The concept of earth monitoring using GIS technology has become the focus of various parties over the growing concern in climate change and limited natural resources. This is evident in Planetary Skin being chosen as one of the 50 best inventions in 2009 by the Time magazine. Planetary Skin is a platform for the collaboration and analysis of environment monitoring data from NASA (Time, 2009). Together with the elevated interest, the level of integrated data on our world has risen. Fundamentally, the reason behind this is that the world is taking a globally united approach in regards to environment monitoring by sharing more data. This has manifested itself through the change in the attitude in sharing and the efforts to standardise geospatial data. Furthermore, the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) is apparent in improving data contributed by the public as part of a global community.

The change in the attitude towards sharing data has played a pivotal role in driving integration of earth observation data. Events like the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, which led to a death toll of approximately 30,000 (The Bolton Council of Mosques, No Date), highlighted the significance of global cooperation: it is assumed that “a more rapid response based on shared seismic, shoreline topography, bathymetry, population, meteorology, and land-use data could potentially have saved many thousands of lives” (Group on Earth Observations, 2010). Often the changing environment affects us all as a global community. Many have realised that data sharing improves the ability of important decision makers to draw practical conclusions based on a holistic view of the situation. Figure One below shows that analysis of societal concerns, such as disaster management, requires a whole range of observatory data and the process benefits from data integration.

Figure One: Importance of Earth observatory data integration

Source: Jungmin Her 1711787

In addition, the Kyoto Protocol has evolved upon reports provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, No Date). This organisation acts as a stage for researchers all over the world to share their earth monitoring data. It also facilitated the adoption of the Protocol which is seen as an effective step in reducing the deleterious impact of climate change. As a result, governments and data collecting agencies have become friendlier in terms of data exchange and granting access to these earth observation data. Many of these organisations have a view that “societal benefits of Earth observations cannot be achieved without data sharing.” (Group on Earth Observations, 2010) and staunchly encourages data exchange. Hence, international researchers and agencies are more effectively working together to tackle global issues through the use of integrated data.

As highlighted by Al Gore in his speech Digital Earth(1998), the interoperability of geospatial data being shared is critical in the integration of data sets. Improvement in standardising data formats and technologies empowers effective exchange of information between scientists involved in multinational issues. In the past, there were no standards and platforms which data collectors were advised to adhere to. This contributed to accumulation of invaluable data left unused as different groups of people were using numerous GIS systems that were often incompatible. Inevitably, data has no value when it is inaccessible to analyse them. As a result, the Gaia has seen a remarkable progress in technology and policy-making in response to the issue of interoperability towards the beginning of the 21st Century. This includes adoption of international standards and development of softwares, allowing conversion between different data formats and direct compatibility. ESRI is a leading GIS software and application company that develops “products based on open standards to ensure a high level of interoperability across platforms, databases development languages, and applications” (ESRI, 2003). The current state of interoperability technology developed by ESRI can be further found from this ESRI clip. Moreover, the open standards discussed here have been the initiative of an international body called Open Geospatial Consortium. It encourages and gives guidance on being consistent with international geospatial data standards. The efforts invested into strengthening interoperability of data clearly indicates that the global community is taking a united earth monitoring pathway.

ICT further contributed in a unified approach in terms of integration of public with scientific community in environment monitoring. This has been achieved by better access to observatory equipments such as Global Positioning System (GPS) in addition to sharing platforms and communication technology to exchange data – “technological trends favored the emergence of Web 2.0 practices that allow different types of users to create and explore multimedia data through easy-to-use geo-referenced tools” (Fonseca & Gouveai, 2008). The society is increasingly using “citizens as sensors” (Goodchild, 2007) to collect volunteered geographic information. As previously mentioned, the change in the view of sharing data has led to willingness of public to contribute geographic information for the benefit of humanity. Furthermore, more recently, all smart phones are equipped with built-in GPS and the public has adequate access to GIS technology such as the Flickr. Combined with these kinds of ICT, 6 billion human sensors capable of gathering geospatial data are a strong set of resources in earth monitoring. An example where the enhancement of ICT manifested its importance in public participation has been in the reporting of illegal logging and clearing in the Amazon forest (Annoni et al, 2010). Used in conjunction with Google Map, the citizen sensors provided crucial geographical information of rainforest clearing in Brazil as shown by Figure 2 below.

Figure Two: Reports of illegal logging and forest clearances in the Amazon rainforest using Google Earth based website

Source: Annoni et al (2010:18)

With additional improvement in friendliness of geospatial applications and in various types of ICT, it is expected that the data provided by public will become more accurate and valid. Thus, the use of ICT formulated inclusion of public as participants in unified environment monitoring and changed the way in which data is collected in current society.

The global village is increasingly taking a collaborated and cooperative pathway to monitor the Mother Earth, in the form of integrated data. Data sharing is a crucial element in this manner and data sharing experiences have been improved through recognition of its importance, deployment of international standards, as well as effective application of ICT encouraging public contribution. Therefore, rise in the integrated data indicates the will of society to attempt unified earth monitoring through sharing of data. We are living in the world where the environment is continuously changing. Keeping a close eye on the earth together allows us to predict our future and take appropriate actions. Thus, acknowledging the transition from the past to our current state of earth observatory data exchange will give directions to the steps we as a global community need to take to further stimulate growth of integrated data via data sharing.


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