Microsoft applies big data toward cataloging endangered species

Developer lends expertise to help conservation group strengthen priorities on the "red list" of threatened plants, fungi and animals -- keeping it updated much more easily.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Google won a lot of attention last week for going underwater with Google Maps to show off super awe-inspiring and highly endangered places like Australia's Great Barrier Reef, which is suffering massive coral die-off.

The idea is that helping people around the world experience a habitat previously accessible only by scuba divers will raise awareness of the need to conserve it. I had the privilege of visiting there 10 years ago, and the diversity of life there was unlike any place I have dived since then.

Microsoft got far less coverage of its own emerging effort to address species extinction - the developer has created a new application to help identify current and future threats, allowing scientists with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to define conservation priorities on the Red List of Threatened Species. 

That list includes animals such as the golden lion tamarin monkey (pictured right). The idea is that the Microsoft software will map which ecosystems are in the most danger from any number of factors, including development or water scarcity, making it far easier to keep track of changes happening rapidly around the world. The software was developed by Microsoft's Computational Science Laboratory in Cambridge, England.

"This century will be defined, not least, by whether we are able to tackle unprecedented global ecological and environmental challenges," said Stephen Emmott, head of Computational Science, Microsoft. "This will require [non-governmental organizations, governments, universities and business to establish new kinds of partnerships, new kinds of science and scientists, and new kinds of technologies."

I couldn't agree more, since it's harder for skeptics to argue against the objectivity of hard cold facts and data.

(Image courtesy of Microsoft)

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