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A Silicon Valley tech titan has teamed up with University of California at Berkeley to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss among other environmental challenges.

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife are giving $12.6 million to their alma mater to open the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Center for Data Science and Environment.

The center will combine data science and environmental science to solve environmental challenges. Solutions will be publicly available, practical, replicable and scaled for the good of society.

“Berkeley has long been at the forefront of research in the areas of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental justice, and the tools of data science are essential as we work to address the impacts of these and other environmental challenges,” said David Ackerly, dean of the Rausser College of Natural Resources in a statement.

“This collaboration will create meaningful connections for research that can lead to important solutions,” Ackerly said.

New tools for old challenges

Data science’s role in solving environmental challenges has increased thanks to the availability of new data along with computational methods and tools.

UC Berkeley’s Division of Computing, Data Science and Society will partner with the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management to develop the center, which will add to ongoing research and collaboration.

The new center will use open science principles, which aims to make research and the spread of it accessible to everyone. Also, in open science, knowledge is developed through collaborative networks.

“Climate science’s biggest problem used to be a lack of data. Now, we have a lot of data and not enough understanding.”

Eric Schmidt

“Our natural environment is being impacted everywhere we look, but environmental solutions remain rare, or out of reach where they’re needed most,” said Wendy Schmidt, a UC Berkeley graduate and president and co-founder of The Schmidt Family Foundation and co-founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute and Schmidt Futures.

“The Schmidt Center will help all of us, and particularly communities around the world on the front lines of environmental impacts, work together to harness the power of data to encourage innovation and drive action,” Schmidt said.

Leadership team selected

Leading the center will be Fernando Perez, associate professor of statistics at UC Berkeley and a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory faculty scientist, and Douglas McCauley, associate adjunct professor at UC Berkeley in environmental science, policy and management and associate professor of ecology, evolution and marine biology at UC Santa Barbara.

Some other faculty at UC Berkeley will serve as advisors. The center will be recruiting postdoctoral researchers and research engineers with knowledge of applied data science, environmental science and software engineering to work on projects with environmental and data scientists.

The center will also be partnering with communities and others who know how the research will affect them and can be used.

“Climate science’s biggest problem used to be a lack of data. Now, we have a lot of data and not enough understanding,” said Eric Schmidt, a UC Berkeley Ph.D. graduate in electrical engineering and computer sciences and co-founder of The Schmidt Family Foundation, Schmidt Ocean Institute and Schmidt Futures.

In the next year, computer, data and environmental experts will meet to decide what the center’s first case study projects will be. Areas of potential consideration are big data and synthesis, environmental forecasting and prediction, and environmental management and decision support tools.