2021 Esri UC Science Recap: Dawn Wright at UC Central Live and Esri Science Symposium with Dr. Healy Hamilton

Esri president, Jack Dangermond, emphasized an urgency to create a sustainable future using the power of community, GIS technology, and collaboration at the 2021 Esri User Conference. In this recap, we cover Chief Scientist of Esri, Dr. Dawn Wright’s thoughts on the message with special guests during UC Central Live, and keynotes from the Esri Science Symposium with Dr. Healy Hamilton.

UC Central Live Recap: Dr. Dawn Wright Talks with Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant about Highlights from the Day 1 — Plenary Session

Dr. Dawn Wright and Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant at Esri User Conference 2021
Esri's Chief Scientist Dr. Dawn Wright (left) speaks with Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant (right) during a UC Central Live Segment

Dawn Wright and Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant welcomed attendees to another day at the Esri User Conference to introduce UC Central Live’s programming and discuss the highlights from Day 1—Plenary Session.

One of Wright’s highlights from Day1—Plenary Session was the theme of building community through collaboration that Dangermond introduced in the opening of the Esri User Conference.

"Technology is not the answer. It's the way that we use technology, the way that we partner and support each other with technology," said Wright. "Technology is that enabling force to get us to a sustainable future. I love this theme of GIS for a sustainable future, but not GIS alone."

Dr. Dawn Wright Esri

Wright also expressed how the concept of digital twins is exciting, considering climate change, the mobile work required of scientists to understand our world, and the impact it can have on forecasting and problem-solving.

Later in the program, Wright talked with Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant about her work at the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve in Southern California. Dr. Wynn-Grant and her team are studying the carnivore life on the preserve, and she is looking at the opportunity to develop a digital twin for the land and seascape in the area.

Learn more about the Dangermond Preserve in this ArcGIS StoryMap.




James Fallows and Dr. Wright at UC Central Live
James Fallows and Dr. Dawn Wright at UC Central Live

UC Central Live Recap: Day 2 Plenary Session — Discussion with Dr. Dawn Wright, James Fallows, and Jeffrey Sachs

Following the Plenary Session on Day 2, Wright sat with James Fallows, a writer and journalist, to discuss highlights with Jeffrey Sachs, an economist. In the opening conversation, she talked about the interconnecting factors that bring us together as GIS professionals.

“One of the things that really struck me was the word one —the fact that there is only one ecosystem. It’s an ecosystem that is environmental and socioeconomic; it is industrial in terms of our different sectors; and it’s one ecosystem that our technology can work across to come up with a whole series of solutions,” said Wright.

James Fallows, Dawn Wright, and Jeffrey Sachs at Esri User Conference
James Fallows (left), Dawn Wright (center), and Jeffrey Sachs (right) talk during UC Central Live

Sachs joined Fallows and Wright from Greece to talk about the need for sustainability that he’s seeing around the world. Sachs shared how areas like the Amazon basin are at “a tipping point” and talked about how maps have been the communication tool to illustrate the dire outlook for our climate and natural resources.

In response to addressing the current state of our climate, Wright encourages people to organize their data, start discussions, and facilitate action in the face of despair. “There is still time, but we must act now,” said Wright.

“We don’t lack for solutions, we don’t lack for the money to do it…we’ve just not found our way politically and our way to cooperate globally,” said Sachs. He said that we must create that sense of “oneness” in our work as GIS professionals to help people understand how we’re all interconnected.

Wright closed with a response to the question of the moral imperative and ethical responsibility behind communicating and sharing maps and data as we reach the critical environmental tipping point. To prevent misuse of GIS technology, care should be shown in education, enriching metadata, and establishing best practices and workflows for using GIS technology.

