Diving into the data

Digital technologies and digitalisation yield vast quantities of data, which offer opportunities for business, human well-being and the environment, provided they are used effectively. At several occasions it is postulated that "data is the new gold”, by that stressing the importance of data in the digital age. However, data as such is “neither the new oil nor the new gold”, its real value only appears when data is gathered and stored correctly and interpreted accurately, when it is manipulated and analysed. 

It is in fact this ability to translate data into insight that provides a huge added value. In that sense, what is really important for the maximisation of the renewable resource “data” are the approaches to capture, manage, create, edit and store or archive it which goes beyond mere visualisation and analysis. So, while data is the new oil or gold, data intelligence (i.e., the intelligent use of the raw resource data by applying a set of tools and methods to op-timise the transformation of data into knowledge) converts it into the global modern currency of today with a very high relevance of data for environmental and climate assessments.

Being partner in the European Topic Centres on Urban Land and Soil (ETC ULS) as well as its successor Data Integration and Digitalisation (ETC DI) and the ETC on Biological Diversity (ETC BD) space4environment collects, maintains and works with European-wide environmental databases managed by the European Environment Agency (EEA). This includes analysing the territorial and environmental dimension of issues like urban sprawl, territorial cohesion policy, ecosystem mapping and ecosystem assessment (i.e. quality).

For the European ETC BD space4environment is responsible for the quality control of the biodiversity reporting under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive (i.e. conservation status of habitats and species of Community interest), Article 12 of the Birds Directive (i.e. status and trends of birds), the regulation on invasive alien species (IAS) as well as the database on national protected sites (CDDA).

Due to the ever-increasing amount of environmental data to be handled, processing data in databases offers a more structured, reliable and furthermore faster way of data processing compared to other file-based approaches. With increasing resolution and detail, geospatial and structural databases enable systematic and efficient data processing and linkage with other related data. In particular, the increasing importance of Big Data Cubes, which allow large amounts of data from different sources and in different formats to be combined simultaneously, represents a new field for highly efficient and productive Data Science. Through the use of scripting and database programming, the huge amounts of data can be processed and prepared to derive the information needed. Supplemented by artificial intelligence or machine learning, the knowledge gained from the data can be increased.

Information gained through data analysis in cubes or SQL databases, scripting languages such as Python or R and automation of processing in tools such as FME can finally be presented to customers from all areas and levels of data knowledge through the application of business intelligence with tools such as Tableau Dashboards or Mapbooks. This allows complex data and relationships to be condensed into logical and easy-to-understand visualisations that users can read and interpret.

space4environment is intensively involved in both European and national projects with the handling and analysis of such Big Data collections and the processing through state-of-the-art techniques. Working in the European Topic Centres (ETC BD and ETC DI), we use our knowledge of data analysis and visualisation to create insightful information platforms on environmental issues, biodiversity, urban planning and other topics.

space4environment implements both pan-European (Art. 17/12, CDDA) and national (national spatial data portals) databases using open source and proprietary database systems. The analysis of these databases provides insights into nature conservation requirements, biodiversity development and conservation of nature values.

In the LUCAS 2018 mastergrid project, space4environment was responsible for the development of the photo-interpretation interface and the development of a database for storing the land cover interpretation results from over 700,000 sample points in a database. As photo-interpretation and quality control happened in de-central places, a database structure was developed allowing near-real time (within 1 day) validation of the interpretation results and provision of feedback to the interpretation team.

Project highlights