“Expedition” in Computational Sustainability

Scratch below the surface of a natural resources question and you’ll often find a tough nut to crack. The complex interactions among species and their habitats have bedeviled scientists from before Charles Darwin’s day to the present, preventing them in many cases from generating information that managers need to develop effective policies.

Now a group of researchers at Oregon State, Cornell and Howard universities; Bowdoin College; and the Conservation Fund, are undertaking a five-year quest to find creative ways of applying computer science to ecological science, bio-fuels and natural resource management. Their work is supported by a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project is led by Tom Dietterich at Oregon State with OSU colleagues Claire Montgomery and Heidi Jo Albers in forestry and Weng-Keen Wong in engineering and with Carla Gomes at Cornell.

“Many scientific fields have come to rely on rapid, large-scale computation to make major advances,” says Dietterich, “but the field of computer science has more to offer than just raw computer power. Clever algorithms (recipes for carrying out steps in the computer) have led to major advances in molecular biology and the genomics revolution as well as to advances in computational chemistry and astronomy. We hope to have a similar impact in ecology and natural resource management.”

Among the topics that scientists and engineers will pursue are fishery economics, wildlife reserves, species distribution and fuel reductions in forests.


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