IBM Teams with The Nature Conservancy to Conserve Major River Systems

Wisconsin Scientists Contribute to Decision-Making Tool

ARMONK, NY & ARLINGTON, VA | April 24, 2007

BM and The Nature Conservancy today announced that they are collaborating to conserve some of the world's great rivers by meshing extraordinary computing power and science-driven conservation.

Working through The Nature Conservancy’s Great Rivers Partnership, the two organizations will build a new computer-modeling framework that will allow users to simulate the behavior of river basins around the world, helping inform policy and management decisions that conserve the natural environment and benefit the people who rely on these resources.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) helped to develop some of the models that will be used in the new computer framework.  SAGE staff and students conduct cutting-edge research on issues related to natural resources, human health and security, and changes in the global environment and disseminate that knowledge through innovative teaching and outreach at UW-Madison.

Thousands of decisions are made every day that affect the health and quality of rivers and the people, wildlife and economies that depend upon them.  This partnership will help answer important questions such as: What impact will development have on water quality for a village downstream?  Will clear-cutting a forest in the upper part of a river's watershed imperil fish stocks local people depend on for food?

The proposed system will provide access to wide-ranging data on climate, rainfall, land cover, vegetation and biodiversity and enable stakeholders to better understand how policy decisions impact water quality and ecosystem services.  The partnership will create simulation, three-dimensional visualization, and scenario forecasting tools to facilitate more sustainable management of the world’s great rivers.

“We’re excited about this opportunity to work with academic and technology leaders to develop a tool that will help conserve and encourage sustainable management of river systems around the world, including right here in Wisconsin,” said Paul West, Associate Scientist of the Great Rivers Partnership, located in Madison.

“Our pilot project will develop this system for Brazil’s upper Paraguay and Paraná rivers, which includes Sao Paulo and globally rare natural habitats like the Atlantic rainforest, tropical savannas, and the Pantanal,” West added.  “Work will be completed in collaboration with academic and resource management agencies.  While initially being developed to address local issues in Brazil, the system will be flexible enough to allow Web users to substitute local data and models for other areas like Wisconsin.”

IBM’s expertise in managing massive amounts of data from multiple sources and providing easy access for a range of users is essential to enabling the research and analysis required to transform freshwater management and develop practical solutions.  The company will also offer the raw computing power to store, manage and analyze the massive amounts of data needed to model large river systems worldwide.

"Informed, environmentally sound management of the world's freshwater systems is a growing challenge for society, and if this challenge is left unaddressed, it could have a lasting impact on future generations," said Nicholas M. Donofrio, IBM Executive Vice President, Innovation and Technology.  "Our collaboration in the Great Rivers Partnership brings IBM's unparalleled expertise in science, modeling and understanding of complex systems to improving water quality, conservation and resource management."

The system will help decision makers determine the costs and benefits of policies and actions affecting land use and water management.  Specific outputs might include “dashboard” readings on the overall health of the river, information on key indicators such as flow levels and sediment loads.  By modeling different scenarios, the system would enable users, including farmers and water district managers, to visualize the effect of changes in conditions on freshwater ecosystems and gain first-hand knowledge of how their actions impact rivers and tributaries on a regional and global scale.

The Nature Conservancy created the Great Rivers Partnership in 2005 to help guide protection of the world’s vanishing freshwater supply and transform the way large river systems are preserved and protected.  In addition to the Paraguay-Paraná river basin in Brazil, the Conservancy’s Great Rivers Partnership is currently working to advance conservation of the Mississippi River in the United States, the Yangtze River in China and the Zambezi River in Africa.  For more information on the Great Rivers Partnership visit

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at

Contact information

Chris Anderson
Wisconsin Media Contact
(612) 331-0747
(612) 845-2744 (cell)

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