Interview with Mr. Alex Hymark,
Senior Scientist, Mission Control, e-Mission
Headquarters - Retired
Interviewer: Tina Goodrich,
Lead science Reporter for the International
Background (from the notes of Ms. Goodrich):
Dr. Hymark joined e-Mission Headquarters in the spring of 1998
and retired on July 3, 2003. His first mission was e-Mission:
Yellowstone during which he served as the "lithosphere"
expert for his Emergency Response Team. His first opportunity
to serve at Mission Control came in 2001 on e-Mission: Mt. Pinatubo.
He is currently writing a book about his experiences at e-Mission
Ms. Goodrich: Good
morning, Dr. Hymark. Thank you for letting me interview you
about your e-Mission experiences and career at e-Mission Headquarters.
Dr. Hymark: You're
more than welcome, Tina. I enjoy discussing my experiences.
As a geologist, e-Missions allowed me to continue to investigate
geology while working closely with other scientists to help
people who frequently were in great danger.
Dr. Hymark, I'd like to begin our interview by having you clear
up some confusion. You are a specialist in geological sciences.
But I thought e-Missions were about Earth system science. Are
these sciences all related?
Dr. H: They
are, Tina. I'll explain, if I might.
Earth system science is a brand new science. As a science, it
takes several different sciences and links them together to
help us understand a "big picture."
What do you mean, Doctor, by a "big picture?"
Imagine this— you are a scientist from NASA and you are among
the first to look at pictures of Earth taken from outer space.
Seeing the whole Earth at once, from a distance, as it were,
is "big picture" thinking. To you the Earth appears exposed
in the blackness of space, almost frail-looking, a little planet
that needs our care. Looking at it as an Earth scientist you
see that there is far more water than land. Let's think about
that "system" of water and land for a second. Almost
75% of our planet is water. Many weather phenomena are caused
by the heating and cooling of all that water by the sun. The
weather in turn, causes the land to erode and change shape.
Looking at water and land in a global, or "big picture" way
you will start to see the Earth as a system of related causes
and effects. Heating and cooling causes weather phenomena, which
changes landforms. Cause and effect.
Yes, I can see how taking a picture of the whole Earth might
have changed the way we view the causes and effects.
Dr. H: Yes,
and technology has continued to change our view of Earth's systems.
As more and more satellites were launched, scientists designed
the equipment to take incredibly accurate pictures and measurements
of this world-view. We use computers to compare all this information
from one day to the next. As a result we can now measure the
global relationships between temperature, humidity, winds, storms,
and ocean currents. Streams of data and images still flow into
computers. We've created a truly big, but very complex, picture.
Ms. G: How
old is Earth system science, Doctor?
Dr. H: Well
it goes back in recorded history to the ancient Greeks. As a
scientific discipline, however, I'd say it's very young— about
fifteen or twenty years old. But at fifteen years old it's still
a baby science. As more and more colleges are beginning to teach
it, more and more countries and companies are beginning to think
the Earth system science, or ESS way, to make decisions about
Ms. G: When
you say, "think the ESS way," what do you mean?
Dr. H: Okay,
I'll give you a good example. You remember your science books
in middle school? One was about physical science, one was about
Earth science, and one was about life science. These textbooks
all focused on different aspects of science. We start learning
about science by looking at the individual pieces of the scientific
world. Do you remember?
Ms. G: Yes,
I sure do. I didn't enjoy science much, until I was in Ms. Angstrom's
class. Her energy and curiosity made science come alive. It
was amazing. And then I got into reading and writing and poetry
and I fell in love with that.
Dr. H: Teachers
are very important for lighting our learning fires, aren't they?
Anyway, scientists were finding that it was difficult to understand
complex events, such as the impact of a hurricane, by only looking
at one part of the picture at a time. It is important for Earth
system scientists to understand the parts as well as how they
work together, or interact. This is the ESS way of thinking
and it is important not only in Earth system science, but also
for any system, such as the life support system that keep astronauts
alive on the International Space Station.
Ms. G: In
your opinion, what is the key to "systems thinking"?
Dr. H: The
key to systems thinking is identifying the parts of a system
and then understanding the way in which the parts interact.
Ms. G: So,
what are the parts of the Earth system?
Dr. H: Typically,
Earth system scientists view Earth as having four main spheres.
We took to calling them "spheres," and you'll see
why from their names. They are the atmosphere, lithosphere,
hydrosphere, and biosphere. The atmosphere is the thin layer
of air that surrounds Earth. The lithosphere includes the rocky
parts of Earth's surface, crust, and interior. That is my favorite
sphere, my specialty, as a geologist. The hydrosphere includes
all of the water and ice on or near the surface. The biosphere
includes the dizzying diversity of all the living organisms
Mr. G: How
does Earth system science fit into e-Missions?
Dr. H: First
of all, every member of an Emergency Response Team becomes a
specialist or expert in one of the spheres. On my own Emergency
Response Teams, I always served as the lithosphere expert. When
we are called in to make predictions about a natural event or
to write reports on the long-term impact of an event, we need
all four sphere experts to work together. In order to do our
job we have to look at how the spheres interact. The only way
for us to be successful is to work together as a team. I cannot
stress enough how important teamwork is for every e-Mission.
In the rare instances where we had an investigator who did not
contribute, we lacked important information and produced a report
for the customer that wasn't complete. Needless to say, experts
who do not contribute to the team through their investigations
can cause many problems.
Ms. G: Why
are Emergency Response Teams important?
Dr. H: ERTs,
as we call them, are important because no one person, even a
genius, can see the whole big picture, like how all the possible
dangers might affect all of the different parts of the Earth's
systems at one particular place in time. We worked hard at building
teams. To acquire good listening skills was one of the toughest
things any of us had to learn, since we all knew so much to
begin with, you know. It's tough to share with someone who knows
Why did you pick geology?
Dr. H: Good
question. I see you are wearing a wristwatch. Did you know there
is a very important type of rock inside your watch which helps
you to be on time every time? It's called a quartz crystal.
I study quartz crystals. When I was only a child, I was fascinated
with them and remember asking a lot of questions about why quartz
was inside my wristwatch. How did the crystals form? What were
they made of? How do they help keep time? I first asked any
adult I could find, then my teachers, then I looked in books,
then I asked geologists, and now I study the crystals themselves
in laboratories to find answers to my questions.
Ms. G: Thank
you so much, Dr Hymark. I think you've given me enough information
to help me explain to our readers what Earth system science
and Emergency Response Teams do during e-Missions, how they
untangle events and help predict potential dangers so they can
help people. You have also helped emphasize the importance of
teamwork during such events.
Dr. H: It's
been my pleasure, Tina; you would have made a good member of
our teams. You know how to ask the right questions. That's the
mark of a leader, you know.
Footnote: The individuals and corporations
in this interview are fictitious. Any relationship to organizations
or persons, past or present, is strictly coincidental.
- What is Earth System Science?
- What are the 4 parts of the Earth system? Provide definitions
- A(n) _____________________ is a group of scientists or experts
who each have a specialty and who work together to see the
“big picture” of a natural event.