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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

The Vast Reach of the European Environment Agency (Reprint)

 
June 27th, 2012 by Susan Smith

Since Eye on Earth just won an award at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero, it seemed fitting to reprint this article about the EEA and the role of Eye on Earth.

Article Reprinted from GISWeekly, June 20, 2011

The Vast Reach of the European Environment Agency
By Susan Smith

While in Copenhagen in late March of this year GISWeekly met with Stefan Jensen, head of information services group, SEIS support program that supports the implementation of INSPIRE and develops and maintains the EEA SDI related to user needs, metadata and data licensing and Jan Bliki, project officer, GIS system development for the European Environment Agency (EEA), an agency of the European Union.

European Environment Agency main building, Copenhagen

The EEA has 32 member countries and is tasked with providing independent information on the state of the environment, information which is used by those who are developing adopting evaluating or implementing environmental policy, as well as the general public.

According to the website, the regulation establishing the EEA was adopted by the European Union in 1990. It came into force in late 1993 immediately after the decision was taken to locate the EEA in Copenhagen. Work started in earnest in 1994. The regulation also established the European environment information and observation network (Eionet).

EEA’s mandate is:

  • To help the Community and member countries make informed decisions about improving the environment, integrating environmental considerations into economic policies and moving towards sustainability
  • To coordinate the European environment information and observation network ( Eionet)

The main clients of the EEA are the European Union institutions which include the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council as well as member countries. Other  EU institutions such as the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions are also served. Important users of EEA information include the business community, non-governmental organizations, academia and parts of civil society.

Every five years the EEA publishes its report on the environment state and outlook. Most recently it has released its fourth Environment State and Outlook report — SOER 2010 — a comprehensive assessment of how and why Europe’s environment is changing, and what we are doing about it. SOER 2010 concludes that a fully integrated approach to transforming Europe to a resource-efficient green economy can not only result in a healthy environment, but also boost prosperity and social cohesion.

Shared Environmental Information System

The EEA produces its own products and does not take the role of dictating to other agencies. In conjunction with the European Commission and member companies of the Agency, they have developed the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) which provides governance and provides information to INSPIRE and makes sure the information in the system is covered under INSPIRE.

According to Jensen, the SEIS maintains a three person staff, works with three consultancies. They maintain the entire GIS database – 3 terabytes of data – at their location in Copenhagen. The database covers land, air, water, biodiversity and climate change and maintains near-time data which feeds in hourly from various sources on ozone, weather, air quality, etc.

To maximize the use of this information, the shared environmental information system (SEIS) aims to interconnect existing databases and make data easily accessible to all.

Currently European countries collect environmental data and report them to international organizations such as the European Environment Agency (EEA), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Data are delivered at intervals set by relevant legislation and commitments.

SEIS is a collaborative initiative of the European Commission, the EEA and the member countries of the Agency. It aims to

  • improve the availability and quality of information needed to design and implement the European Union’s environment policy,
  • streamline data handling by connecting existing information systems and providing online information services,
  • modernize environmental reporting to reduce the administrative burden both at national and international level, and
  • foster the development of information services and web-based applications.

Jensen’s role is to collect and prepare data from other countries and provide that data to experts and to the public. The European Commission has scientific agencies that support political systems, and have statistics offices in Copenhagen.

Many countries have already started connecting their local and national databases and are publishing their data online. A good example is the German environmental portal PortalU. A number of European initiatives are also contributing to the creation of SEIS. Examples are

The breadth of SEIS data is vast:

For land cover and data mining – there are 32 classes that explain the use of forests, and types of forests, and surfaces used in the country, and historical background of these data sets. Users can compare them and assess data cover changes. The original data comes from satellite imagery.

The urban atlas is at 1:5,000 meters. Cities are highly detailed and described by how much is living area, parks, industrial, etc.

Interpreted data sets come in yearly “on the fly.” All data is publicly available. Indicators come from the data sets.

