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Feature - Envirogrids: Protecting the Black Sea

Feature - Envirogrids: Protecting the Black Sea

Kız Kulesi (Leander's Tower) in Istanbul's harbor, whose waters feed into the Black Sea via the Bosphorus Straits. The EnviroGRIDS project will aid in protecting an area of great natural and cultural beauty. Image courtesy özhan

The Argonauts sailed on its waters. Its eastern shores (now Georgia) marked the boundary of the known world to the Ancient Greeks. The lands along its northern shores are possibly the cradle of the Indo-European language family.

The Black Sea region is rich in culture, history, natural beauty and - for the past 50 years - environmental problems.

The land area containing the tributaries that feed into the Black Sea is five times the size of the sea itself (2 million square km). This "catchment basin" stretchs from near Munich in the west, the headwaters of the Danube near Moscow in the north, close to the border of Kazakhstan in the east, from the source of the Don, and below Ankara in the south.

While this huge area is connected ecologically, it is fractured politically. The catchment touches 24 countries. This poses a problem for researchers and policy makers concerned about the region's environmental threats: overfishing, pollution, shoreline development and non-native species invasion. While many countries have collected large stores of geo-referenced data within their borders, access to these databases is difficult.

Many nations feed into waterways of the Black Sea: in 2008, the Istanbul University Faculty of Fisheries collected 13,419 waste items from the Western Turkish Black Sea Coast. Of the 443 items for which the country of origin could be determined, half were from outside Turkey, coming from 17 different countries.

Integrating the data sets, which are in different formats and spatial resolutions, is even harder.

"The problem is that you have 24 countries, in each country organizations are collecting data, the region is separated bureaucratically, but integrated ecologically," says Andrew Maier, a grid computing specialist in the IT department at CERN. "So what is needed is a portal where someone could find, access and use all the data."

EnviroGRIDS, a project launched in April 2009, aims to do just that. The project will provide a grid computing infrastructure to allow previously private or hard-to-get-to data to be accessed and processed with easy to use Web services and tools.

The Black Sea contains water flowing from two dozen countries. Image courtesyenviroGrids

A powerful modeling tool

As a first step, the powerful SWAT (Soil Water Assessment Tool) model, developed at the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, was ported to run on gLite middleware (built and maintained by Enabling Grids for E-sciencE) by staff at CERN.

"SWAT will allow EnviroGRIDS to create hydrological models of the entire Black Sea Catchment," says Andrew Maier, who presented a poster at the EGEE'09 conference in Barcelona in September about gridifying SWAT with the job management system and submission tool Ganga. "This step automates repetitive aspects of the process of sending jobs to the grid (preparing computer programs to execute) and makes it much simpler to use the grid. We are trying to make sure that the grid is really practical for non-specialists."

EnviroGRIDS is funded to run until March 2013. Its next steps will be to collect high resolution environmental data sets in a maximum of countries in order to run SWAT.

"With this work we hope to build the capacity of scientists to access and analyze interesting data," says Nicolas Ray, enviroGRIDS project manager, "and to help policy makers to make better decisions toward a more sustainable development of the region."

-Danielle Venton, EGEE

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