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Terra Populus

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map.jpgFor a health project she was working on, University of Minnesota sociologist Anne Meier needed to know the average elevation, temperature and rainfall by district in Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi. Tracy Kugler, a research associate at the Minnesota Population Center, was happy to oblige. After about 20 hours of gathering, organizing, integrating, and processing data from a half-dozen separate databases, she was able to hand over Meier the information she needed.

And that, Kugler says, is why she's spending much of the rest of her time helping to get a massive new population and environment database known as Terra Populus - TerraPop for short - up and running. If TerraPop had been in place, Meier not only could have gathered her own data, she could have done it in well under an hour.

TerraPop is a massive initiative of the Minnesota Population Center, the Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota Libraries, and faculty from the College of Liberal Arts and College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, along with collaborators from Columbia University and the University of Michigan. Funded by an $8 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the project is gathering land cover, land use, climate and census data from around the world and across two centuries into a common database that researchers anywhere can use to answer questions about complex relationships between people and their environment. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge TerraPop faces is figuring out how to get data from many different places, gathered at many different scales, at many different times, for many different parameters, and in many different formats, together in a way that provides meaningful information.

Initially, the database will bring together individual- and household-level from selected countries, aggregated population data, and climate, and land use and land cover data. At later stages, the TerraPop team plans to expand the database to include census data from additional countries, additional environmental data, and additional dimensions of human data, such as economic and health data. A prototype system is scheduled to be available for beta-testing in spring 2013, and should be available to the public around the end of 2013.

"We expect that the system will be valuable to researchers in multiple disciplines, including sociology, demography, climatology, geography, environmental sciences, epidemiology, as well as cross-disciplinary research communities concerned with human-environment interactions, such as environmental justice, landscape ecology, hazards, sustainability, and health, and natural resources management," Kugler says. "Our overall goal is to lower the data acquisition and processing barriers involved in studying questions of how people interact with the environment."

Like to learn more about TerraPop, join the development community or be part of the beta test group? Check out TerraPop's website at www.terrapop.org.

Listen to a description of the TerraPop project here:

 


Image courtesy of Carlaarena

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  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.

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