Giacomo de Liguori Carino, Project Manager for the Eye on Earth Network at the European Environment Agency, discusses why sharing environmental data and information is crucial for sustainable development, and looks at the steps Europe is taking to lead global efforts for environmental consciousness.
Eye on Earth is a global public information network that provides users with the tools to create maps and access thousands of readily-available environmental datasets online.
According to Giacomo, the Eye on Earth Network was establish as a part of the agency’s drive to strengthen its mandate in helping communities and European Environment Agency member countries in their journey towards environmental sustainability.
“The European Environment Agency’s (EEA) vision is to engage the public in the observation and reporting of environmental data and information as a way to fill gaps in our knowledge of Europe’s environment,” he says.
The Eye on Earth Network is one of many EEA initiatives that follow the principles of a Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) for Europe. Such a system aims to improve the collection, exchange and use of environmental data and information and is based on the following principles: managing information as close to its source as possible; collecting information once and sharing with others for many purposes; and using open software standards for information sharing.
“In the Eye on Earth Network, users are given a window to discover a whole new way of studying the conditions of the environment. Here, data are transformed into interactive map-based visualisations that everyone can understand and interact with,” says Giacomo.
Eye on Earth is based on cloud computing networks to allow seamless sharing of data. It uses Esri’s ArcGIS Online cloud services, eventually together with Windows Azure and Microsoft SQL Azure to host data in the Environmental Data Store, but storage on premise is also possible.
Furthermore, the information on Eye on Earth is made available through open standards, so that users can explore information and use it however they want. Information can be embedded in their e-mails, websites, blogs or it can be shared through social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter.
“The Eye on Earth Network has definitely reached the point where it is sustainable and has become a critical tool for decision-making,” says Giacomo. “It‘s performing very well and the network has gone a long way since its release four years ago, in particular, through the ‘Watches’ features.”
Giacomo explains that the Eye on Earth Watches are a series of monitoring applications that provide an efficient and accessible way of presenting comprehensive data on air and water quality, as well as on noise levels across Europe.
The service was first introduced in May 2008 through the launch of Waterwatch, an online interactive map of Europe that presents the latest available water quality data from 28 countries.
This was followed by the launch of AirWatch , in November 2009, which provides near real-time air pollution data for 32 European countries via 1 000 monitoring stations and a set of interactive maps based on air quality models.
Two years later, NoiseWatch was created so that users can measure noise levels through the Eye on Earth network in 164 European cities within the EEA’s member countries. In addition, NoiseWatch also offers an advanced mobile noise reading application now available on major mobile phone operating systems such as iOS, Android and Windows.
Giacomo also explained how the EEA recently unveiled NatureWatch, the EEA’s first project to explore the use of citizen science for reporting purposes. This pilot initiative has significant potential to contribute to a European early warning and information system for invasive alien species, and can bring together existing reporting systems and stimulate the development of new ones.
NatureWatch allows citizen scientists to identify and report invasive alien species and provides citizen science communities with space to host their own community websites. Data from NatureWatch can further be shared within Eye on Earth.
“Eye on Earth is a global network because Europe alone cannot handle everything by itself,” says Giacomo.
“It requires a global effort to create an ‘informed’ society — one that is aware of the conditions of the environment and is putting all its efforts into saving and sustaining the environment for future generations.”
Through the concerted efforts of the EEA and other national and international institutions such as the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), as well as Esri and Microsoft, large volumes of data have been made available in Eye on Earth. In addition, many citizens are also able to help fill the gaps in the world’s shared understanding of the environment by contributing their observations through crowdsourcing.
Giacomo remarks that by putting environmental information into the hands of the citizens, the EEA is able to raise awareness on various environmental issues, help citizens understand them, and eventually empower them to be part of the solution.
“Environmental knowledge is critical in pretty much every aspect of decision-making — whether in governments or in the daily lives of citizens.That is why we believe that ‘Sharing is everything’- by sharing relevant information, we can improve our understanding of the state of our environment and make the necessary steps needed to save and sustain it.”
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