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The data revolution spreads to environmental science, aided by IU’s Jetstream

Carl Boettiger, Assistant Professor at the University of California, Berkeley

How can we deal with the “data deluge” without going under water? What’s more, how can we use it to our advantage in the midst of this era of unprecedented change in two fields: climate and computing? For Carl Boettiger, Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the University of California, Berkeley, the answers lie at the intersection of these changes; his research seeks to bring the revolution in data and computing to the aid of a planet in need of solutions.

Scientists have access to data from all manner of sources, from satellite imagery to drones to microsensors. Many scientific disciplines are currently working to determine how best to deal with the “data deluge,” the massive amount of data about the natural world, which requires both advanced data science algorithms and enormous computing power. We’re not without a paddle, though. Boettiger explains that the science required to process natural data is already used in the world of commerce: “We’re using these incredibly sophisticated data-driven algorithms to determine what we should buy when we go to Amazon.com. That kind of rich science, data-driven approach can be applied to so much.” To deal with the demand for computing power, he uses IU’s Jetstream, a cloud-computing environment that provides thousands of times the power of a personal desktop computer. “Jetstream has not only made that power available, but it has made that power inseparable,” says Boettiger. “Jetstream lets us go from idea to production in the click of mouse, and that’s the key.”

Jetstream lets us go from idea to production in the click of mouse, and that’s the key.

Boettiger explores complex systems like global fisheries, which face the problem of overharvesting. Looking at data from both natural sites and farm fisheries, Boettiger and his collaborators are coming to a better understanding of how fish are managed. By pairing this with economic data, such as profits from fishing companies, which are also faltering, the researchers will be able to guide future policy regarding fisheries in a way that suits both conservationists and consumers. While we know a lot is changing in our environment, our understanding of those changes is far from complete. However, using the latest advancements in data science, researchers like Boettiger can help us make sense of a vast field of climate-related information. Their insights can help predict the collapse of ecosystems before it occurs, allowing them to prevent further destruction by leading change in environmental policy. To learn more about Boettiger’s work, see his website and this recent publication.