Original aims of EVO

EVO aimed to make environmental data more visible and accessible to a wide range of potential users and free to use for public good applications. EVO aimed to provideg tools to facilitate the integrated analysis of data greater access to added knowledge and expert analysis and visualisation of the results, and developed new, added-value knowledge from public and private sector data assets to help tackle environmental challenges.

Background
EVO was a two year pilot project supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The pilot project aimed to develop a proof of concept to stimulate interest in and engagement with the environmental community related to the potential of cloud technology. EVO aimed to help set international standards for exchanges of data and models, and to explore how the technology can be used in environmental management. Initially the focus was on questions related the “Sustainable use of Soils and Water” component of NERC’s portfolio, as this area offers great potential to illustrate the benefits of cloud computing as applied to environmental issues.

EVO Objectives
The specific objectives of EVO were to:

  • develop new technologies and portals for accepting, sourcing, storing, organising, filtering and synthesising environmental data;
  • provide added value by collating relevant environmental data and provide services to develop new knowledge and evaluation tools from this data;
  • develop new and adapt existing environmental models and modelling systems to develop scenario analysis for a wide range of management and environmental futures;
  • develop and adapt novel visualisation tools to promote better communication, between technical and non-technical users, and illustrate the effects of alternative strategies and solutions;
  • promote feedback, ownership and effective evaluation to support change, adaptation and decision making; and
  • build and train an environmental research community in the UK in the use of new technologies and tools.

The need for better environmental data and analysis
As with many other areas of endeavour, progress in tackling major environmental issues is slowed due to fragmentation of information, resources and expertise. Achieving significant advances can often depend on the development of new tools and technological innovations to overcome this fragmentation, to add knowledge, and to communicate potential new solutions.

Many organisations collect data on different aspects of the environment for many different reasons. The data is used to develop models and tools to help understand underlying processes, demonstrate compliance, provide evidence for intervention, or to evaluate a myriad of possible futures change scenarios. It is typically expensive to collect data and irreplaceable to do so once the moment has passed; further, much of the added knowledge and tools developed by scientists is only available to those ‘in the know’.

Some of this environmental data, models and tools are well managed by host institutions or in data centres, but much of it is fragmented across unconnected systems and held in incompatible formats. The specific concerns included:

  • Spatial, temporal gaps in data
  • Disrupted alignment of data
  • Multiple portals for access to data
  • Isolated and unlinked models
  • Fragmented disciplines, institutes, agencies, countries (within and outside the UK)
  • ‘Silo’ management of our natural resources (e.g. air, soil, water and biodiversity)

Emerging information technologies had the potential to provide solutions to this fragmentation, but the take up of these new technologies by the environmental science community needed nurturing.  There was a need to develop the basic building blocks, such as the development and testing of new data exchange standards to allow easy information exchange, though to training and support for the environmental science community in new information technologies.