Jacques Sainte-Marie is Inria's Deputy Director for Science of Inria, in charge of Environment, leading the work around environmental and energy issues. As an applied mathematician, he is dedicated to the modeling, analysis and numerical simulation of flows found in geophysics with applications to natural hazards.

His keynote at the Journées Scientifique Inria Chile 2022 will focus on the modeling of geophysical phenomena and his contribution of data models for the modeling of geophysical flows, the results obtained, the difficulties and scientific obstacles.

How can digital sciences contribute to caring for the environment and nature? What are the main contributions and the main challenges?

Information and communications technology (ICT) is at the heart of profound transformations in many fields: health, mobility, agriculture, industry, education, mobility, agriculture, industry, education... So, to limitate its environmental impacts is a challenge for research and particularly for Inria researchers. ICT is omnipresent in our lives and has direct and negative effects on the environment, such as the manufacture of digital tools, electricity consumption, and induced pollution… which now are documented (see, for example, Inria’s MOOC “Environmental Impacts of Digital Technology” –Its English version is available here ).

But that is not the case with indirect impacts of digital technology, which are very numerous and poorly understood. To clarify what is meant by indirect impacts, we can take the example of a sensor in a field which will alert of a deficiency of the plants or the development of a pathology. In addition to its manufacture and electrical consumption, the environmental balance of the sensor must also integrate the reduction of chemical products that it can generate; hence, the balance of the sensor is measured by the sum of the direct and indirect impacts.

For me the main stakes are:

  • ● To enhance our understanding about both direct and indirect impacts of ICT and to raise awareness of these.
  • ● To accelerate the work related to digital sobriety and eco-design of digital tools and services.
  • ● To develop research to quantify the consequences of climate change and ways to mitigate it –this involves modeling and numerical simulation (evolution of biodiversity, CO2 storage, renewable energy, etcetera).
  • ● To strengthen collaboration with humanities in order to have a systemic vision and to inform the implementation of public policies.

What role does modeling of geophysical phenomena play in this regard? And what role does data play?

Geophysical phenomena are often multi-scale and multi-physics, for instance, turbulence in ocean dynamics or the carbon cycle in the oceans; but the models we have to represent them are often mono-scale and mono-physics. We must work to enrich and extend the models we have while maintaining a reasonable complexity so that their studies can be possible. While models generally result from strong hypotheses –averaging, filtering– and often describe behaviors close to an equilibrium, the data contain a richness and diversity of information complementary to those provided by the modeling.

What are the main scientific obstacles to working with nature?

Man-made objects –like the Eiffel Tower, a boat, or an artificial heart –have a simple functioning compared to natural phenomena. The modeling of natural phenomena leads to models of great complexity and our tools for the analysis of these must be significantly developed.

What is your vision regarding interdisciplinary and international collaboration to solve global problems? What is your vision of the current research ecosystem in this regard?

Scientific research naturally evolves towards the necessary specialization to solve specific scientific questions; but the magnitude and systemic nature of the problems raised by climate change require multi-disciplinary approaches and the development of communities of researchers at the interfaces between two disciplines, such us ICT-energy or ICT-agriculture. Following the covid pandemic, the recovery plans launched in many countries must have this objective. It is urgent.

What opportunities do you see in Latin America to contribute, from science, to global problems such as the fight against climate change?

New paradigms are being created and Latin America has many assets: its demography; the richness of its cultures; its great sensitivity to the objectives of sustainable development, including the fight against climate change, the defense of biodiversity and the limitation of desertification. It also has a young, enthusiastic and educated population ready to commit and take up challenges.