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MSR-FAPESP Workshop Focuses on Multidisciplinary, Data-Driven Environmental Science

November 18, 2010 | By Microsoft blog editor

On November 11 and 12, 2010, an international group of distinguished researchers met in São Paulo, Brazil, to expand ongoing environmental research on the Brazilian tropical rainforest ecosystem. The workshop built upon the Sensor Nets in Tropical Forests, a pilot project that deployed a sensor net in a 1 km2 area of forest in Serra do Mar, Ubatuba, southeast of Brazil. The workshop was sponsored by Microsoft Research-FAPESP Institute for IT Research, a joint venture of the External Research division of Microsoft Research and FAPESP (the São Paulo Research Foundation).

Dr. Carlos NobreThe gathering brought together scientists from the United States, Chile, Canada, and Brazil, representing such diverse disciplines as phenology, climate science, soil ecology, successional forestry, micrometeorology, and earth system modeling. Among them was Dr. Carlos Nobre, one of the world’s foremost researchers on climate change, whose talk, “The Fate of the Amazon Forest in the 21st Century,” discussed the impact of global warming, climate change, and fires to the balance of the Amazon forest.

The distinguished attendees identified and tied together a multidisciplinary set of research problems with technology development and collaboration requirements, creating an experiment plan that broadly charts several years of environmental experiments and technology development. In the course of developing the plan, the researchers spent considerable time reflecting on how technology can support them in the ongoing research, pondering the implications of using new methods and technology support to conduct their science. There was broad consensus that environmental science is faced with enormous data-driven challenges-from data acquisition to data management, cleaning, provenance, annotation, visualization, sharing, publication, discovery, and archival. These challenges are accompanied by acceleration in problem complexity and the need for new, integrated multidisciplinary approaches to research.

In response to these important and daunting trends, it is essential to develop new technologies and particularly new computational solutions. In the collaborative rainforest project, we find just such interdisciplinary and data complexity problems, and we see this as a tremendous opportunity to solve specific problems by flexible, extensible, and adoptable means. By so doing, we will build solutions with applicability beyond their immediate corresponding problems.

—Juliana Salles, senior research program manager in the External Research division of Microsoft Research