For Tom Gulbransen, better decisions start with better data. A Senior Research Scientist on the Battelle Environmental Services Team, Tom has devoted much of his 33-year career to advancing the science of ecosystem informatics.
“Ecosystem informatics integrates environmental sciences with advanced data analytics,” he explains. “It’s about aligning the data you are collecting with the decisions you want to make, and providing analytical tools for better environmental decision making.” Tom’s work at Battelle includes development of data collection and analytical systems to support data-driven decision making for environmental scientists, remediation experts and policy makers. “Data leads to better environmental decisions than instinct or public opinion. My job is to help decision makers develop sampling and analytical methods aligned with their program goals.”
Much of Tom’s current work is focused on the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). Earlier this year, Battelle was selected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to assume program management of NEON. Tom serves as the Project Manager for Cyber Infrastructure and Data Products Development for the program.
NEON is a continent-wide ecological observatory network that will support a broad range of research programs. The most ambitious ecological program ever attempted, it consists of 81 field observatory sites collecting ecological data in 20 distinct zones across the United States, from Alaska to Puerto Rico. Data collected will support research into climate change, invasive species and land use change and enable analyses and forecasts of ecosystem responses in biodiversity, biogeochemistry, ecohydrology and infectious disease. Tom is leading development of vertically integrated data collection and analysis systems to support NEON’s research goals.
“We’re uniquely positioned to be able to develop these systems because our researchers have expertise in both data science and ecology,” he explains. “That means the people who are writing the code for the software understand the full scope of the data that will be collected and how it will be used. We are developing decision support tools that not only analyze data but also provide the user with appropriate context and background to be able to interpret the analysis and turn it into effective decisions and insights.”
In addition to his work on NEON, Tom supports other Battelle clients as a Senior Scientist, Lead Systems Designer or Technical/Project Manager. His recent fieldwork has focused on eutrophication and sediment contamination investigations in regional scale coastal ecosystems, such as Jamaica Bay, Great South Bay and New York Bight. These data-intensive, multi-year, interdisciplinary studies integrated biology, chemistry and watershed land use for federal, state and municipal clients. He also co-led Battelle’s work with BP on the Deepwater Horizon response, during which he helped coordinate a team of more than 100 IT staff members. He has played a key role in advancing numerous innovative software applications to serve environmental managers, such as: Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) models for environmental restoration, an oil spill ontology knowledgebase of over 30,000 semantic terms and relationships, a Weight of Evidence model for dredged material beneficial use planning, a fuzzy logic data evaluation tool for consensus building, an expert system for Toxicity Identification/Reduction Evaluations, and numerous database models.
Tom has worked with Battelle since 1985. He holds a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Rhode Island, an M.S. in Marine Environmental Science from State University New York, and a C.S.S. in Management and Administration from Harvard University. A lifelong learner, he still takes advantage of Battelle's tuition reimbursement program to study Big Data via MIT's online courses. These days, his primary focus is on enabling team members to develop next-generation approaches to environmental informatics.
Outside of his work with Battelle, Tom also serves his Long Island, NY community in a variety of municipal positions. He has been a volunteer firefighter since the early 1980s, and credits this experience with developing his project management and team leadership skills. He is Vice-Chair of Suffolk County’s Council of Environmental Quality overseeing State Environmental Quality Review Act compliance, such as public health protection, land use planning, stormwater management, pesticide applications and maritime development. In the coastal village of Old Field, NY, he served as Deputy Mayor and Environmental Conservation Commissioner, responsible for regulation and planning along six miles of Long Island Sound habitat, including barrier beaches and three embayments designated as Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats. He also assisted in creation of an environmental restoration and education advocacy group with shared participation by NY State DEC, SUNY Stony Brook, private residents and a local NGO.