emerging technology

GeoPolicy: Bridging the gap between science and decision makers – a new tool for nuclear emergencies affecting food and agriculture

GeoPolicy: Bridging the gap between science and decision makers – a new tool for nuclear emergencies affecting food and agriculture

Amelia Lee Zhi Yi, the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has developed an online system to assist in improving the response capabilities of authorities in the event of an emergency caused by natural hazards. The Decision Support System for Nuclear Emergencies Affecting Food and Agriculture (DSS4NAFA), provides a clear overview of radioactive contamination of crops and agricultural lands through improved data management and visualisation, it also assists in decision support processes by suggesting management actions to decision makers. In this interview, we have the pleasure to introduce Ms Amelia Lee Zhi Yi, working at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture to speak about DSS4NAFA.

Nuclear Emergency Response (NER) for food and agriculture – why is that important and what does it entail?

In the event of a nuclear or radiological emergency, the response should be swift in the interest of human health. After ensuring the well-being of the population, it is necessary to prioritise the assessment of possible radioactive contamination of crops and agricultural lands to avoid ingestion of radioactivity.

Proper data management, data visualisation and risk communication are essential for efficient response to a nuclear emergency. Factors that should be considered for such response include support for sampling and laboratory analysis, optimal allocation of manpower and analytical instruments, and integrated communication between stakeholders.

To make well-informed decisions on for instance planting and food restrictions, food safety authorities need to have a good understanding of the radiological conditions after a fallout event. This is accomplished through the collection of environmental samples such as soil and plants, and food products that are then analysed using consistent methods in qualified laboratories. Further, these data should be displayed in an intuitive manner so that authorities will be able to interpret the data under stressful, time-bound conditions. Finally, to reduce confusion and clearly communicate decisions made to the public, standardised communication protocols of the decisions made by policymakers need to be implemented.

How can technology assist us in this process? What is DSS4NAFA?

Innovative information technology (IT)-based methods can assist in optimising processes in NER. Some examples include streamlining data transfer using cloud-based platforms paired with mobile technologies, facilitating decision making using advanced visualisation tools, and communicating risk to the public using pre-defined correspondence templates.

The Decision Support System for Nuclear Emergencies Affecting Food and Agriculture (DSS4NAFA), is a cloud-based IT-DSS tool developed by the Soil and Water Management & Crop Nutrition Laboratory, under the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. While it was originally developed as a system for nuclear emergency response management and communication, its ability to discern data quality, to provide user-friendly spatio-temporal visualisations for decision makers, and ease in creation of communication materials makes it a good candidate tool for usage in natural hazard risk mitigation.

The beta version of DSS4NAFA is planned to be released in August 2018 for testing by volunteer member states.

General overview of how DSS4NAFA works. After a nuclear or radiological fallout event affecting food and agriculture, the system assists decision makers by allocating samplers and laboratories according to proximity, allows for data to be input into a mobile device and sent to a cloud server immediately, and visualises data for intuitive decision making (Source FAO-IAEA).

How does DSS4NAFA support public authorities in emergencies?

DSS4NAFA contains modules which provide logistical support to decision makers in defining sampling location, sampler allocation and laboratory allocation. It also functions as a powerful visual interpretation tool that brings together multi-dimensional data usually handled to make decisions on planting and food restrictions in a nuclear emergency response situation.  Some of the functionalities of the modules are as below:

Data management:

  • Standardised data input with pre-determined data entry fields and format
  • Data housed within one server to ensure ease of data analysis
  • All data collected in the field using mobile devices and are sent directly to the server

Data visualisation:

  • GIS based visualisation for instinctive understanding of situation on the ground
  • “Logmap” for at-a-glance sampler and laboratory analyses status
  • Comprehensive information, such as current and historical decision actions, intuitively displayed on the Food Restriction Dashboard

Logistics and decision support:

  • Sampling assignments proposed based on crop calendar and land use type
  • Food and planting restrictions suggested based on the movable levels set by authorities
  • Public communication module


The Food Restriction Dashboard is a platform in DSS4NAFA whereby radioactivity information is collated considering the spatial distribution and time resolution of the accident, and suggests food and planting restrictions based on the level of risk and the specified tolerance levels (Source FAO-IAEA).

