Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

Cyber-Earth project puts climate-change impacts on the map

October 28th, 2014 / in CCC, policy, research horizons, Research News / by Helen Wright

The following is a guest blog post by CCC Council Member Shashi Shekhar, McKnight Distinguished University Professor Department of Computer Science College of Science and Engineering University of Minnesota.

Shashi Shekhar, University of Minnesota

Cyber-Earth, a web-based geo-referenced representation of our changing planet, is a powerful tool for communication among citizens, policy makers, and scientists. In the last decade, billions have enjoyed Google Earth, which provides geo-imagery describing a recent state of the entire planet. It is a scalable tool to share geo-imagery (e.g., aftermath of Hurricane Katarina) with citizens and policy makers. It also allows citizens to contribute geo-spatial information to improve map quality and coverage as envisaged in the 1998 speech by Vice President Al Gore on Digital Earth. Recently, Google Time-lapse shared geo-videos representing the 30-year history of the entire planet using 52 Tera-pixels. It shows yearly changes such as deforestation, urban sprawl, loss of ice-cover, etc.

What is the next frontier for Cyber-Earth? Using the crystal ball of scientific data and models, the next generation of Cyber-Earth will go beyond mapping a planet’s past to visualizing a planet’s future. They may move from maps to models to enable discovery of spatio-temporal patterns; make inferences from significant patterns; project future threats to our society; and evaluate options and consequences around the world. Such next-generation Cyber-Earth can help citizens and policy makers communicate about scientific projections for future changes in climate and demography along with their impacts on mega-problems of food, water, and energy.

However, building next-generation Cyber-Earth raises major challenges such as software building blocks and methodologies for comparison of alternative scientific models despite diversity of models from physical sciences, social sciences, and data sciences. Other challenges include alternative policy scenarios, uncertainty quantification, and order of magnitude differences in map resolutions across global climate models, sensor reanalysis datasets, and satellite imagery.

National Science Foundation recently awarded a $4.5 million 4-year grant, called Geospatial Building Blocks (GABBs), to create a powerful yet easy to use Web-based system for hosting, processing, analyzing, and sharing geospatial data. The system is built on HUBzero, an open source platform. The GABBs team is working with Agricultural Model Inter-comparison Project (AgMIP) and the GEOSHARE project, to create a tool that models the impacts of climate change on historical and future crop yields.

Cyber-Earth project puts climate-change impacts on the map