Sharing is Everything! Making Environmental Data Easier to Collect, Access and Use

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Sharing is Everything! Making Environmental Data Easier to Collect, Access and Use

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As noted in yesterday’s post, Microsoft is at the Eye on Earth Summit in Abu Dhabi this week with our partners Esri and the European Environment Agency to continue exploring how data visualization tools like the Eye on Earth Network can help transform our understanding of the world.

We are privileged to have Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, join us on the Software Enabled Earth blog to share her perspective on how technology is enabling new ways to collect and share environmental data. Professor McGlade became Executive Director of the European Environment Agency on June 1st 2003. Prior to this she was Natural Environment Research Council Professorial Fellow in Environmental Informatics in the Mathematics Department of University College London where her main areas of research included spatial data analysis and informatics, expert systems, environmental technologies and the international politics of the environment and natural resources. – Josh Henretig


clip_image002This week the EEA is present at the Eye on Earth Summit in Abu Dhabi with our technology partners Esri and Microsoft. The event is hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme and organized by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD). It is no coincidence that the name of the event is same as our global data sharing network – the Eye on Earth event is very much inspired by the work of the EEA and others.

In alignment with Principle 10 from the original Rio Development Conference -- calling for open data sharing and access – we have been championing this cause for many years, and the Eye on Earth Network is a technology platform we hope others will join and use to further the cause.

One might ask why I am so committed to fostering data access and sharing. The truth is data and sharing can have a positive impact on anything, from changing our eating behaviour, to protecting biodiversity, to fostering science.

For example, to address the serious concerns of the future of our planet’s food supply, the EEA is working with plant specialists and chefs from around the world to identify new recipes and ways of cooking that use plant species that are most often ignored. Eating a broader range of foods can help make our food supply less vulnerable to a changing climate, water shortages, soil degradation and pests.

I presented these ideas at the Eye on Earth conference. There are 10,000 edible plant species, but only 70 are routinely eaten and we rely on just 5 staple crops. By working with the chefs to foster a movement of creating local cuisines we can start to eat more of the foods we have available.

EEA will soon be launching a new application NatureWatch on the Eye on Earth network, the first of the “Watch” applications which truly leverages citizen science. With NatureWatch, we are working in close collaboration with communities of voluntary citizen scientists in pilot countries to report on invasive species, one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss throughout the world and accelerating because of climate change, using web and smart phone applications.

The new technology behind Eye on Earth is supporting a global public information service, that will provide communities around the world with the information and knowledge they need to design and create a future that is sustainable and resilient to the changes and challenges ahead. Eye on Earth will help civil society by making environmental information accessible for everyday decision-making. It will help decision makers develop evidence based policies. And it can help to inspire thought leaders by creating innovative ways of looking at problems and finding solutions. With advances in data hosting such as cloud computing, this is a service we are now able to offer for the first time.

Technology is truly bringing about new methods for the collection and dissemination of environmental data and outfitting the environment itself as a data collecting source. We are also working with, and encouraging, web-enabled and microprocessor-driven smart sensors to monitor and augment environmental datasets. These smart sensors can be deployed in cities, inside or outside buildings – or even ruggedized and used in the great outdoors – turning any location into a monitoring station.

But in the end it is the partners and communities who are the most critical element in Eye on Earth. Alongside the large amounts of data from the EEA, a number of key organisations have also uploaded their data including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Abu Dhabi government. Data from a new suite of European observation satellites will also be added as they come on stream.

We have a serious global challenge ahead, to control climate change and combat environmental degradation. At the recent climate change talks in Durban this year, many environmental policy makers warned we have to prepare for a world that is at least 2 degrees warmer. However, by taking incremental steps and equipping our citizens and governments with the advances technology now enables and new and powerful tools like Eye on Earth, we are able to better understand our local and global environment and see the connections between the food we eat, the beaches we swim at and the buildings we work in.

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