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Showing the Local Value of Ecosystem Services
Alex Steffen, 14 Aug 06

This is a serious bit of knowing nature through technology -- researchers plan to create a model that will demonstrate the value of ecosystem services in any particular place

Breath in. The air is free. But we'd all agree it's not worthless. So, what's the price tag on benefits provided by nature? In 1997, the University of Vermont's Robert Costanza and his co-authors put the answer at $33 trillion per year in a now-famous paper in the journal Nature. In the decade following, the science of "ecosystem services" has bloomed. This young discipline studies how nature--through climate regulation, soil formation, crop pollination, flood protection, and so on--supports human welfare, and estimates its value in economic terms.

Now, Costanza and his colleagues at UVM's Gund Institute for Ecological Economics have launched a project to solve a central problem that this young science faces: creating a fast way for policy-makers to understand the specific ecosystem services in their area--and the impacts of different land use decisions--whether looking at a local watershed or whole continent.

Over the next year, with an $813,000 grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Costanza and his team will create a set of computer models and tools that will give a sophisticated portrait of the ecosystem dynamics and value for any spot on earth.

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