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University of Minnesota computer scientists to help track global climate change through new data mining tools

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (12/15/2009) - The University of Minnesota and the Planetary Skin Institute have announced a new partnership to use data mining tools to track historical changes in the Earth's forest ecosystems and better determine their relationship to climate change. The University of Minnesota is one of the first academic partners to join the Planetary Skin Institute. The partnership was announced today at COP15, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Vipin Kumar and Shyam Boriah Vipin Kumar (left), and graduate student Shyam Boriah (right), are developing algorithms and software being used by NASA to mine satellite images that create a history of changes in Earth's landcover.

The Planetary Skin, started as a joint collaboration between NASA and Cisco Systems, Inc., aims to develop a global "nervous system" that will integrate land-, sea-, air- and space-based sensors, helping the public and private sectors make decisions to prevent and adapt to climate change. The Planetary Skin platform was recently named as one of TIME magazine's 50 Best Inventions of 2009. Planetary Skin Institute will provide $3.2 million over three years to the University of Minnesota.

The Planetary Skin will use novel data mining methods developed by University of Minnesota computer science and engineering professor Vipin Kumar and his research team to identify and characterize global land use changes. These new data mining methods have dramatically advanced our ability to monitor global land cover using satellite data. Initially the Planetary Skin will focus on global forests, but the project is expected to expand to cover agriculture and degraded lands to examine vital global issues such as energy use, water scarcity, and food security.

By applying the data mining methods developed at the University of Minnesota on a global scale, the researchers are creating comprehensive histories of large-scale changes in the ecosystem due to fires, logging, droughts, flood, farming, and other events. Kumar's team is also developing a planetary information system under the Planetary Skin initiative that can help researchers study these ecosystem disturbances and their relationship to global climate variability and human activity.

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