Transitions and Tipping Points in Complex Environmental Systems

nsf_ac_ere1_fA new report from the National Science Foundation notes challenges and opportunities in responding to Earth’s rapidly changing environment.

“From Canada to Chile, from Kazakhstan to Kansas, we are witnessing a fast-changing planet. What will it look like in the years, decades and centuries to come?

“How far and in what ways can Earth’s systems be stressed before they reach tipping points, undergoing rapid transitions to new states–with unforeseen consequences?

“So asks a report released today by the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education (AC-ERE).

“The report, Transitions and Tipping Points in Complex Environmental Systems, finds both challenges and opportunities in the path to finding answers.”

Global Warming Causes Outbreak of Rare Algae in Caribbean Corals

Scientists take advantage of ‘experiment of nature’ to discover new insights into coral bleaching

“A rare opportunity has allowed a team of scientists to evaluate corals–and the essential, photosynthetic algae that live inside their cells–before, during, and after a period in 2005 when global warming caused sea-surface temperatures in the Caribbean to rise.

“The team, led by Penn State biologist Todd LaJeunesse, found that a rare species of algae that’s tolerant of stressful environmental conditions proliferated in corals at a time when more sensitive algae that usually dwell within the corals were being expelled.

“The results will be published in the online version of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on September 9, 2009.”

Top Five Benefits of GIS

GIS benefits organizations of all sizes and in almost every industry. There is a growing interest in and awareness of the economic and strategic value of GIS, in part because of more standards-based technology and greater awareness of the benefits demonstrated by GIS users. The number of GIS enterprise solutions and IT strategies that include GIS are growing rapidly.  The benefits of GIS generally fall into five basic categories:

1. Cost savings resulting from greater efficiency. These are associated either with carrying out the mission (i.e., labor savings from automating or improving a workflow) or improvements in the mission itself.   A good case for both of these is Sears, which implemented GIS in its logistics operations and has seen dramatic improvements.  Sears considerably reduced the time it takes for dispatchers to create routes for their home delivery trucks (by about 75%).  It also benefited enormously in reducing the costs of carrying out the mission (i.e., 12%-15% less drive time by optimizing routes).  Sears also improved customer service, reduced the number of return visits to the same site, and scheduled appointments more efficiently.

2. Better decision making. This typically has to do with making better decisions about location.  Common examples include real estate site selection, route/corridor selection, zoning, planning, conservation, natural resource extraction, etc.  People are beginning to realize that making the correct decision about a location is strategic to the success of an organization.

3. Improved communication. GIS-based maps and visualizations greatly assist in understanding situations and story telling.  They are a new language that improves communication between different teams, departments, disciplines, professional fields, organizations, and the public.

4. Better geographic information recordkeeping. Many organizations have a primary responsibility of maintaining authoritative records about the status and change of geography (geographic accounting).  Cultural geography examples are zoning, population census, land ownership, and administrative boundaries.  Physical geography examples include forest inventories, biological inventories, environmental measurements, water flows, and a whole host of geographic accountings.  GIS provides a strong framework for managing these types of systems with full transaction support and reporting tools.  These systems are conceptually similar to other information systems in that they deal with data management and transactions, as well as standardized reporting (e.g., maps) of changing information.  However, they are fundamentally different because of the unique data models and hundreds of specialized tools used in supporting GIS applications and workflows.

5. Managing geographically. In government and many large corporations, GIS is becoming essential to understand what is going on.  Senior administrators and executives at the highest levels of government use GIS information products to communicate.  These products provide a visual framework for conceptualizing, understanding, and prescribing action.  Examples include briefings about various geographic patterns and relationships including land use, crime, the environment, and defense/security situations.  GIS is increasingly being implemented as enterprise information systems.  This goes far beyond simply spatially enabling business tables in a DBMS.  Geography is emerging as a new way to organize and manage organizations.  Just like enterprise-wide financial systems transformed the way organizations were managed in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, GIS is transforming the way that organizations manage their assets, serve their customers/citizens, make decisions, and communicate.  Examples in the private sector include most utilities, forestry and oil companies, and most commercial/retail businesses.  Their assets and resources are now being maintained as an enterprise information system to support day-to-day work management tasks and provide a broader context for assets and resource management.