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December 11, 2014

Data Companies Work With Citizen Scientists on Climate

George Leopold

Storage vendor EMC Corp. is joining forces with big data and cloud specialist Pivotal and the EarthWatch Institute in an effort to apply analytical tools to the study the impact of climate change.

The partners along with Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park will study the interactions between nature and climate as part of a broader effort to promote citizen science using big data lakes, analytical tools and visualizations, the partners said.

The “Big Data vs. Climate Change” initiative was announced Dec. 9 in conjunction with the White House Climate Initiative.

The climate effort will enable researchers who are collecting data on the impact of climate change on the environment to analyze and gain insights from data collected from disparate sources. “The new Big Data vs. Climate Change project plans to enhance the power of data being collected to provide increased analytics and present interactive visualizations of information in forms more accessible to citizens, educators and scientists worldwide,” the partners said.

The data lake architecture to be used for the climate project combines EMC storage platforms and Pivotal software. Pivotal approach includes a cloud-based big data framework.

The technology partners said they would work with researchers at Acadia National Park to understand bird migrations. The also will make use of publically available data sets from citizen groups like eBird, iNaturalist, HawkWatch, the National Phenology Network as well as the National Park Service.

The resulting analyses will be represented through visualizations that allow “citizen scientists to understand how their data is being used and the potential effects of a changing climate on the subjects they study, while also providing key insights for park officials to plan the resources and tools needed to maintain park programs,” the partners said.

Organizers of the big data climate initiative also plan to include additional data sets from Earthwatch’s global research partners. Those will be used to create a data science “sandbox” designed to train bird enthusiasts and other citizen scientists on how to use data science techniques needed to build their data analytics skills.

“It is our hope that providing the tools and platforms needed to create highly interactive, accessible analysis and visualizations not only will lead to new insights on how climate change is impacting our world, but also make climate science and data science real, tangible and actionable for engaged citizens,” Kathrin Winkler, EMC’s chief sustainability officer, said in a statement announcing the big data climate initiative.

Founded in 1971, Earthwatch Institute is an international nonprofit organization that connects citizens with scientists to improve the health and sustainability of the planet.

Schoodic Institute is a non-profit organization that promotes research at Acadia National Park in Maine.

Similar big data efforts sponsored by technology innovators like IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Laboratory are using streaming analytics software to detect, visualize and—most important for meteorologists and climate scientists—predict in real-time subtle changes in the environment.

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