Can scientists learn to make ‘nature forecasts’ just as we forecast the weather?

 at The Conversation: “We all take weather forecasts for granted, so why isn’t there a ‘nature forecast’ to answer these questions? Enter the new scientific field of ecological forecasting. Ecologists have long sought to understand the natural world, but only recently have they begun to think systematically about forecasting.

Much of the current research in ecological forecasting is focused on long-term projections. It considers questions that play out over decades to centuries, such as how species may shift their ranges in response to climate change, or whether forests will continue to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

However, in a new article that I co-authored with 18 other scientists from universities, private research institutes and the U.S. Geological Survey, we argue that focusing on near-term forecasts over spans of days, seasons and years will help us better understand, manage and conserve ecosystems. Developing this ability would be a win-win for both science and society….

Big data is driving many of the advances in ecological forecasting. Today ecologists have orders of magnitude more data compared to just a decade ago, thanks to sustained public funding for basic science and environmental monitoring. This investment has given us better sensors, satellites and organizations such as the National Ecological Observatory Network, which collects high-quality data from 81 field sites across the United States and Puerto Rico. At the same time, cultural shifts across funding agencies, research networks and journals have made that data more open and available.

Digital technologies make it possible to access this information more quickly than in the past. Field notebooks have given way to tablets and cell networks that can stream new data into supercomputers in real time. Computing advances allow us to build better models and use more sophisticated statistical methods to produce forecasts….(More)”.