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27 January, 2015 - 20:49 By News Desk

Microsoft ecologists compute future of the planet

Microsoft-fieldwork-web

Computer scientists at Microsoft in Cambridge are pushing back the frontiers of ecological research through a team dedicated to improving conditions on the planet, with clear paybacks in areas as varied as climate change and agriculture.

The team of environmentally-focused computer scientists have created predictive models of ecological systems and now want to see which can be commercialised for the broader benefit of related industries.

The focus will be explained – and hopefully broadened – at an agricultural technology summit, chaired by Microsoft in Cambridge next month.

The Computational Ecology and Environmental Science Group within Microsoft aims to develop the new concepts, methods, and software tools needed to produce useful predictive models of ecological systems.

Ecologist and computational scientist Matthew Smith explains: “Our group has been operating for about eight years and increasingly we have directed our scientific research and software development towards improving the predictive modelling of environmental processes and delivering environmental information.

"One example is FetchClimate, a fast, intelligent, climate information retrieval service. FetchClimate makes it easy to retrieve information for any geographical region, at any grid resolution ranging from a few kilometres to a global scale.  Data can be retrieved for any range of years, months and days within the year and even for specific hours within the day."

Smith said that over recent years agriculture had become a particular focus for the team: “Recently we produced new process based agricultural models for wheat and maize. These can be calibrated to predict crop properties using heterogeneous datasets that include satellite imagery, historical ground based data and live feeds from devices.

“Now we’re looking to get some of these systems trialled to establish whether we can provide genuine impact for businesses.

“We are still deciding whether it will be my colleague Drew Purves or myself, who will chair the Agri-Tech East Pollinator in February but either way it will be a great opportunity. We have very keen interest in seeing where the discussions go and seeing if we can help orchestrate them in useful directions.”

• The Internet of (Agri)-Things Pollinator is being held at the St John’s Innovation Centre on February 24 and is sponsored by S-Tech. For more information about the pollinator visit www.agritech-east.co.uk/events/pollinator-internet-of-agri-things/

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