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National Science Foundation Grant Awarded to eBird Collaborator

By Team eBird January 11, 2016

The National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced $30 million in funding to three Expeditions in Computing projects. Each grant will provide $10 million over five years to interdisciplinary, multi-investigator research teams to support transformative computing and information technology research. The Expeditions projects constitute the largest single investments in computer and information science research NSF has made. One of these $10 million grants was awarded to a team lead by Carla Gomes of Cornell University to advance Computational Sustainability, which aims to apply computational techniques to balance environmental, economic and societal needs to support sustainable development and a sustainable future. The eBird Team frequently collaborates with Carla and her team—please read more to learn about her work and the official NSF press release showcasing our new abundance map of Tree Swallow.

The animation shows the annual cycle of the entire Tree Swallow population. The “hotter” the color, the higher relative abundance of the population at that location. This visualization allows us to see how Tree Swallows migrate across the continent and to identify the most important regions during each phase of the journey.

In the winter, Tree Swallows concentrate into distinct eastern and western sub-populations. As the spring migration begins, these populations explode northward and expand across the entire continent into their breeding grounds. The fall migration proceeds at a more leisurely pace as the populations return south, separating, and then concentrating into the Central Valley of California, the lower Mississippi River valley and Florida.

The animation was produced using the Spatio-Temporal Exploratory Model to predict population abundances across broad spatial and temporal scales. By relating local environmental features derived from NASA remote sensing data to observations of species from eBird, the model can discover complex spatio-temporal patterns and make predictions at unsampled locations and times.


**Click on above image to view animation**

The funded CompSustNet will act as a large national and international multi-institutional research and education network, collaborating with key governmental and non-governmental organizations in the areas of conservation, poverty mitigation and renewable energy. The researchers will use computational techniques and methodologies to increase the effectiveness of the management and allocation of natural and societal resources.

“Our NSF Expedition brings together computer scientists and engineers, environmental and social scientists, physicists, and materials scientists charged with growing and expanding the horizons of the nascent field of Computational Sustainability,” Gomes said. “Advances in computational sustainability will lead, for example, to novel strategies to help herders and farmers in Africa improve their way of life, save endangered species and scale renewables up to meet 21st century energy demand.”

Gomes led a team that received one of the first Expeditions grants in 2008. Initial funding from NSF led to more than $80 million in support from other agencies and organizations and helped stimulate the field of computational sustainability. As a result of the pioneering efforts of the original Expeditions grant, universities are starting to teach computational sustainability as a discipline in its own right.