National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS)




NOAA Environmental Data Talks - Speaker Series

Data, Diversity, and Disaster


For DataFest 2020, we’re exploring the interconnectivity of data collection, analysis, and cultural diversity with an expansive lineup of speakers during the fall. Please join us for talks on the interdisciplinary possibilities of NOAA data, which include the topics of environmental law, data sovereignty, epidemiology, and social justice. Overall, this event series will explore how a better understanding of diversity can lead researchers and responders to richer data that can save lives and preserve property during natural disasters. 

NO REGISTRATION REQUIRED! If prompted, just download Adobe Connect from To see each presentation, join the Q&A session via Adobe Connect 15 minutes before the listed time, click here and follow the prompts to "enter as a guest."



Past Speaker List:


Dr. Jennifer Horney

September 11, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. ET 
Founder of Department of Epidemiology at University of Delaware

Jennifer Horney is Professor and Founding Director of the Program in Epidemiology and Core Faculty at the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware. Her research focuses on measuring the health impacts of disasters, as well as the linkages between disaster planning and household actions related to preparedness, response, and recovery. Dr. Horney received her Ph.D. and MPH from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was a member of a team of public health practitioners who responded to Hurricanes Isabel, Charley, Katrina, Wilma, Irene, and Harvey where she conducted rapid assessments of disaster impact on public health. She has also provided technical assistance to public health agencies globally around disasters, infectious disease outbreaks, and pandemic influenza planning and response.

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Mr. James Rattling Leaf, Sr.

September 18, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. ET
Consultant to Great Plains Tribal Water Alliance

Currently, James is a Research Associate at the Cooperative Institute Research Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado-Boulder as well as a Co-Principal Investigator, North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center. He specializes in developing programs that utilize the interface between Indigenous People’s Traditional Knowledge and Western Science.  He has over 25 years’ experience serving as a cross cultural/broker resource to Federal Government, Higher Education Institutions and Non-Profits to developing, maintaining positive on-going working relationships with federally and non-federally recognized Indian tribes, Tribal College and Universities and Tribal Communities.

He is a founding member of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Indigenous Alliance that was established at GEO Week 2019 in Canberra, Australia to foster a continued, effective, respectful, and reciprocal relationship with GEO and representatives of indigenous communities from around the world. 

He was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, USA and is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. His higher education comes from Sinte Gleska University.

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Dr. Michael Mendez 

September 22, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. ET
Ecology, Urban Planning, and Public Policy, UC Irvine

Dr. Michael Mendez is an assistant professor of environmental policy and planning at the University of California, Irvine. He previously was the inaugural James and Mary Pinchot Faculty Fellow in Sustainability Studies at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Dr. Mendez has more than a decade of senior-level experience in the public and private sectors, where he consulted and actively engaged in the policymaking process. This included working for the California State Legislature as a senior consultant, lobbyist, gubernatorial appointee, and as vice chair of the Sacramento City Planning Commission. His new book “Climate Change from the Streets,” published through Yale University Press (2020), is an urgent and timely story of the contentious politics of incorporating environmental justice into global climate change policy.

​Dr. Mendez contributed to state and national research policy initiatives, including serving as an advisor to a California Air Resources Board member, and as a participant of the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s workgroup on “Climate Vulnerability and Social Science Perspectives.” Most recently, he was appointed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to the Board on Environmental Change and Society (BECS). He also serves as a panel reviewer for the National Academies of Sciences’ Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP).

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Mr. Jim Blackburn, Esq. 

September 28, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. ET
Baker Institute Faculty Scholar, Co-Director of SSPEED/Rice University

Jim Blackburn is a professor in the practice of environmental law in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Rice University, teaching courses in sustainable development and environmental law. He is also a practicing environmental lawyer with the Blackburn & Carter law firm in Houston and a Rice faculty scholar at the Baker Institute. At Rice, he serves as the co-director of the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disaster (SSPEED) Center and as director of the undergraduate minor in energy and water sustainability. At the SSPEED Center, Blackburn has been responsible for the development of landscape-scale green space solutions for surge damage mitigation, including the Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area, a web-based ecological services exchange and structural alternatives. He is the author of “The Book of Texas Bays” (Texas A&M University Press, 2004), which focuses on the environmental health of bays in Texas and efforts undertaken to protect them. He has received various public service awards, including the Barbara C. Jordan Community Advocate Award from Texas Southern University in 2007, the National Conservation Achievement Award from the National Wildlife Federation in 2001 and the Bob Eckhardt Lifetime Achievement Award for coastal preservation efforts from the Texas General Land Office in 1998. In 2003, he was awarded an honorary membership by the American Institute of Architects for legal work associated with urban quality of life issues in Houston. Blackburn received a B.A. in history and a J.D. from The University of Texas at Austin and an M.S. in environmental science from Rice University.

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The Rising Voices Center for Indigenous and Earth Sciences Panel

October 16, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. ET
Featuring: Bill Thomas, Heather Lazrus, and Michelle Montgomery

The Rising Voices Center for Indigenous and Earth Sciences aims to advance science through collaborations that bring Indigenous and Earth (atmospheric, social, biological, ecological) sciences into partnership. Panelists will discuss and explore the nature of Indigenous data, which is often referred to as Traditional Knowledge (TK)- why and how does it differ from Western knowledge? The panelists' research and experiences will demonstrate how combining western technology and Indigenous research can yield novel insights into and actions for preserving our environment. Additionally, they will explain how oral histories and TK contain information that cannot be picked up with remote sensing technology or other Western principles, and how much of Indigenous generational knowledge of the land was later replicated by Western technology.



The Fierce Urgency of Now: Ending Disaster Inequity

October 23, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. ET
Featuring: Curtis Brown

In terms of climate change and disaster, socially and economically disadvantaged populations are disproportionately impacted, have more limited access to recovery resources, and often take longer to recover, or not recover at all. Residents of environmental justice neighborhoods generally have high levels of uncertainty, distrust, and suspicion about research related to natural hazard vulnerabilities and environmental conditions. To improve resiliency, it is imperative to increase local government awareness of social inequity and the actions that can be taken to ameliorate it. Curtis Brown will discuss challenges, opportunities, and resources for people looking for disaster resources and solutions to share with their communities.   .