NSF News

New NSF center will advance, broaden and catalyze environmental data science

Understanding the impacts of climate change and the loss of biodiversity, and predicting and preparing for extreme environmental disturbances such as wildfires, floods and drought, require combining and synthesizing data sets that provide information at varying scales.

To support the analysis and integration of these data and advance the use of data-intensive approaches and training in environmental science, the U.S. National Science Foundation has announced the creation of the Environmental Data Science Innovation and Inclusion Lab, or ESIIL (pronounced "easel"), through a $20 million, five-year award to the University of Colorado Boulder. Scientist Jennifer Balch is the principal investigator. The new synthesis center is funded jointly by NSF's Directorate for Biological Sciences and Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure.

NSF and other U.S. science agencies have established environmental networks and observatories that are generating vast amounts of open access biological and other environmental data, all of which are freely and publicly available. There is an enormous need for the research community to analyze and create innovative computational tools to use these data efficiently, scientists have found, and to mobilize and train teams to address unanswered research questions.

ESIIL will collaborate with NSF's CyVerse and will hold inclusion as a core principle and method of diversifying environmental data. ESIIL will also catalyze use-inspired research through cross-sector partnerships, Innovation Summits and Earth Hackathons.

"By leveraging NSF's investments in data and measurement, along with support for innovation in environmental cyberinfrastructure, ESIIL will spearhead advancement in the data-intensive team science that is becoming critical in a highly connected and increasingly virtual world," said Joanne Tornow, assistant director of NSF's Directorate for Biological Sciences. "Combining, analyzing and synthesizing the wealth of open environmental data will advance our ability to predict changes in the environment and for life on Earth. ESIIL's efforts will make these data usable by everyone, from researchers to educators and policymakers."

ESIIL's open Collaborative and Scalable Environment cyberinfrastructure will lower barriers to scientific collaboration by connecting to data sources such as NSF's National Ecological Observatory Network, Long-Term Ecological Research Network, Ocean Observatories Initiative and Critical Zone Collaborative Network. It will also provide tailored user experiences as well as analytics and cloud computing. By hosting open education resources on a learning and research portal, ESIIL's impact will scale to a global audience.

"This robust and innovative cyberinfrastructure, including AI-enabled data analytics pipelines that are integral to ESIIL's vision and practices, will address significant scientific challenges and provide novel and impactful tools and solutions to the broader community," said Manish Parashar, director of NSF's Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure.

ESIIL's education program will facilitate access to environmental data science skills and help develop the next generation of a data-capable workforce. The ESIIL Stars internship program will support students and faculty members from institutions that serve underrepresented groups in STEM, with initial partners that include Oglala Lakota College, United Tribes Technical College and Metropolitan State University of Denver. The ESIIL Leaders program will support emerging scientists from underrepresented communities by fostering leadership skills in environmental data science and team science.