Related: Watch the Plenary user story about the Last Best Chance to Protect the Ocean for the Benefit of Humanity

Dr. Dawn Wright and Dr. Healy Hamilton at the 2021 Esri Science Symposium
Dr. Dawn Wright introduced keynote speaker Dr. Healy Hamilton at the 2021 Esri Science Symposium

Esri Science Symposium Recap: Biodiversity and Our Role in the Ecosystem

In addition to her numerous UC Central Live appearances, Dawn Wright also hosted this year’s 6th annual Esri Science Symposium, which highlighted the importance of biodiversity and the critical need for humans to recognize our role in our ecosystem.

The symposium started with Dawn welcoming an audience of over 3,000 and sharing Esri science resources such as the Esri Science portfolio, Esri Climate Action site, and GIS for Science website. Attendees also received a free Ebook of GIS for Science, vol. 3: Maps for Saving the Planet, which details how GIS can be applied to safeguard and protect our world.

Next, Dr. Healy Hamilton, chief scientist of NatureServe, a nonprofit that utilizes GIS to collect data about imperiled species, began with her keynote presentation.

Hamilton’s talk stressed the importance of safeguarding biodiversity by telling the story of individual species that went extinct due to human causes. One of her examples was about the extinct southern gastric-brooding frog, a rare species in which the female’s stomach served as a womb. As eggs developed in the gastric-brooding frog’s womb, they miraculously were unaffected by the frog’s stomach acid. This distinct trait was studied by gastric and digestive researchers in hopes of developing methods to help alleviate stomach ulcers and digestive issues in humans. Unfortunately, only three years after the frogs’ discovery, it was declared extinct. Its extinction was likely due to warming temperatures and habitat loss.

With the loss of a one-of-a-kind species like the southern gastric-brooding frog, we as humans lose the ability to learn, study, and potentially create life-saving medicines from what we observe. Copying nature and creating solutions is called biomimicry, and it often saves time on research and development because it does not require inventing something new, but rather, building off solutions nature has already created.

Hamilton urged the audience to think of themselves as a part of the ecosystem stating, “Species shape their environment. Species modify, maintain, and create their landscape. We (as humans) have turned into ecosystem engineers, and this is the world that we have created. ”


"Species shape their environment. Species modify, maintain, and create their landscape. We (as humans) have turned into ecosystem engineers, and this is the world that we have created. "

Dr. Healy Hamilton Chief Scientist of NatureServe

Next, Hamilton delved into the history of species cataloging and the methodology and processes NatureServe uses to create its Map of Biodiversity Importance. By mapping the areas with the most endangered species, community developers, citizens, and scientists can determine which areas need the most critical and stringent environmental protection. Hamilton stated, “Maps democratize precision conservation and land protection. It’s more than a map.”

Map of the United States showing Imperiled Species. Dark Purple areas in the midwest and near the great-lakes indicate larger species richness. Light pink to orange areas in the east coast indicate less imperiled species richness.
Map of Biodiversity Importance created by Naturserve using Esri's ArcGIS.

Hamilton’s talk allowed the audience to understand the importance of saving one species, and then shifted to show how we can apply GIS to help protect all species. Maps allow us to see the big picture. Hamilton left the audience with a quote, “Protect what’s left, restore what’s degraded. That is a spatially explicit set of directions. We need to understand where. The Science of Where and the science of conservation are interconnected.”


Access the 2021 User Conference session recordings, Expo, and virtual Map Gallery here by logging in with your ArcGIS Public Account.

About the authors

Victoria is an Industry Marketing Manager for Corporate Science Communications supporting Chief Scientist of Esri, Dr. Dawn Wright. She has a background in Earth and Environmental Science from Vanderbilt University. When she isn't marketing, she's passionate about science communications, sustainable fashion, photography, and wildlife.


Leslie Fountain is the Community Content Manager for Esri Community, where ArcGIS users find solutions, share ideas, and collaborate to solve problems with GIS. Her industry background is in Local Government, Health & Human Services, Nonprofits, and Marketing Communications. She enjoys bringing awareness to GIS through storytelling and app building. Leslie has an MBA in Marketing from the University of Redlands and a Masters in Social Impact from Claremont Lincoln University.

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