NASA highlights Belizean scientist and his research

News > The Caribbean

By STEM Caribbean | Posted on September 4, 2020

Belizean scientist Emil Cherrington and his research team recently published a study on a project funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In an article featuring Cherrington, his background and research are discussed, among other noteworthy achievements.   

Emil Cherrington presenting his research and promoting science communication during a presentation at Google’s Geo For Good 2019 conference in Sunnyvale, California. | Image Credit: NASA/Emil Cherrington

Currently, Cherrington works for SERVIR as the West Africa Regional Science Coordination Lead. SERVIR is a joint development initiative of NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that partners with organizations worldwide to provide developing countries with tools, training, and services necessary to tackle climate-sensitive issues such as disasters, agriculture, water, and land use. Cherrington has worked for SERVIR since 2005, according to the article.   

Back then, Dan Irwin, a research scientist at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center reached out to Cherrington, later requesting that he worked on the first SERVIR focal point known as SERVIR-Mesoamerica. At the time, Cherrington worked for the Coastal Zone Management Authority & Institute, a government agency in Belize.   

Receiving a call from NASA is somewhat atypical for someone working for the Belizean government Cherrington indicated.   

“If you’re working in the average government agency in Belize, people from NASA don’t pick up the phone and ring you very often,” said Cherrington.  

He went on to play a critical role in SERVIR, as described by Irwin, who is the global program manager for SERVIR.  

“The SERVIR team wouldn’t be the same without Emil,” Irwin said. “He’s been with us since the beginning, and his passion, expertise and enthusiasm for Earth Observations and capacity building have helped both empower and strengthen the many communities he’s worked with all over the world.”  

Cherrington’s current work on an ongoing NASA-funded project involves examining how satellite data could be used to monitor two of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This project, known as the “Climate-influenced Nutrient Flows and Threats to the Biodiversity of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System,” is the first project by NASA which focuses on Belize. The project builds on prior work by NASA in Central America under SERVIR.   

The recently published study on the project focused on the use of Earth observation data to track the progress of sustainable management of coastal forest ecosystems in Belize. According to the publication, the study’s findings influenced the decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to remove the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System from the “List of World Heritage in Danger.”  

“For us, it was this really interesting example of remote sensing actually contributing to a high-level decision that has economic implications for a country,” said Cherrington.  

Another notable outcome of Cherrington’s work in an earlier study is being cited in a recently published report by the  Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The report titled “Global Forest Resource Assessment 2020” focuses on Belize as part of the FAO’s efforts to monitor forests around the world.   

Emil Cherrington providing remarks at a 2018 technical workshop at the International Centre for Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu, Nepal. | Image Credit: NASA/Emil Cherrington

Cherington, whose career path afforded him several opportunities, currently holds a double doctorate in forest ecology from AgroParisTech in Paris, France, and Technische Universität Dresden in Dresden, Germany. He gives credit to the mentors and role models in his life for his achievements. At 14 years old, he received a used computer from his aunt, who he indicates believed in him. Today his aunt is a science teacher in the U.S., according to the article by NASA.   

“We all have that one person in our family who pushes you, and I think my aunt saw that I had a similar kind of curiosity as her,” Cherrington expressed. “When I look back, if [I had not gotten that computer], I’m 100% certain I wouldn’t have ended up working in geographic information systems (GIS), doing remote sensing or even meeting my wife. All of these fortunate things happened because I had somebody who believed in me and encouraged me,” he added.  

The article also mentions other women who inspired Cherington like his mother, grandmother, wife, and SERVIR colleague.  

“I didn’t see a whole lot of scientific role models growing up and my aunt was definitely one of those few people who was,” he said. “Belize, like many other places, is a patriarchal society, and in my own life I’ve generally found that I’ve had a great deal of women role models.”  

Cherington is also an avid science communicator and believes in the importance of using science communication as a channel for creating opportunities.  

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