Microsoft Builds Global Ecosystem Computer Model

by | Jan 18, 2013

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Microsoft Research is building a giant computer model for terrestrial and marine ecosystems, which the scientists hope policy makers will use to better manage natural resources.

Company researchers describe the general ecosystem model (GEM) in the Microsoft Green blog and also have published an article in the journal Nature (paid access) arguing for other scientists to get involved in a project they say will better support conservation and biodiversity. A global data-gathering program is expensive, and Microsoft Research says it and other GEM supporters are calling on governments worldwide to support programs that collect and manage ecological and climate data.

A general circulation model (GCM), the blog explains, is a mathematical model that imitates the earth’s land, ocean and atmosphere, and can be used for weather forecasting as well as understanding and predicting climate change. A GEM takes the technology a step further and uses computer modeling to help scientists and policy makers understand terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

Microsoft Research and the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC) have spent the past two years developing a prototype GEM. It’s called the Madingley Model, and it builds on the group’s recently finished global carbon cycle model, and mimics all animal life on land and in the sea.

According to Drew Purves, head of Microsoft’s Computational Ecology and Environmental Science Group, the end goal is to enable conservationists to use data from GEMs and other models to guide global conservation policy.

In a Jan. 10 column on Environmental Leader, Darden Restaurants manager of sustainability Brandon Tidwell says the intersection of technology and sustainability, and increased focus on natural resources will be two of the top five corporate sustainability trends in 2013. Technology will be increasingly used to look at real-time data and make immediate recommendations to conserve resources, Tidwell forecasts.

In May 2012, Anglo American, Grupo Andre Maggi, PepsiCo, Vale, Votorantim and Walmart partnered to develop business strategies that protect the ecosystems in which they operate in Brazil.

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