Wednesday, August 5, 2009 - 4:20 PM

COS 75-9: The ecological model web: Facilitating a modeling infrastructure

Gary N. Geller, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology and Rama Nemani, NASA.


Rapid climate and socioeconomic changes may be outrunning society's ability to understand, predict, and respond to change effectively.  Natural resource managers of all kinds want better information about what these changes will be and how it will affect the resources they are managing.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service, for example, needs to understand the impacts of these changes when assessing whether to list a species as threatened or endangered, and needs to know which of a variety of possible management strategies is most effective.  Nearly all of these activities require computer models.  However, despite a large number of excellent models in ecology and related disciplines, there seems to be no coordinated modeling infrastructure that can be consulted to shed light on important ecological questions.  While some of this shortcoming is due to the complexity of the science, lack of critical observations, and other issues, the data and model sharing that such an infrastructure can facilitate would benefit resource managers, researchers, and modelers.


The concept of a modeling infrastructure will be discussed and an approach analogous to the World Wide Web will be described for implementing it.  This Model Web would be a system of interoperable computer models and databases communicating primarily via web services.  It would not be planned and built--instead, like the World Wide Web, it would grow organically, without central control, within a framework of broad goals and data exchange standards.  Models and datasets would be maintained and perhaps operated and served by a dynamic network of participants.  A prototype demonstration system has been built that connects the NASA Terrestrial Observation and Prediction System (TOPS) model to a species distribution modeling prototype developed for the Global Earth Observing System of Systems.  Because TOPS provides a suite of ecological, hydrological, and meteorological parameters of use to many other models, it is envisioned as a "keystone" component.  The next step is to gradually add additional components, such as fire or landscape models, ecosystem services models, as well as socioeconomic and perhaps public health models.  While not a new idea, technology, science, observations, and models have all advanced so that parts of this system can be built and utilized now. However, it is a long-term endeavor due to the complexities of model integration, the presence of cultural barriers, and the advancement of the underlying science.