The scientists at NCX make our work connecting American landowners with net-zero leaders possible. With their expertise, we are redefining the forest carbon space, delivering high-integrity climate impact with speed and scale.
For this installment of the series, we interviewed Dr. Joe Shannon, Data Scientist at NCX.
Joe has a background in forestry and forest hydrology. His primary work is maintaining and improving the NCX harvest risk model we use to estimate the expected impact of forest management on carbon.
He started in forestry at the University of New Hampshire. After graduation, he worked for the US Forest Service performing inventories and timber sale preparation. He spent 13 years in Minnesota and Michigan researching the impact of forest management, invasive insects, and climate change on water quality and quantity, before joining NCX.
Q: How did your time with the US Forest Service shape your career objectives?
I began working with the USFS on the White Mountain National Forest right after my undergraduate degree and spent 3 summers performing inventory work, marking timber sales, and assisting with forest road surveying. My time there was a great opportunity to understand different aspects of timber sale preparation from the perspective of federal lands. It also prompted me to think about some of the big-pictures aspects of forest planning. One of the things that fascinated me before and during my time with the USFS was how forests and forestry affect water moving on and through the landscape. That fascination, fed implementing surface-water set-backs and identifying locations for culverts, led me to a master’s degree in forest hydrology, researching the effects of forest management on changes in water availability.
Q: When and why did you decide to join the NCX team?
I decided to join the NCX team while I was finishing my PhD program at Michigan Tech University. At that time I was looking for a position where I could be a part of a growing use of environmental data in new ways. NCX pushes the field of environmental data science forward, and it was an exciting prospect to be a part of that. The company’s larger vision of valuing all the benefits forests provide was probably even more appealing to me. Payment for ecological services is something I became interested in when studying forestry, and I only became more convinced of the importance from studying forest hydrology. It would have been hard for me to not seek a position with an organization using environmental data science to create a marketplace for ecosystem services.
Q: What are you focusing on at NCX?
My main focus at NCX is developing and maintaining what we call our harvest risk model. It is the portion of our process where we assess an eligible landowner and their forests to determine what management we would expect. The harvest risk model is one component of determining expected landowner management and measuring our impact. Working on this model includes everything from documenting the current data sources and communicating internally to developing new ways to measure the performance and change the structure of the model to meet new requirements. I regularly get to collaborate with other teams at NCX on changes to landowner eligibility requirements, advances in the science we use, and in supporting our evaluation process operations.
Q: How do you view the role of forests in mitigating climate change?
I think that forests are essential for helping to mitigate the magnitude of climate change, and the severity of its impacts. Clearly NCX is focused on changing management to sequester more carbon, and there is a wide range of management changes that can be implemented to do carbon-informed forestry. Forests have non-carbon benefits that everyone should also be thinking about because many of those can help mitigate the impacts of climate change that people will experience in the coming decades. Traditional forestland can help improve water quality and quantity, stabilizing supplies under moderately dry conditions. Urban forests provide residents with other localized benefits, such as improving air quality, reducing temperatures during heat waves, and lowering energy consumption and costs. It’s important to keep in mind that we have a two-way relationship with forests. While forests can help us mitigate climate change and its impacts, we need to make sure our management accounts for the climate-change–induced challenges that forests will face too.
Q: What do you see for the future of the harvest risk model at NCX?
Right now, I think the most exciting work on our harvest risk model is the development of a more flexible approach to scale. We know that forest management happens at all different scales: which tree to cut, which stand to thin, which parcel to send equipment to, which counties see more active management, etc. We’re making changes to our modeling that will make it easier for us to move our work up and down that range of scales. I am excited about this not just because we expect to improve our results, but because it will unlock ways to explore a wider range of forest benefits from wildlife habitat to water quality.