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New tool gives open access to environmental data

The Institute of New Imaging Technologies of the Universitat Jaume I (Castellón, Spain) has taken part in the design of a tool that integrates all the information on forestry, drought and biodiversity produced by different European systems of Earth observation.

The new tool – EuroGEOSS Broker – offers open access to vast amounts of environmental data. Developed as part of the EuroGEOSS Project and funded by the Seventh Framework programme of the European Commission, it combines official sources and interactions from the Web 2.0 communities and aims to offer relevant multi-disciplinary data that will improve environmental monitoring and land management.

Millions of sensors continuously record parameters such as air quality, light pollution, noise, vegetation density, biodiversity or water quality. This data provides valuable information on the state of our planet both to the scientific community and to society and is used for sending alerts and promoting research projects and public policies.

Given the proliferation of such sources, GEOSS (Global Earth Observation System of Systems) was launched in 2003 as an international attempt to deveolp an open register of all existing systems. However, until now there was no connection between these different systems.

The European Commission considered the added benefits of interoperable systems and applications that would provide a wider picture of complex issues such as the effects of climate change or natural disasters. Joaquín Huerta Guijarro, Professor of Computer Languages and Systems at the Universitat Jaume I (pictured above) explains the relevance of this interoperability: “If we integrate systems related to weather, soil quality and water, we may develop an efficient agriculture or reforestation project.”

EuroGEOSS, therefore, aims to contribute to GEOSS with an inventory of European systems, resources and environmental monitoring services, focusing especially on the three strategic areas of Forestry, Drought and Biodiversity. The partners have developed the search engine EuroGEOSS Broker and hope it will contribute to better decision-making, especially for the prevention and management of natural disasters.

“Interoperability between Earth observation systems allows us to assess an area’s forest fire risk and loss of biodiversity. This may encourage corrective measures to avoid such a scenario,” says the Spanish researcher. The initiative has also contributed to a better understanding of the research developed by the different European experts in the three strategic areas and will help to avoid duplicities and promote partnerships.

The multidisciplinary team that participated in the project included users of Earth observation systems and experts in software engineering. The researchers at the Institute of New Imaging Technologies of the Universitat Jaume I dealt with the quality of the heterogeneous data, a key task to ensure that the different information was interoperable.

The centre also addressed the use of contributions from Web 2.0 users. “GEOSS includes a list of official sources but we have incorporated the possibility of using additional data from the Web 2.0,” says Joaquín Huerta. In this sense, Tweets or Flickr photos are extremely useful for early detection means and for analyzing the impact of disasters such as earthquakes or fires, for example. The same can be said about entries on Facebook, Wikipedia articles, and other services such as OpenStreetMap or Meteoclimatic, which shares the information collected on home weather stations.

EUROGEOSS (European environment Earth observation system), adds Prof. Huerta,“has served to test the efficiency of GEOSS and demonstrate that the benefit of this programme far exceeds the investment, as well as the intangible benefits it poses to the environment and sustainability.” An extension of the project is already underway through GEOWOW (GEOSS interoperability for Weather, Ocean and Water).

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