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Environment

University of Minnesota receives $8M grant for first-of-its-kind use of global population and environment data

Terra Populus: A Global Population / Environment Data Network will integrate the world’s largest population database with global data on land use, land cover and climate change.

October 6, 2011

Recently funded research at the University of Minnesota will create new opportunities for understanding the relationship between population and the environment on a global scale.

The project – Terra Populus: A Global Population / Environment Data Network, or TerraPop for short – was awarded a five-year, $8 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure.

TerraPop will combine two centuries of census data with global environmental data including land cover, land use and climate records. Beyond the goal of integrating this information into a common database, the team plans to disseminate the newly available data to researchers around the world.

Although a plethora of high quality environmental and population datasets are currently available, they are widely dispersed, have incompatible or inadequate documentation, and include incompatible geographic identifiers. Newly available population data closely integrated with data on the environment will more clearly describe the unfolding transformation of human and ecological systems.

“By creating a framework for locating, analyzing and visualizing the world's population and environment in time and space, TerraPop will provide unprecedented opportunities for investigating the agents of change, assessing their implications for human society and the environment, and developing policies to meet future challenges,” said Steven Ruggles, director of the Minnesota Population Center.

The Minnesota Population Center will lead the effort with support from the Institute on the Environment, the U of M Libraries and faculty from the College of Liberal Arts and College of Science and Engineering. Additional partners include the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University and the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan.

The organizations collaborating on TerraPop are uniquely qualified to undertake a project of this scale. The Minnesota Population Center is home to the largest collection of census data in the world, while the Institute on the Environment has one of the most extensive databases of global land use in the country. The University Libraries are leaders in digital preservation and data management. The Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research is the world’s largest social science data archive, and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network is a leading research and data center focused on human-environment interactions.

“This project represents a quantum leap in our ability to see and map the relationships between people and the environment at the global scale,” said Jon Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment. “And it represents an exciting new frontier of scientific collaboration – between computer scientists, demographers and environmental scientists – to break down our old disciplinary barriers and focus our collective energy on some of the world's biggest problems.”

TerraPop aims to accomplish four specific tasks:
1. Collect, preserve, integrate and describe datasets that measure changes in the world’s population and environment over the past two centuries
2. Develop tools and procedures to manage and disseminate the data collections
3. Carry out education and outreach to engage the scientific community and the public and reach the broadest possible audience
4. Establish an organizational structure to ensure the long-term sustainability of the project.

The lead investigators from the University of Minnesota are Steven Ruggles (Minnesota Population Center), Jonathon Foley (Institute on the Environment), Victoria Interrante (Computer Science and Engineering), Wendy Pradt Lougee (University of Minnesota Libraries), Steven Manson (Geography), Jaideep Srivastava (Computer Science and Engineering) and Shashi Shekhar (Computer Science and Engineering).

With this award, TerraPop will be an NSF Sustainable Digital Data Preservation and Access Network (DataNet) Partner. The DataNet initiative aims to provide reliable digital preservation, access, integration and analysis capabilities for science and/or engineering data over a decades-long timeline.

About the Minnesota Population Center
The Minnesota Population Center (MPC) is a university-wide interdisciplinary cooperative for demographic research. The MPC serves more than 80 faculty members and research scientists from eight colleges and institutes at the University of Minnesota. As a leading developer and disseminator of demographic data, MPC also serves a broader audience of some 50,000 demographic researchers worldwide. Learn more at www.pop.umn.edu.

Population grant - small 300
Terra Populus: A Global Population / Environment Data Network, or TerraPop for short – was awarded a five-year, $8 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure.

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