"I love the potential of making scientific discoveries that can contribute to the common good."
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Alcala de Henares, a city in Spain north-east of the centre of Madrid and one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. The city has a long university tradition and the university is one of the eldest in Spain (funded in 1499!).
Were you always interested in your current field?
No, I had quite a journey to get to my current field. When, I was a child, my passion was classical ballet, I danced in a professional Spanish ballet company until I had to quit for an injury when I was 18 years old. Afterwards, I did not originally want to study environmental sciences, but dentistry! However, when I was in my twenties I volunteered for a non-government organisation working on sustainable development strategies in Haiti and Dominican Republic, then did fieldwork collecting vegetation samples in a national park in Spain for a bushfire risk research project. I also took all sorts of jobs – barista in a coffee shop, trainer in a gym, trainee managing hospital waste, saleswoman for an optician and flamenco dancer in a restaurant. Then I realised that what I enjoyed most were the opportunities that environmental research could bring to be in touch with nature, and I decided I wanted to be an environmental scientist. Later I discovered the high potential of satellite imagery to monitor our environment and decided to specialise in the use of remote sensing technologies to support management decisions such as bushfire management.
Are you working from home? If so, how’s it going?
Yes, I am still working from home. It is going well. My transition to work full time from home was not too hard as I work from home from time to time to optimise my time (e.g. reduce time travelling from home to work some of the days that I pick up the kids from school at 3pm or when I really need no interruptions to finish a paper or something like that. It was also good that we maintained our regular group meetings so even though virtual is not the same than face to face meetings, it was good to catch up with colleagues at least once a week. Things got a bit more challenging when the schools closed and kids were sent home for learning. My husband and I had to be creative to find a strategy that would work well for us being able to keep our work going while helping out our two kids (age 7 and 10) with their homework (they really needed full supervision to get the work done!).
We end up finding a good strategy that worked well for everyone (most of the days) and I also got better in multitasking! For example, I recall one day preparing lunch to the kids while having a Zoom meeting with one of my PhD students. Overall, its been a time of mix feelings but overall, I have been thinking positively and tried to find the positive side of it. For example, I have enjoyed slowing down and expending more quality time with my kids without having to rush all the time to get everywhere and being creative to replace my exercise commuting to work with my bike by all sort of alternatives, most of them including the kids. I think I have started some new good habits that I will try to keep when returning to the office.
Do you have kids/pets at home that are helping/hindering?
I have a cat that is very much enjoying having us at home and joins most of my Zoom meetings. Yes, interestingly, she likes to seat with me while in meetings. I also have two kids. Both were at home with us until they returned to school on the 2nd June.
What projects are working on?
My main project over the last 7 years has been “Mapping bushfire hazards and impact” funded by the BNHCRC. In this project we have used remote sensing data collected by sensors on the ground or on board of airborne or space platforms to provide accurate and timely information on vegetation properties that drive fire danger and therefore are essential for fire management decision making (e.g. helping fire managers in their prescribed burning efforts, improved awareness of fire hazards and pre-positioning of firefighting resources). For example, we have developed the Australian Flammability Monitoring System (AFMS) is the first web application in the world to disseminate satellite derived fuel moisture content, flammability and other fire risk related products at such a large, continental scale. Despite the usefulness of these explicit maps we know we can do better for Eucalypt forest so, recently I have started to work with colleges from the Research School of Astronomy and the Institute for Space on the development of “OzFuel”, an ANU satellite mission tuned to more accurately monitor forest fuel load and critical dryness level for bushfire prevention in Australia. Ozfuel will tell us accurately the conditions in forest in real time. With new funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage grant and in collaboration with experts and industry partners from Western Sydney University; The University of Lleida (Spain); NSW Rural Fire Service; Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and ACT Parks and Conservation, we will combine this real time monitoring with physically-based models to forecasts the moisture content of live forest fuels into the future and provide with early warning of the likelihood of major bushfires.
What do you want people to know about the work that you do?
My work uses remote sensing technology (that is, sensors on the ground or onboard airborne or space platforms) that has tremendous potential to provide accurate and timely spatial information critical for bushfire management and other applications such as agriculture and biodiversity conservation.
Why do you love what you do?
I love the potential of making scientific discoveries that can contribute to the common good. I also love the international and multidisciplinary angle of my research. I feel privileged to be able to work with passionate people, both in academia and in the fire industry and from different backgrounds and countries. I find that very enriching.
What is one specific thing that you have achieved (research or otherwise) that you are most proud of?
I always feel proud of seeing science from my research group informing important environmental management decisions and also students graduating and fulfilling their projects!!