board in ecology also is very strong, and I’m honored to be in good company.


Why do you believe research surrounding human/nature interactions within the epoch of the Anthropocene to be of significance?

We are living in an era of unprecedented change. Some of this change is positive, extending human life and expanding our understanding of the universe, for example. But some of the change has dangerous side effects, undermining the fabric of life on which humanity depends. It is difficult to know which solutions can reduce the side effects, which insights are the ones to convert side effects into sources of good. We need to stimulate research in many directions and provide new ways of putting that science in the hands of people who need it. I’m not so naive as to think that science alone can solve all of humanity’s challenges, but I do know that it’s an essential ingredient.


Are you an advocate of open access?  If so, why?

I think that open access can be important and transformative when done well. We need scientific information that is accessible in all corners of the world, in the places where innovators need insight to take action. But we also need to make sure that information is well-vetted and up to the standards of modern science. In this era of social networking and widespread Internet distribution of information–and disinformation–we need venues that are both accessible *and* trustworthy.


Do you think it is important that Elementa is a nonprofit publication?  If so, why?

The fact that Elementa is non-profit helps it achieve the virtues of open access, broad accessibility and high quality. A number of for-profit entities have blazed the trail of open access, but now is the time for a non-profit, community-driven venue that is open access.


Why do you think researchers should consider publishing in Elementa?

Researchers should publish in Elementa if they want their work to have the seal of scientific approval – of peer review – and they want their work to reach as many potential users and consumers as possible.