HomeNewsEarth Day 2023: IonE community looks towards the future

Earth Day 2023: IonE community looks towards the future

This week, we’ve shared many great responses discussing our recent past, present and what gives the IonE community hope for the future. We’ve heard from IonE Director Jessica Hellmann, affiliates, fellows, students, and more. 

But, what lies ahead?

Today, we conclude our series of IonE community responses to help answer that question. We asked individuals to share their response to: What’s most exciting to you in the coming years?


Jennifer Schmitt (she/her) headshotFood systems and sustainability! I feel like we have made a lot of progress in the energy and transportation sectors (though more is definitely still needed). However, food systems will also need to decrease emissions if we are going to minimize the global temperature rise. While I don’t see a big “silver bullet” solution for our food systems, lots of smaller solutions are in process, being tried, or coming down the pipeline, and it makes for an exciting space to be in.

Jennifer Schmitt (she/her) is an IonE Affiliate, grant recipient, and Senior Research Scientist in Sustainability as part of IonE’s Knowledge Initiatives team.


Jon Knott (he/him) headshotNew technologies in remote sensing, availability of new data, and the continued momentum in the field of climate change research provide exciting opportunities to better understand how natural- and human-influenced systems are impacted by, contribute to, and mitigate the effects of climate change. Forests are the largest terrestrial carbon sink, yet “how much carbon is stored in forests?” continues to be an important question. By leveraging multiple data sources, we are working to not only answer the “how much” question but also the “how” question: how does carbon move into, throughout, and out of forest ecosystems? And how does this vary across scales, from individual trees to landscapes to nationwide estimates of greenhouse gas emissions to and removals from the atmosphere? Improved methods and data allow for assessing change, providing a mechanistic understanding of how forests continue to be a key player in the terrestrial carbon sink.

Jon Knott (he/him) is an IonE Associate and Research Forester for the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.


Suby Sharma (she/her) headshotAs an interdisciplinary climate scientist, I am thrilled by the growing emphasis on community-engaged research and citizen participation in environmental and climate change studies. This trend is expected to continue gaining momentum in the years to come.

Community-engaged research and citizen participation acknowledge their significance by involving the communities most impacted by environmental issues in the research process. This approach offers a more detailed understanding of the local context, fosters trust, and creates a sense of ownership and investment in the research outcomes. 

Dr. Suby Sharma (she/her) is a Postdoctoral scholar in Climate Resilience as part of IonE’s Knowledge Initiatives team.


Arne Kildegaard headshotHistorically, energy use sectors occupied separate silos, each with its own primary fuel(s) and GHG emissions profile: electricity, commercial and residential heating, industrial heating, transportation, and agriculture. As of today, zero-emissions generation, coupled with advancing energy and heat storage technologies enable a kind of arbitrage among the silos, and some remarkable progress in decarbonizing the energy sector writ large.

Recently, the consensus has been “electrify everything; decarbonize the electricity supply.” Some loads prove easier to electrify than others, but plunging wind and solar prices and legislation like MN’s Clean Electricity Standard already have us firmly on a path to cleaner supply. Technological challenges abound, of course, but energy systems integration challenges are also critical: how can we serve the various loads from existing cheap, clean, but also intermittent sources? What kinds of storage, and/or dispatchable clean generation, placed where in the system, help displace fossil fuels most quickly and economically?

Arne Kildegaard is an IonE Affiliate and Professor of Economics and Management in the Division of Social Science at the University of Minnesota Morris.


Diele Lobo (she/her) headshotFrom my perspective, one of the most exciting things is the increasing focus on equity in climate change adaptation efforts. As we continue to confront the adverse impacts of climate change, it is essential that we prioritize the needs of marginalized and vulnerable communities and work towards ensuring that adaptation efforts are inclusive and equitable. I am encouraged by the increasing calls for the adaptation community to do more to advance understanding of equity in adaptation practice, and to foreground considerations of social equity in adaptation research.

Diele Lobo (she/her) is a Postdoctoral Associate for the Midwest Climate Adaptation Science Center hosted at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.


Harsh Jain headshot

In my opinion, the pressing issues of human health and social inequalities resulting from climate change should be the primary focus of research efforts. Using my modeling techniques, I am exploring how to address these issues in innovative ways. One project involves studying sulfate pollution on Minnesota’s watersheds, which is causing high rates of aquatic extinction, especially impacting the sustainability of wild rice. Working with environmental engineers, we are creating a dynamic systems model of sulfur transport in aquatic sediment that will help manage polluted aquatic ecosystems more effectively. I am also collaborating with public health researchers from UMTC and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh for developing predictive models to forecast the incidence of diarrheal disease in Bangladeshi children as a function of climate change and its effects on human immune status and protozoan populations. Such forward-looking modeling approaches empower policymakers and communities to make informed decisions and advocate for effective solutions.

Harsh Jain Is an IonE Associate and Dr. Howard Higholt Endowed Professor in the Mathematics and Statistics department at the University of Minnesota Duluth


Thank you for following along this week as we shared responses surrounding Earth Day topics from the IonE community.

Jessica Hellmann kicked off this week with a blog post – From the Director: the next chapter

Our first set of responses focused on the question – what was the most exciting thing to happen in your field this past year? Our second group of responses focused on the question – what gives you hope for the future?

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