The Natural Capital Project and The Earth Genome | St. Lawrence University Math, Computer Science, and Statistics

The Natural Capital Project and The Earth Genome

Friday, February 21, 2014 - 4:30pm to 5:30pm
Valentine Hall

Some of you may remember Rich Sharp who was a professor here from 2007-2010 before he left to become the lead software architect for the Natural Capital Project at Stanford. Rich has since hired three SLU alumni (James Douglass'10, Doug Denu'10, and Kathryn Glowinski'12).   All four of them will be on campus on Thursday and Friday February 20-21. Rich will be giving a talk about The Natural Capital Project and The Earth Genome.

Abstract - The Natural Capital Project and The Earth Genome

As the Earth's population grows we continuously re-purpose the planet's natural areas. Left to itself, the decisions about how and where that land is used can be guided by corporate profit, demagoguery, or randomness that are blind to the impact to local natural areas and the overall survivability of the planet. A forest, for example, has a specific economic value related to the market value of its timber, but it also acts as a water purification system for downstream cities, a natural habitat for pollinators that support the fertility of local crops, and a sink for global carbon stocks.   The stock of these natural systems is called Natural Capital, and is often not accounted in common decisions surrounding land use, such as mining permits, agriculture expansion, and infrastructure development. If an accurate value of natural capital can be assessed, it can be used to weigh real economic tradeoffs between multiple spatial planning scenarios.  The Natural Capital project develops software tools that helps decision makers in evaluating those scenarios based on a wide variety of ecosystem sciences.  The Project's flagship software products are InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Environmental Services and Tradeoffs), a tool suite of 17 natural capital evaluation models, and RIOS (Resource Investment Optimization System) software that allows spatial planners to construct a mathematically optimal land use portfolio given budget constraints, desired restoration or protection activities, and driven by the biophysical properties of the underlying landscape. InVEST and RIOS have been used in hundreds of decision contexts around the globe ranging from local land use planning involving tens of land holders, to regions in China ranging from millions of hectares of land, tens of thousands of villages, and millions of people. As InVEST and RIOS have matured, we have identified a need for an integrated global framework of data collection, environmental and economic analytics, and planning centers to rally future conservation, restoration, and development efforts.  This project, recently christened The Earth Genome, is in the early stages of planning and software/hardware prototyping.  This talk will cover the background of the Natural Capital Project's work, software tool suite, and future plans with The Earth Genome.