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March 21, 2007

Computational Earth and Environmental Science Center and Carnegie Institution to collaborate on global environmental research

The Stanford Center for Computational Earth and Environmental Science (CEES) and the Carnegie Institution Department of Global Ecology have formed a research partnership to address the global problems of ocean acidification and climate change¬ótwo critical environmental issues associated with rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

The new collaboration brings together CEES's large-scale computational resources and Carnegie's expertise on global ecosystem interactions, said CEES Director Jerry M. Harris, professor of geophysics at Stanford. "Interdisciplinary science is really an important aspect of what CEES is doing, and the underlying interdisciplinary approach involving computer science and technology is what allows us to make predictions of what may happen in the real world," he said.

"By pooling resources with CEES, we can achieve economies of scale that would not otherwise be available to a small department like ours," added Ken Caldeira, staff scientist with the Carnegie Department of Global Ecology and professor, by courtesy, of geological and environmental sciences at Stanford. "For example, by working with CEES we get access to the expertise of highly skilled people who otherwise we would never be able to afford."

Established in June 2006, CEES includes a state-of-the-art facility equipped with large-scale computer systems dedicated to solving complex computational problems in Earth sciences. Just a half-mile down the road, also on the Stanford campus, researchers at the Carnegie Department of Global Ecology are trying to find innovative solutions to large-scale environmental challenges, such as the rising acidity levels in the oceans, a problem that continues to worsen as the seas absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Higher acid levels could disrupt coral formation and damage coral reefs on a global scale, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars to fisheries and recreational industries that depend on the reefs, according to Caldeira, who plans to use CEES's computational resources to perform simulations of the biological and chemical consequences of increased oceanic carbon dioxide concentrations at spatial scales ranging from the individual organism to the entire planet.

Working with Stanford scientists, Caldeira and his Carnegie colleagues also plan to create three-dimensional geophysical and biogeochemical models of global ecosystems that will help scientists prepare for unanticipated consequences of various global strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the problem of climate change.

"Our intent is to make the climate and biogeochemical models that we are using available to the broader Stanford community," he said. "So if a Stanford scientist has a research problem that can be addressed with climate model simulations, we can help him or her perform those simulations. My hope is that, out of these interactions, new and exciting collaborative work will develop."

Until recently, the lack of computational power prevented progress in understanding complex geophysical and atmospheric processes, Harris added. "Today, however, computational capacity and the availability of large volumes of data from a variety of sources, such as satellites and ground-based observational systems, offer new opportunities for understanding how the Earth system works and how human activities interact with Earth processes," he said.

CEES is a research partnership created by the Stanford School of Earth Sciences and affiliates from the Stanford Computer Systems Laboratory and private industry. The goals of CEES include expanding the capacity for interdisciplinary Earth science research and engaging computer architects to design hardware and software systems that are better suited to Earth and environmental science problems.

Founded on the Stanford campus in 2002, the Department of Global Ecology conducts basic research on the interactions among the Earth's ecosystems¬óland, atmosphere and oceans. It is one of six scientific research departments operated by the Washington, D.C.-based Carnegie Institution.



Mark Shwartz, News Service: (650) 723-9296,


Jerry Harris, Department of Geophysics: (650) 723-0496,

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