Renato: Shedding light on the rainforest at ATTO and NASA

How it all began

Hi there, my name is Renato Braghiere! I’m a climatologist and global ecologist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. But I have worked on the ATTO project during my Master’s degree from 2011 to 2013.

I grew up in the countryside of the state of São Paulo in Brazil amid the trees. From my early years, I’ve been curious about how nature works and how we connect with nature in so many different ways. I joined the University of São Paulo in 2007. There I studied meteorology, and more specifically, the interaction of the sun’s light with aerosol particles and its impacts on land ecosystems. After graduating, I knew that I had much more to learn. I wanted to keep exploring the interactions between the atmosphere and the biosphere. During my MSc, I had the opportunity to work directly with the Amazon rainforest, the largest tropical forest in the world! Amazing!

There is no better place to closely watch the atmosphere speaking to the land surface than from the top of a flux tower above a massive green carpet of rainforest. The innumerous shades of green, the textures made by different canopy heights, the unique cloud formations pouring rain on limited areas of the forest, while the sun shines bright right next to it. I spent my days collecting this wealth of ‘data’ with my own human sensors, while the sonic anemometer and the multifilter spectroradiometer stood right next to me measuring the 3D components of the wind and the hyperspectral components of the light.

Back to my office in São Paulo, I used artificial intelligence to help me to understand that incredible amount of data about energy and mass fluxes between the atmosphere and the forest, as well as information about aerosols and radiation components. Perhaps the main message from all that data was about the importance of forest structure. By then I was sure that I had much more to learn and wanted to keep learning from the forest. I moved to the United Kingdom to do a PhD at the University of Reading studying the representation of forest structure in climate models, the Earth System models.

Renato got his MSc degree in the ATTO project. Today he works for NASA.

Where I am today

Now at NASA JPL, I aim to better represent mechanistic processes in Earth System models. These are required for more assertive climate projections in order to help scientists and policymakers to address issues related to climate change and the well-being of future generations. I want to understand fundamental controls of land photosynthesis including the radiative transfer in vegetation canopies, as well as the root uptake of water and nutrients. How can we use state-of-the-art process-based models to refine local and global representations of the carbon cycle?  And how can we develop more informed projections of plant growth, especially under future climate scenarios? Every day I try to answer these questions with a suite of Earth observations, including NASA satellites and data gathered by experiments like ATTO!

My time in the Amazon rainforest has shaped the way in which I think and do science until this very day and I believe it will forever! Projects like ATTO are timely and needed not only to give us new insights about the functioning of the largest tropical rainforest on Earth, but also to raise awareness about how fragile this ecosystem is, and what we can do to avoid its collapse and destruction, which will ultimately, back fire on us.