Godan Summit: Can Supercomputers and Visualization Help Solve the Global Food Crisis?

The first ever Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) Summit took place in New York in September 2016 with one major goal—to craft open data-driven solutions in the face of rising world hunger.

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s plant biology department are two of 340 groups involved in the meeting.

“NCSA helps a variety of research areas experiment in digital environments. These virtual laboratories have a track record of converging disparate models and data into innovation,” said AJ Christensen, a presenter and a visualization programmer at NCSA’s Advanced Visualization Laboratory. “Visualization is a key component to an open data culture. It helps people digest key data points faster, and can reveal more.”

Christensen and Amy Marshall-Colón, an assistant professor of Plant Biology and NCSA Faculty Affiliate at the University of Illinois, presented a NCSA-produced mini-documentary during their time at the conference:

According to the UN, by 2050 the world will need a projected 70-100 percent more food, and farmers have already plowed much of the productive land on Earth. Global yields need to be increased in innovative ways—and GODAN wants to gather all the necessary supplies for that innovation in an open space.

“We can use computer models to predict ways in which we can help plants improve yield and better use resources, but we are limited by access to global agriculture data,” Marshall-Colón said. “Open access to data will improve our current models and help achieve our goal of improve plant genetics.”

The idea is similar to NOAA’s weather database, although another example has already been started in crop sciences with the University of Illinois’ Crops in silico project—which both NCSA-affiliated presenters are part of, and Marshall-Colón co-leads. The project focuses on the U.S., and it’s highlighted in the micro-documentary.