What feedback did you get from real users during the design/development of the DSS?

The development of DSS4NAFA was highly iterative and findings from the process were invaluable. Some lessons learned during its development include the necessity for stakeholder involvement during the design process, the usage of a “one-house approach” for centralised data, and the importance of building a tool that is flexible enough to be used during emergency response and routine monitoring operations.

The system has generated a lot of interest when shown during several IAEA workshops and conferences such as at EGU, indicating the need for this type of system.

What do you think will be the main challenges in the application of the DSS4NAFA?

Two challenges are foreseen in the deployment of DSS4NAFA. The first is to explain the benefits of the system to countries with pre-existing Nuclear Emergency Response systems. We are confident that we can succeed as DSS4NAFA is modular, thus Member States can select and implement the components that suit their needs best.

Secondly, there could be some learning associated with the implementation of DSS4NAFA. To facilitate this process for governmental data analysts, user experience will be one of the major focus for improvement during the beta testing phase. We strive to develop DSS4NAFA such that the system will be intuitive for use to its fullest potential, even with minimal prior training.

The development of DSS4NAFA is part of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division Mandate in Preparedness and Response to Nuclear and Radiological Emergencies Affecting Food and Agriculture to promote the management of intra- and interagency emergency preparedness and response to nuclear accidents and radiological events affecting food and agriculture, including in the application of agricultural countermeasures.

by Jonathan Rizzi, Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research

Jonathan Rizzi is the incoming ECS representative for the EGU’s Natural Hazard division. He has a bachelor in GIS and Remote Sensing and a master and a PhD in Environmental Sciences. He is a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research and has worked in the field of climate change and risk assessment for the last several years.

Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on the EGU Natural Hazards (NH) Division blog. Read the original post here.

Geoengineering and (un)making the world we want to live in

Geoengineering and its policy implications were hot topics at this year’s Science in Public conference. The subject raised questions such as how is geoengineering portrayed in the media and what does this mean for the acceptance of geoengineering technologies?  Dr Rusi Jaspal and Professor Brigitte Nerlich discuss their research into media representations of geoengineering and how these shape the hopes and fears of the public…

Geoengineering promises to alter global climate patterns and thereby avoid the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change. Implementing various types of climate engineering options is a huge, but still mainly speculative, technological problem. It throws up immense political, governance, social and ethical problems. However, we should not forget that it is also a linguistic problem. As I. A. Richard said in his Philosophy of Rhetoric, a “command of metaphor plays a role in the control of the world that we make for ourselves to live in” (see p. 155). This means that we make the world we live in by the language we speak in it, especially through the use of metaphors. Metaphors make us see one thing in terms of another and then act in specific ways according to this new way of seeing. What does this mean for geoengineering? What language is emerging in the context of geoengineering? How might people respond to such language?

To explore these questions, we undertook two studies as part of a larger project considering climate change as a complex social issue. In the first study, we examined a small body of articles published in trade magazines between 1980 and 2010, with the majority being published between 2006 and 2009. In a second follow-up study we analysed a small sample of articles published in UK national newspapers between 1 January 2010 and 15 July 2013. Overall, the coverage of geoengineering lags far behind coverage of other geoscientific developments, such as carbon capture and storage and fracking, for example.

The findings of our first study indicate that those trying to promote geoengineering use a series of powerful metaphors circling around one master-argument, namely that if emissions continue to rise we face global catastrophe and geoengineering might be the only option left to avert it. The three main conceptual metaphors supporting this master-argument were:

  1. The planet is a machine (car, heating system, computer), which manifested itself in scientists’ and journalists’ claims that geoengineering can ‘fix’ the planet, that it can be used to manipulate the planet’s thermostat and so on;
  2. The planet is a body, which manifested itself in people talking about building a sunshade for the planet or applying suncream, sunblock or sunscreen to it; and
  3. The planet is a patient, which manifested itself in talk of applying medical treatment to the planet of curing the planet’s addiction to carbon and so on.
Honeywell's iconic thermostat, also called "The Round". (Credit: Flickr user midnightcomm)

