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December 9, 2015
Conservationists Using Big Data to Understand Impacts of Climate Change

Paris, Dec. 9, 2015 – As climate change disrupts rural communities around the world, policymakers face the task of helping their societies become more resilient. In many places, though, an information gap prevents decisions from being made with the best available evidence.

Now, a new tool from Conservation International (CI) is making a wealth of relevant data accessible to everyone — along with a simple yet powerful platform to make sense of it.

The Resilience Atlas, created by CI with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, is designed to improve understanding of the extent and severity of stresses and disasters that affect rural livelihoods, food-production systems and ecosystems on multiple scales. Uniquely, it also gauges how changes to local assets — including financial capital, social networks and natural resources — can affect the resilience of these systems.

For the first time, data from satellites, ground-based biophysical measurements and household surveys — from more than 60 of the best available data sets, totaling more than 12 terabytes — have been integrated in an easy-to-use map interface for the more than 40 countries that the Atlas covers in Africa and South and Southeast Asia. By integrating these previously disparate data sets, the Atlas connects themes and perspectives so that people making important investment, development and security decisions can easily see the full picture.

“In order to thrive, societies need to exhibit resilience—the ability to withstand, respond and adjust to chronic stressors and short-term events,” says Sandy Andelman, chief scientist at Conservation International.

“Evidence-based decision-making is a huge challenge in areas where data are inaccessible, and we hope the Resilience Atlas will help make essential information available in a digestible form to governments, communities, donors and businesses who are struggling to manage the risks and uncertainties associated with climate change, conflict, population growth and other stressors. It can provide them with insights on the magnitude of the challenge and on which kinds of interventions and investments will make a difference.”

A unique element of the Atlas is a “Journeys” feature that transforms data and maps into insights, providing a user-friendly introduction to analytical tools that help users understand past trends and future projections. With the Journeys, the Atlas guides users through specific data that are relevant to the questions they want to answer. Instead of telling them the answers, the Atlas is designed to enable users to discover the answers themselves. Users can then share their insights by sharing map links via social media or by embedding Atlas data within their own webpages.

For example, one Journey focuses on Ethiopian pastoralists, guiding users first to a map showing where they live and then exploring the stressors they face, such as changing rainfall patterns that threaten the viability of their livelihood and the lack of investments in human capital, such as literacy and access to information that can prevent them from adapting.

The Resilience Atlas was created by Conservation International and developed in partnership with Vizzuality. It is made possible by the cloud computing infrastructure of Amazon Web Services (AWS).

About Conservation International

Conservation International (CI) uses an innovative blend of science, policy and partnerships to protect the nature people rely on for food, fresh water and livelihoods. Founded in 1987, CI works in more than 30 countries on six continents to ensure a healthy, prosperous planet that supports us all. Learn more about CI and follow our work on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

About Vizzuality

Founded in 2009, Vizzuality has spent the past 6 years partnering with some of the most influential organizations in the world to tell their stories with data. The products we create deliver global impacts, like addressing deforestation, assisting development agencies to be more effective, and increasing transparency with open data. Working with governments, NGOs and intergovernmental organizations, we’ve pushed the boundaries of how data is stored, shared and visualized using innovative design and digital service development techniques. The end results are beautiful, bespoke products that convey meaning clearly and effectively, so everyone can use data to build a better world.

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