IBM and Nature Conservancy Team Up To Save Major Rivers

New York, USA – IBM and The Nature Conservancy today announced a new partnership that aims to conserve some of the world’s great rivers by meshing extraordinary computing power and science-driven conservation.

Projects launched at the two organizations, The Nature Conservancy’s Great Rivers Partnership and IBM’s Big Green Innovations project, will work together to create an elaborate computer modeling framework that will give governments, community organizations and individuals unprecedented access to detailed information about the world’s threatened Great Rivers.

The project will begin with the Paraguay-Paraná river system in Brazil, and then move to China’s Yangtze River and the Mississippi River in the United States. Among the data collected will be information on water flow, erosion rates, potential pollution and nutrient overflow from farming, as well as the historical climate and rainfall of the region.

Once the data is collected, end users will be able to get answers to important questions such as: What impact will development have on water quality for a village downstream? Will clear-cutting a forest in the upper part of a river’s watershed imperil fish stocks local people depend on for food?

The proposed system will provide access to wide-ranging data on climate, rainfall, land cover, vegetation and biodiversity and enable stakeholders to better understand how policy decisions impact water quality and ecosystem services. The partnership will create simulation, three-dimensional visualization, and scenario forecasting tools to facilitate more sustainable management of the world’s great rivers.

“Part of the challenge is to integrate the data so that it’s easily usable by consitutents,” said Sharon Nunes, IBM’s vice president of Big Green Innovations. “It’s important to provide easy access to the framework and the information.”

One reason why the partnership made so much sense, Nunes said, was that The Nature Conservancy has long been intensively gathering data on these rivers at the ground level. Coupling this mass of information with IBM’s computational power makes it practical, possibly for the first time, to get this level of detailed modeling in the hands of individuals and organizations focused on local water-quality and river improvement projects.

“The lack of suitable water for people and for nature is a growing international crisis, especially within impoverished communities,” said TNC’s CEO, Steve McCormick, in a statement. “Our partnership with IBM represents the kind of innovation and creativity necessary to preserve freshwater systems at scales that can really make a difference.”

The Great Rivers Partnership was launched in 2005 to help protect of the world’s vanishing freshwater supply and re-shape how large river systems are preserved and protected. In addition to Brazil’s Paraguay-Paraná river basin, the Yangtze River in China and the Mississippi River, the Conservancy is also working on the conservation of the Zambezi River.

IBM’s Big Green Innovations was launched in 2006 to bring IBM’s technological muscle to four key areas. Primarily, the group is focusing on water management, with the Great Rivers Partnership as one example of how this research will benefit the public. But IBM’s Nunes said the company also has plans to adapt what they learn from the rivers to help their industrial customers manage their water usage from beginning to end.

BGI will also study the intelligent utility network, Nunes said, specifically, looking to understand how to smoothly integrate alternative energy supplies like wind and solar into the grid. The natural peaks and troughs of energy supplied by renewable sources complicate the energy grid, so one of IBM’s innovations will learn how best to adapt our current energy structure to make use of these technologies.

In addition to these two areas, Big Green Innovations will launch studies of greening supply chains and manufacturing processes, as well as a general emphasis on its sophisticated computational modeling operations.

Nunes said IBM expects the first of the Great Rivers projects, the Paraguay-Paraná basin, to go online in the next year to 18 months, with Yangtze river following soon thereafter. But she emphasized that improving water management especially is urgently necessary around the world.

“This is not just an issue related to IBM and The Nature Conservancy – this is an issue of critical importance around the world. As just one example, how do you get water to support farming in developing countries when we’re starting to realize just how serious the water shortages we’re facing will soon become? But if you understand [the problem], then you can know what you can do to protect it.”

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