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Scientists from dozens of countries coming to Purdue for forestry collaboration in Science-i Bridging Worlds Workshop

In the summer of 2023, the skies throughout the Upper Midwest were hidden behind a blanket of smoke. Air quality declined so substantially that people were warned to stay inside, and asthma-related emergency room visits spiked across the country. The gray haze had come all the way from forest fires in Canada. 

Jingjing Liang, an associate professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, said that the whole world feels the impacts of deforestation and forest degradation in different ways. “The forest ecosystem is a global commodity. We share their risks and benefits, so everybody is responsible for protecting the forests.” 

In the spirit of building a community to manage and protect the world’s forests, Liang and his colleagues in Science-i created the Global Big Ideas Competition and the Bridging Worlds Workshop. The workshop will be held at Purdue on May 6-7, with an optional reception May 5. Anyone is welcome to attend the free event and can register online by April 12. 

Regenerating and conserving forests is a multifaceted challenge. For forest scientists looking to tackle that challenge in a race against climate change, a lack of data is one of the primary obstacles. Data is critical for training models that are accurate and useful for land management decision-making. However, landowners and governments alike might hesitate to share information about their forests for fear it will make them vulnerable or lead to an invasion of privacy.  

To increase access to data and to connect the world’s shared resource of forests, Liang and his colleagues created Science-i, part of the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative. It’s the largest global forest inventory data repository, as well as a network of scientists and experts specializing in protecting wooded ecosystems. Science-i safeguards forest data and grants exclusive access to it for research projects that are vetted and approved by the private and government data owners that might not volunteer data otherwise.  

“Working with the Institute for Digital Forestry, we cultivate and nurture collaboration,” Liang said. “Now in 2024, eight years after starting, we have a consortium of over 500 collaborators from around the world, and most of them are from the Global South. That’s important because, although 80% of forest biodiversity lies in the Global South, it only has access to about 20% of the global resources for conservation research.” 

In the Global Big Ideas Competition that Science-i recently hosted, researchers from across the world submitted proposals for projects that would impact both their local forests and those on the other side of the globe. Incorporating everything from new artificial intelligence technologies to quantum computing to underground fungal networks that communicate with trees, these projects promise to add to humanity’s shared knowledge base and help inform forest management decisions. 

An independent panel of experts chose a handful of these projects to award funding through the National Science Foundation to jump-start their work and travel to Purdue. The awardees are coming to West Lafayette from 15 different countries for the Bridging Worlds Workshop.  

The event will feature experts in forestry and data sciences, as well as an editor of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and a journalist for Mongabay. Indigenous peoples from around the world have also been invited to add their voices to the conversation and to connect their communities with the projects launching from the Global Big Ideas Competition.

Through efforts like the Global Big Ideas Competition and Bridging Worlds Workshop, we at Science-i are doing our part to help Purdue University evolve into a global nexus, weaving together local communities, nongovernmental organizations, research institutions and governments worldwide to confront and tackle the pressing environmental challenges of our time.”

- Jingjing Liang, Associate Professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

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