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FARR Affiliate Quinn Thomas Co-Leads New Virginia Tech Center for Eco Forecasting

By Kimberly Mann Bruch, SDSC Communications


Forecasting ecosystems and how best to deal with evolving problems in both developed and undeveloped countries has become increasingly challenging for researchers. To help address such issues, Quinn Thomas, an associate professor in the departments of Forest Resources and Environmental Science and Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech, has been working on comparing ecosystem predictions to actual measurements. Thomas has been focused on algae, but his methodologies can be utilized by other researchers to quantify strengths and weaknesses of other forecasts. Hence, he partnered with Virginia Tech Biological Sciences Professor Cayelan Carey, who specializes in freshwater ecological forecasting, to create the Virginia Tech Center for Ecosystem Forecasting.

“The FARR RCN community works on research priorities and gaps in computer science as they relate to AI readiness, AI reproducibility and the intersection of the FAIR principles and machine learning. FARR is equally concerned with how geoscience repositories approach these issues. Having a chance to look through the lens of work done by Quinn Thomas and his community has given us tremendous insight into how AI readiness fits into a modern geoscience repository,” said Christine Kirkpatrick, principal investigator for FARR-RCN and director of the Research Data Services Division at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UC San Diego. “Professor Thomas and the ecological forecasting community are trail blazing what community repositories might offer in the future – from data and model sharing to paths towards demonstrating reproducibility.”

As an affiliate of the FARR-RCN project, Thomas said that one of the primary goals of the new center is to democratize ecological forecasting so that researchers have easy access to multiple archives related to their specific area of interest. 

“Our aim is to develop open-source software and collaborate with worldwide scientists and managers, which aligns with the FARR RCN’s goals of making products FAIR – findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable),” Thomas said. “We are excited to work with our FARR RCN partners to improve collaborations in the field of ecosystem forecasting, leverage technologies, and address global challenges in this domain."

Thomas is also a principal investigator for the U.S. National Science Foundation-funded Democratized Cyberinfrastructure for Open Discovery to Enable Research (DeCODER) project, which is a collaborative research effort between the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), SDSC, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Virginia Tech, Syracuse University, Texas A&M University and UC Berkeley.

He also leads the Ecological Forecasting Initiative Research Coordination Network that hosts the National Ecological Observatory Network Ecological Forecasting Challenge, which is a continental-scale forecasting challenge spanning 81 sites across the United States. 

“Tools used for ecological challenges like the NEON Challenge  will continue to be developed in our new center,” Thomas said. “This work involves collaborating with multiple universities to estimate future carbon sequestration, vector-borne diseases, tick populations, and beetle diversity – to name a few – and we not only have code for these, but also visualizations that can be shared via repositories that are easily accessible.”

Additional information about the new Virginia Tech Center for Ecosystem Forecasting can be found here.

Caption: Quinn Thomas (standing at second from left) and Cayelan Carey (standing at fourth from right), co-directors of the Virginia Tech Center for Ecosystem Forecasting, celebrated the official launch of their center on March 27 with center-affiliated faculty, workers, students, and their Australian partners. Photo by Felicia Spencer for Virginia Tech


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