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Researchers from Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and the University of East Anglia have determined that the Internet can be used for a whole lot of untapped information mining - including detecting possible environmental disasters.In an article for the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the researchers state that there could be enough information being posted on the Internet to mine the data and fill gaps in existing research, which would lead to detecting changes in ecosystems.
The authors focus on web crawlers and their potential to gather information from email lists, blogs, news sites, reports and so on to monitor various activities that drive ecosystem change, and see a potential change before it happens. For instance, if prices spike on a particular species in online sales, the web crawlers could be used to collect the information that the changes are happening, and researchers viewing the evidence can warn of a potential collapse of that species. Or, they could mine data that shows the growth of an invasive species and sound the warning before the species' population booms.
With so much information being shared on the web, it's no wonder that the information we need is right under our noses - we just need a way to gather it up and organize it so we can see what is happening before it becomes a problem. The authors of the study have started up a blog and their most recent posting states:
The challenge is that existing monitoring systems are not at all in tune with the speed of social, economical and ecological changes. The implication: rapid and often irreversible loss of ecosystem services vital for human well-being and security for example, clear water, food from marine resources and agricultural landscapes, and mitigation of natural hazards.
Meanwhile, the development of informal communications and information sources across the internet offers a novel source of monitoring data to track, identify and perhaps even foresee vital changes in ecosystem services.
They're asking for feedback on the idea, so if you have input, please visit their site and give your two cents.
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