Microsoft Research Blog

The Microsoft Research blog provides in-depth views and perspectives from our researchers, scientists and engineers, plus information about noteworthy events and conferences, scholarships, and fellowships designed for academic and scientific communities.

Cloud computing helps make sense of cloud forests

December 16, 2014 | By Microsoft blog editor

Cloud computing meets forest ecology

The forests that surround Campos do Jordao are among the foggiest places on Earth. With a canopy shrouded in mist much of time, these are the renowned cloud forests of the Brazilian state of São Paulo. It is here that researchers from the São Paulo Research Foundation—better known by its Portuguese acronym, FAPESP—have partnered with Rafael Olivier, professor of ecology at the University of Campinas, in an ambitious effort to understand the climate and ecology of these spectacular woodlands. Their aptly named Cloud Forest Project has both conservation and practical goals, as it seeks to understand how to protect one of Brazil’s largest forested areas while learning to manage access to water and other natural resources more effectively.

The researchers want to unravel the impact of micro-climate variation in the cloud forest ecosystem. Essentially, they want to understand how the forest works—how carbon dioxide, water, nitrogen, and other nutrients cycle through plants, animals, and microorganisms in this complex ecosystem. To do so, they’ve placed some 700 sensors in 15 forest plots, locating the devices at levels throughout the forest, from beneath the soil to the top of the canopy.

The integration of such a vast number of sensor data streams poses difficult challenges. Before the researchers can analyze the data, they have to determine the reliability of the devices, so that they can eliminate data from malfunctioning ones. They also need to translate scientific questions into analysis of the time-series data streams—a process much more sophisticated than the traditional “open all the data in Excel spreadsheets” approach.

Consequently, the project scientists have collaborated with Microsoft Research to manage the data with help from the Microsoft Azure for Research project. Think of it as cloud to cloud: cloud forest data being managed and analyzed through the power of cloud computing. Essentially, it’s a parallel process with some researchers developing the sensors, power supplies, and data flow in the cloud forest; others working with computers to set up receptacles for those massive incoming data flows; and everyone striving to reach a level of confidence that new insights can be discovered and explored through the data.

Reliance on cyber infrastructure built on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform frees the researchers from purchasing and maintaining physical computers, saving time and money and eliminating the aggravation of learning how to be a computer system administrator. Moreover, the cloud-based system gives researchers the power to combine interrelated data to create “virtual sensors” that quantify things that cannot be measured readily by one type of sensor. For example, measuring fog is difficult and expensive with just one sensor, but the presence of fog can be inferred by combining data from temperature, sunlight, and humidity sensors.

Similar cloud-computing advantages are available in almost any research project that involves the collection, management, and analysis of big data. If that describes your research, you’ll want to check out the Microsoft Azure for Research project, especially its award program, which offers substantial grants of Microsoft Azure compute resources to qualified projects. Your research might not involve a cloud forest, but if it entails a forest of data, the Microsoft Azure cloud could be your ticket to a more productive and less costly project.

—Rob Fatland, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research

Learn more

Up Next

Ben Cutler MSR Natick

Algorithms, Computer vision, Ecology and environment, Graphics and multimedia, Systems and networking

Putting the cloud under the sea with Ben Cutler

Episode 40, September 5, 2018 - In today’s podcast we find out a bit about what else the Special Projects team is up to, and then we hear all about Project Natick and how Ben and his team conceived of, and delivered on, a novel idea to deal with the increasing challenges of keeping data centers cool, safe, green, and, now, dry as well!

Microsoft blog editor

Artificial intelligence, Computer vision, Data management, analysis and visualization, Ecology and environment, Hardware and devices, Human-computer interaction, Programming languages and software engineering, Security, privacy, and cryptography

Give your dissertation a boost with a grant from Microsoft Research

Need funding to clear a hurdle in the final stages of your dissertation research? Microsoft Research is offering grants of up to US $25,000 to help a select group of doctoral students cross the finish line and enter the workforce. The Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant is for PhD students at U.S. and Canadian universities from […]

Meredith Ringel Morris

Principal Researcher and Research Manager

NSF Big Data Innovation Hubs collaboration

Artificial intelligence, Data management, analysis and visualization, Ecology and environment, Medical, health and genomics

NSF Big Data Innovation Hubs collaboration — looking back after one year

By Vani Mandava, Director, Data Science Significant technical advancements in cloud computing have led to lower infrastructure costs, making possible big storage and big computing. Big data technology, though, requires cross-discipline research within and beyond non-computing domains. This is where domain experts collaborate with computing teams, industry, and government agencies to discover new insights that […]

Microsoft blog editor