Using Big Data Analytics to Predict Impacts of Arctic Climate Change

November 2016
Lisa Kerby
Lisa Kerby

Sometimes you have to go far afield to understand what's happening right at home. That's why MITRE's Lisa Kerby and her colleagues headed to Alaska last year to discuss the environment. "Our goal is to develop strong, predictive analytics based on the real events taking place in the Arctic that might also occur across the country," says Kerby. "The region is one of the 'canaries in the coal mine.' It's seeing the effects of climate change early on."

Kerby is a lead software systems engineer. She is part of the Homeland Security Systems Engineering & Development Institute (HSSEDI)™ federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) team. She works on a variety of efforts that range from manipulating big data to developing predictive analytics algorithms to performing independent tool assessments.

Kerby and project lead Chuck Lewis assisted the University of Alaska's Arctic Domain Awareness Center (ADAC) with the Climate Change Analytics Requirements 2015 Workshop.

"The workshop was an excellent collaboration experience," Kerby says. "It included a set of diverse people from government, industry, and native organizations, as well as scientists and researchers from different universities. Everyone wanted to know what the others are doing in terms of research."

At the workshop, participants shared information about their climate change data, analysis, and analytical tools. They discussed obstacles preventing timely environmental awareness, potential impacts of climate change, and resource constraints. They also examined how to enhance predictive algorithms and data analytics to better predict climate change impacts. Key players, with varied needs and responsibilities for the topic at hand, were able to collaborate on a common mission.

"As a first step, we wanted to identify gaps in capabilities where there are opportunities to develop better climate change predictive analytics that result in better response planning," Kerby explains.

MITRE: Bringing Different Elements of Government Together

As an operator of FFRDCs, MITRE brings together different parts of the public sector—federal, state, and local—to work on the same problems. According to Kerby, "We can make the connections and be the bridge between different agencies, companies, academia, and other organizations, and recommend and work with them to implement solutions addressing our nation's toughest problems."

What drew Kerby to MITRE? "I was definitely attracted to a greater work-life balance. And I strongly identified with the trusted adviser role and working in the public interest. I like being able to go in and have that immediate trust, because our sponsors know we don't profit from their decisions."

Varied Experiences Benefit Each New Assignment

"I've been lucky to work on some long-term programs, but it's nice to be able to move around, too," she says. "There's a benefit to working for so many diverse agencies, because pulling that diversity together and seeing the common threads makes it easy to continuously leverage lessons learned from every project I've worked on. I like and appreciate the variety."

Her current work is a prime example. Kerby is positioned in a technical center within the National Security Engineering Center FFRDC for the Department of Defense, where she has supported several federal agencies including the Internal Revenue Service, the Census Bureau, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the U.S. Navy.

In her off-hours, Kerby's passion is ceramics. "I throw pots on the wheel, and then do finishing work such as attaching handles or spouts. I do so much work with my head, that it's really nice to do something with my hands and see the direct results."

"It's a different kind of engineering in a way," she says. "I like that contrast."

—by Jim Chido

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