Microsoft is building a massive computer program that will map the world’s ecosystems to help policymakers better understand and conserve the world’s natural resources.
Dubbed the General Ecosystem Model (GEM), it will cover the world’s terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
GEM is a mathematical model that can "mimic the physics and chemistry of the planet’s land, ocean and atmosphere," writes Josh Henretig, Microsoft’s global environmental sustainability strategist, on the company’s Green Blog. It is similar to the computer models now widely used to understand and predict climate change.
The project is part of a two-year research collaboration between Microsoft and the United Nations Environment Program World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC).
A prototype called the Madingley Model will predict what might happen to animal life and biodiversity in the face of global warming. It builds on previous ambitous research which resulted in software that models the global carbon cycle.
"With this as starting point, they set out to model all animal life too: herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores, of all sizes, on land in the sea," Henretig says.
Microsoft and UNEP-WCMC are asking governments around the world to contribute ecological and climate data they’ve collected to make the Madingley Model more robust.
"If such an accurate trustworthy model can be achieved, one day conservationists will be able to couple data from GEMS and models from other fields to provide a more comprehensive guide to global conservation policy," says Henretig. "Finding solutions to climate change and ecosystem preservation is too big of a challenge for any one entity to tackle in isolation."
For more on the project: