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Last week the European Environment Agency posted a series of detailed interactive maps to the Eye on Earth network that assess the risk of heat waves in over 500 European cities. The maps, which were first included in the report ‘Detailing urban adaptation to climate change in Europe,’ are a perfect example of how big data can be used to address environmental risks, such as the impact of climate change on major population centers. First launched in 2008, the Eye on Earth network is a partnership between the EEA, geographic information systems company Esri and Microsoft. Eye on Earth is a cloud-based network using the Azure and Sharepoint platforms, which provide a secure central location for managing geospatial environmental data and ultimately help people create and share maps across the network.
At Microsoft we see Eye on Earth as an example of how information technology can play a hugely important role in organizing the world’s environmental data. By supporting a collaborative environment for hosting, sharing and discovering environmental data, the heat wave map will help scientists and citizens across Europe better understand how a warming planet will impact communities at a local level. And it’s clear that this is information that people find useful—since it launched last week the map has already been viewed over 180,000 times.
The map determines heat wave risk by drawing on three types of information:
· The amount of green areas within cities that may provide natural cooling during heat waves
· Each city’s population density, which is typically correlated with a higher building mass and less green space—the so-called “heat island effect”
· Climate change projections for the period from 2071 to 2100.
The information will help cities better understand potential public health impacts from heat waves and potentially identify solutions that will help limit future risk. For instance, if one city has a lower risk than a neighboring city with a similar climate, it may be attributed to the latter city having more green space that moderates against the effect of so-called ‘heat islands.’
You can check out the map for yourself to see how heat wave risk is spread throughout Europe. Eye on Earth has undergone a number of updates since it was first introduced—most recently with the unveiling of NoiseWatch at COP17 last November—and we look forward to continued collaboration with both EEA and Esri to expand the capabilities of Eye on Earth to organize more environmental data.