Honeywell’s iconic thermostat, also called The Round. (Credit: Flickr user midnightcomm)

Just after we had carried out the first study, the SPICE project (which aimed to assess the feasibility of injecting particles into the atmosphere in order to manage solar radiation) was launched and attracted some media attention, especially after it was cancelled. We imagined that the language used to talk about geoengineering might change after this event. When we looked at the UK press coverage, we found a pronounced difference between right- and left-leaning newspapers. The Times and The Daily Telegraph (right-leaning) still displayed some of the optimism we had found in the trade magazines (and the scientists who were quoted in them), while The Guardian and The Independent (left leaning) focused more on potential threats posed by geoengineering. The Times and The Telegraph saw geoengineering as a last option in the war against climate change, as a palliative and a silver bullet (linking back to the conceptual metaphors used in the trade press). They also, and more importantly, began to normalise geoengineering, either by comparing it to sci-fi but pointing out that it was becoming a reality, by linking it back to successful experiments in cloud seeding, or by comparing geoengineering to everyday activities we take for granted, such as stepping into our cars.

The technology that would have been used in the SPICE experiment. (Credit: Hugh Hunt)

The technology that would have been used in the SPICE experiment. (Credit: Hugh Hunt)

By contrast The Guardian and The Independent focused on the threats posed by geoengineering and argued that it distracts from climate mitigation (what others have called the moral hazard argument) and by pointing to many uncertainties, both scientific and social. Some articles also framed the technology as ‘fascist’. This contrasts strongly with the normalising discourse emerging within the more right-leaning press.

Readers of press articles about geoengineering are confronted with a wide range of linguistic and metaphorical arguments and framings. These need to be thought through in terms of the world they might want to live in or be forced to live in terms of individuals and communities. This is not easy, as this technology is highly speculative, would be a global enterprise and would have very uncertain and unpredictable local impacts. As a means of understanding how people might respond to complex social and linguistic constructions of geoengineering, we have drawn upon Identity Process Theory. This social psychological theory argues that we need to maintain appropriate levels of particular ‘identity principles’ in order to construct a positive identity:

  • Continuity – thread connecting past, present and future and, at a group level, survival;
  • Self-efficacy – control and competence over one’s life and future;
  • Self-esteema positive self-conception;
  • Distinctivenessdifferentiation from relevant others.

It is likely that metaphors which construct geoengineering as a danger to the human species could threaten people’s sense of continuity, while those that normalise geoengineering could in fact safeguard our sense of continuity over time by denying that anything would change. Metaphors that depict geoengineering as the only means of regaining control of the planet’s climate could bolster people’s sense of self-efficacy. The notion that we are supporting a technology that could benefit our planet may help us to derive a positive self-conception, enhancing feelings of self-esteem.

We are more likely to endorse or embrace phenomena that provide us with high levels of these principles and to avoid or deny things that jeopardise our feelings of continuity, self-efficacy and so on. Thus, the metaphors which make us view geoengineering in terms of either threats or benefits to these principles are clearly important in shaping our perceptions and, ultimately, our future engagement with geoengineering at both individual and group levels. This is no trivial matter. As the sociolinguist Suzanne Romaine said: “It matters which metaphors we choose to live by. If we choose unwisely or fail to understand their implications, we will die by them.”

By Dr Rusi Jaspal & Professor Brigitte Nerlich


Jaspal, R. & Nerlich, B. (2013). Media representations of geoengineering: Constructing hopes and fears. Paper presented at the Science in Public Conference, University of Nottingham, UK, 23 July 2013.

Nerlich, B. & Jaspal, R. (2012). Metaphors we die by? Geoengineering, metaphors and the argument from catastrophe. Metaphor and Symbol, 27(2), 131-47.

Dr Rusi Jaspal is Lecturer in Psychology and Convenor of the Self and Identity Research Group at De Montfort University, Leicester. E-mail:

Professor Brigitte Nerlich is Professor of Language, Science and Society and Director of the Leverhulme Program: Making Science Public at the University of Nottingham. E-mail: