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e-Science applied to environmental problems

07 May 2008

Flock of birds

The School of Computer Science is taking on a key role in a European initiative to combat human-induced extinction of plant and animal species the world over.

Some estimates put the rate of loss of species due to man-made habitat destruction at tens of thousands per year. Named the "sixth extinction crisis", it follows five earlier mass extinction events, including extinction of the dinosaurs, that have occurred during the course of the Earth’s 4.5 billion year history. It is not only species loss that causes a problem. Invading species, such as Rhododendron and Japanese Knotweed, introduced by the Victorians, and the more recent American Crayfish, are also having an impact on biodiversity. The consequences are serious for the environment, for the economic and social aspects of sustainable development, and ultimately for human quality of life.

The School of Computer Science has now become a key executive partner in the planning for Lifewatch – an ambitious 15-20 year programme to construct and operate a Europe-wide infrastructure for biodiversity research, supporting policy and decision-making in all member States. The School was selected for its reputation gained in e-Science, the BioDiversity World project and several European Framework Programme projects in biodiversity informatics.

A three year preparatory project to establish the necessary financial and legal frameworks and to undertake the technical planning of the construction was launched recently at the Nemo Science Centre in Amsterdam. Staff from the School of Computer Science will play key roles in setting the technical strategy and planning for the infrastructure, ensuring service relevance and technical interoperability across national borders, compatibility with the emerging European Grid and with other major biodiversity information facilities.

Alex Hardisty, Manager of the Welsh e-Science Centre in the School of Computer Science, said: "Joining the Lifewatch consortium is well-deserved recognition of Cardiff’s collective expertise in e-Science as applied to problems in biodiversity. We have the opportunity to play a substantial role and look forward to working closely with our European partners to bring the Lifewatch vision to fruition."