The benefits of SEIS as a decentralized information system based on data-sharing offer Member States and EU institutions a modern and efficient electronic system to fulfill their reporting obligations related to EU environmental policies. The process by which environmental information is made available will be simpler, more flexible and more efficient.

SEIS will also allow the information requirements currently contained in thematic environmental legislation to be streamlined.

It is critical for the European Union to have an information system based on the latest information and communication technology that will provide decision-makers at all levels (local to European) with real-time environmental data, thus allowing them to make immediate and life-saving decisions.

Biodiversity, Water, Air, Emissions

Over the last 25 years the EU has built up a vast network of 26.000 protected areas in all the Member States and an area of more than 750.000 km2, which is 18% of the EU’s land area. Known as Natura 2000, it is the largest network of protected areas in the world. The CDDA is an annual collection of national designated areas in the Natura 2000 viewer which is an agreed upon EIONET Data Priority Workflow.

The Article 17 dataset shows the number of species protected on the European level, monitoring to tell if the species is extinct, where they are located, habitat, etc.

The water dataset includes a river network, bathing water dataset for every body of water, which designates whether it is safe to bathe there. They have Blue Flag country reporting on many beaches in Europe which is built on Bing Maps, OSM and Google

European Transport Register (EPRTR) monitors factories exposing pollutants into air and water, and tracks what pollutants, where, and how much emissions.

Geospatial Technologies Employed

Esri products such as ArcServer are used mainly for the GIS at the EEA. Esri is also setting up the INSPIRE program. They not only link to INSPIRE, but EEA uses Bing, OGC, Google and try to serve in many ways in order to offer a broad span of products that can be offered to many in open formats.

For cataloguing INSPIRE data the EEA use GeoNetwork, an open source catalog application to manage spatially referenced resources and metadata editing and search functions.

The European Commission (EC) strongly advocates open standards, and uses cloud computing from Microsoft and Esri, and merges technologies with Esri products.

Open source helps environments link with member states’ software. Map services are exposed with open source through WMS, WFS and WCS. Bliki said sometimes they can’t expose through WMS because of the size of the database.

XML and RDF are used and they are moving towards sensor web technology. GEORSS is used to submit simple spatial information. GeoRDF formats are used for large spatial datasets that are hard to implement and push back into one format.

“A lot of innovation happens outside open standards,” said Jensen.

In support of the EU INSPIRE Directive, a company named Compass Informatics has combined its suite of technology options into an INSPIRE ISO Compliance Toolkit. The Toolkit provides a complete solution for ensuring compliancy with ISO 19xxx and INSPIRE metadata, data and service standards, using largely open source technologies, integrating where required with proprietary solutions, branded to user organization’s look and feel.

Eye on Earth http://www.eyeonearth.eu/ is the EC’s creation which is model data that shows a spread of substances in air, and tracks air quality. This allows the end user to report back and has a specialized ozone map. This technology tracks thresholds of air quality that people shouldn’t be exposed to such as small particulates coming from car emissions, and the ozone layer. Nitrogen from cars and factories are mainly a health issue. Smaller countries have been using this web service.

The EEA is not mandated to collect nuclear or radioactive information, but did include an information item on their website for those interested in information from the Japanese tsunami and earthquake which had just taken place before my visit.

GeoRDF – RDF focuses on tabular data which allows ontology on top of datasets. Systems can interrelate that information that is similar to information coming in from somewhere else. It makes data interrelated. RDF is a way of structuring near real time data flows and handles it in geospatial infrastructure.

A big question for the EEA is: how can you assign ontology of top of spatial data?

As there is so much disparate data coming in today, such as crowd sourcing, citizen data and scientific data, there is a need to structure it. The EC is pushing the OGC and industry to handle it.

EEA has partner organizations in all countries and the 27 member countries are all EU. Extra arrangements are made for other members such as Balkan, Nordic, Mediterranean, North Africa, Russia, and Caucasus. Because environmental issues are trans-boundary issues, there is a great need for information exchange among nations.

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