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Over the hills and through the Jetstream

Speed read
  • Climate change threatens the forests near the Boulder Creek river valley in Colorado
  • Scientist Tyson Swetnam used Jetstream to develop geographic information systems remotely
  • Working with scalable data sets also helped Swetnam’s team

The forests surrounding Boulder Creek, Colorado resemble a scene from a dream.

Walking paths illuminated by light cut through the forest, offering passerby the opportunity to take in beautiful vistas of the Rocky Mountains. Birds sing in the trees, a la Sleeping Beauty. A sea of green leaves engulfs each visitor.

However, these forests are threatened by many factors linked to climate change, including increases in the region’s climate and periods of drought.

How can scientists successfully manage this vital ecosystem in the face of creeping global temperatures?

Tyson Swetnam, a science informatician at CyVerse, recently led a research project which analyzed forest biomass data from 513,029 trees in the Boulder Creek valley.

To accomplish this objective, he utilized Jetstream, the first National Science Foundation-supported cloud resource for science and engineering research.

“By running large instances on Jetstream, I can parallelize tasks and complete processes in one tenth of the time it would take on a conventional laptop computer,” Swetnam says.

One of the advantages Jetstream offered Swetnam and his team was the ability to develop interactive geographic information systems (GIS) that could be accessed anywhere by researchers, regardless of geographic location. This allowed Swetnam’s team to analyze data and create models as quickly as possible for their work.

“With Web-OpenDroneMap running on Jetstream, I can upload imagery collected from small unmanned aerial systems using a wifi or 4G connected mobile device to make 3D models,” Swetnam says. “This provides useful, actionable data in real time.”

Jetstream also created the opportunity for Swetnam to work with scalable spatial data infrastructures (SDI), which is a critical part of the scientist’s work at CyVerse and an important feature in the future of computational science as data sets become larger and more complex.

“By utilizing resources like Jetstream, CyVerse will be able to provide a utilitarian, horizontally scalable SDI to the life sciences community,” Swetnam says. “Researchers will be able to use this service to extend their analytical capabilities and answer previously unassailable research questions.”

Swetnam says that some scientists may be intimidated by working with advanced computing networks, but that Jetstream offers services to help train new users to the system.

“I think some people are afraid of working with cyberinfrastructure because of the presumed complexities of learning to code,” Swetnam says. “Online tutorials and learning apps are available for new users to quickly pick up basic coding and GIS skills and apply them to their research.”

Because of Jetstream, scientists like Swetnam are able to complete their research quickly and efficiently, which is critically important as places like the Boulder Creek forest face an increasing number of threats due to climate change.

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