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Adventuring in the name of Science

As the Amazon burns from fires set by illegal loggers, we can think of no better time to shine a light on the work done by Adventure Scientists. The organization provides an innovative method to collect scientific data from around the world by uniting explorers and scientists. They train and partner with explorers around the globe to get scientists the data they need at scale to address critical challenges to the environment and human health.

We caught up with Marcus Pearson, Director of Program Investments and General Counsel of Adventure Scientists, to get his take on the challenges and opportunities ahead. Marcus will be a featured speaker at Harvest Summit this fall.

Get a peak at the work they’re doing in Oregon and Brazil via the Timber Tracking Project on PBS to track and combat illegal logging.

What’s been the reaction of the scientists and explorers in your network to the news of extensive fires in the Amazon forest?

The basic response is frustration. This Amazon fire season isn’t significantly worse than others in the past two decades, but it’s a big step back after several years of major reduction. It’s hard to see a situation revert after improvements had been made.

Where does your organization fit in solving the problem?

The biggest threat with these fires is that they’ll wipe out large sections of old-growth rainforest. That would release a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, decrease the amount of CO2 being absorbed from the atmosphere, and reduce the size of one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. Our Timber Tracking project battles the same threats by tackling the problem of illegal logging.

Can you share more about the organization’s current project to promote legal timber? 

The biggest difficulty in curbing the illegal timber harvest is that once a tree is cut it’s historically been impossible to tell where it grew and whether it was taken legally or illegally. We’re gathering genetic samples from at-risk tree species across their ranges, creating a database of chemical signatures. Now when authorities want to verify the legality of a particular haul of timber, they can test it, compare it to the database, and reveal just where the tree came from. It makes visible those previously invisible differences between legal and illegal timber.

Can anyone volunteer to explore the planet and collect data for you?

Absolutely. Our Timber Tracking project is currently focused on species in northwestern North America, but we have projects on biodiversity and roadkill prevention active globally and year-round. 

What type of data sets has the organization collected and can anyone access them?

We’ve collected the world’s largest dataset on microplastics, plus extensive data on pollinators and wildlife-vehicle collisions, and all of that is open and available on our website. 

Have the type of partners and organizations requesting your data collection services evolved and why?

The types of partners haven’t changed, but the types of projects absolutely have. Since our founding, we’ve refined our model to ensure that every project we take on leads to lasting positive impact on the environment or human health. We want every volunteer and every scientific partner to know that their work with us going to be put to use by decision makers at every level in both the public and private sectors.

What’s the greatest opportunity ahead for your work?

The scope of our impact. By connecting the worlds of scientific research and adventure at a grand scale, we can get the speed of conservation to match the speed of environmental threats.

Marcus leads Adventure Scientists’ efforts to develop and expand the organization’s programs. Prior to this, he spent over a decade working in environmental law and policy, where he led landscape, wildlife, and resource conservation advocacy efforts in the United States and Latin America. 

He joined Adventure Scientists because throughout his law practice he recognized that high-quality field data forms the foundation for addressing globally-critical environmental and human health issues. Much of this data is only found in hard-to-access corners of the world: tree canopies, high alpine environments, deserts, offshore reef systems, and other areas deep in the backcountry. Adventure Scientists’ global community of outdoor athletes––ultrarunners, mountaineers, whitewater rafters, transoceanic sailors, and others––is uniquely situated to gather the data because it is able to match any scale of our partners’ ambitions and needs.

Marcus majored in both History and Latin American Studies at Bowdoin College in Maine, and earned his J.D. at the University of Washington, with a certificate in environmental law. After completing a 10,000-mile trans-Latin American journey by bus, foot, and hitchhiking from Tijuana, Mexico to Ushuaia, Argentina, Marcus conducted post-graduate work in international environmental policy at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City.

Born and raised in California’s central coast, Marcus spent hours exploring Monterey Bay’s tide pools, crashing through redwood groves, oak thickets, and sagebrush in the surrounding mountains, and wondering why the Salinas River always ran dry. He lives in Bozeman, Montana, which gives him the opportunity to explore new landscapes with his adventurous wife and twin daughters, the three best parts of his life.

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