AGU 2021 Workshop:

Bringing ‘parachute science’ back to Earth to
improve remote sensing of biodiversity for all

Parachute Science Workshop @ 2021 AGU Fall Meeting

On December 7th, 2021 we held a workshop on the perils of parachute science (with a focus on remote sensing of biodiversity). This is targeted at individuals interested in participating in the BioSCape Project but is open to all. See the full session description here.

Full Workshop Description

See the full session description here.

The most important scientific challenges facing us today are global in scope and interdisciplinary in nature. Understanding and addressing environmental problems such as global climate change and biodiversity loss will require collaboration and trust within and across the international research community. International research endeavours have the potential to engage scientists from around the world to address these questions and develop innovative solutions. But, they also have the potential to alienate, discourage, and hinder progress through ‘parachute science’ in which scientists, often from wealthier nations, visit a location, collect data, and publish results with minimal engagement with the local scientists and/or decision-makers. The growing use of remote sensing has the potential to exacerbate these issues through remote data collection, interpretation, and analysis. This practice ignores local traditional knowledge and scientific expertise, reinforces existing global inequities, and reduces uptake. By ignoring critical local context and expertise, the ultimate consequences may be reduced impact of science in the local country, and lower quality science.

Avoiding parachute science has implications not only for international science and collaborations, but also for issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) in the US and more broadly. Representation of racial and ethnic minorities in the geosciences remains abysmally low. Integrating local and traditional voices and perspectives through collaborative research is one way to challenge global inequities and increase diversity that can be mirrored in our student populations and future workforce. It is important to have these conversations now, as the rate of international research is increasing, particularly within the biodiversity community. A set of best practices is needed to structure projects to maximize meaningful engagement and collaboration (including opportunities for data sharing, co-authorship, reciprocal visits and training). The question is, how do we do this well?

In this workshop, we will discuss the challenges of developing bi- and multilateral international research projects, with a specific focus on avoiding ‘parachute science’ in projects related to remote sensing of the environment and biodiversity. The workshop will kick off with a panel discussion involving individuals that have had experiences with international research projects in the past. Then, using the recently funded NASA BioSCape program ( as an example, we will encourage participants to brainstorm and co-design strategies to enhance scientific engagement. Lastly, we will also discuss potential indicators that assess the integrity of international research projects that participants can use in their own collaborations.


Flip through the workshop slides below.

Breakout Instructions


During the workshop the participants will be split into breakout 'rooms.' In these rooms we will discuss the following questions.

Breakout Questions

  1. In remote sensing & biodiversity (and related fields), how can parachute science manifest? What does it look like?

  2. How do we work towards meaningful and equitable collaboration in remote sensing of biodiversity?

  3. What are some effective ‘metrics’ of engagement we can track?

Breakout Instructions

  1. Select a group based on which question you are most interested in

    1. Each group will address all questions, but in a different order

  2. Introduce yourselves and share your thoughts/experiences on this issue

  3. Identify a note-taker who will type a summary of the discussion

    1. Use a text app (word, etc.)?

  4. Identify a time-keeper to keep the group on track

  5. Discuss the three questions (~15 minutes per question)

  6. Note-taker - share summaries with group and ask for revisions (5 min)

  7. Submit your responses (1 question at a time) to the PollEverywhere app

    1. One submission per breakout group (unless you disagree with the group ideas - then submit your own).

Locations the workshop participants reported they had conducted research or collaborated.

Workshop Overview

We had 18 participants from four countries discuss issues of parachute science for the three hour workshop.