Pilot Virtual Observatory

Lead Research Organisation: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Department Name: Watkins


Environmental science suffers from fragmentation of many kinds, and progress in answering big science questions and tackling major environmental issues depends on developing new tools to reduce this fragmentation, add knowledge and develop and communicate integrated solutions. Specific concerns include: > 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 outwith UK) > 'Silo' management of our natural resources (e.g. air, soil, water and biodiversity) Emerging information technologies can provide solutions to this fragmentation but the embrace of these new technologies by the environmental science community will need nurturing, working with computer scientists and others. Much of the environmental science community does not embrace new information technologies readily and is poorly equipped in its training to exploit new information technologies quickly. New standards will need to be developed and tested to allow easy information exchange. The Pilot Virtual Observatory (VO) seeks to develop a proof of concept or a 'shop window' to stimulate interest and engagement in the environmental community at all levels in these new technologies, to demonstrate effectiveness, to help to set international standards for exchanges of data and models and to explore how the technology can be used in environmental management. We will concentrate on the 'Sustainable use of Soils and Water' component of NERC's portfolio initially because it illustrates well all aspects of a Virtual Observatory while presenting manageable sized data sets and models. A critical component of the work will be the development of a cyber-infrastructure (i.e. the 'cloud') for environmental science that enables the integration of a variety of information sources (including disparate data sets, sensor data and models) together with associated information services to provide both interoperability between such services and encourage the flow from data to knowledge to policy setting in the quest for answering big science questions. Success will be an engaged and enthusiastic academic and environmental manager community beyond the soils and water focus of the Pilot project with secured financial support for the next phase of the Virtual Observatory project.


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Description Although not operational, the EVO pilot project demonstrated the value of integrating fragmented and widely-distributed public and private sector data, expert knowledge, modelling tools and visualisation services. It illustrated how cloud computing improves the efficiency, speed and effective use of such resources. Valuable lessons have been learned and key issues identified for future investigation. Out of all the impacts, perhaps most important of all is the support and enthusiasm it engendered from its stakeholder groups, the potential for expansion to other science areas, industry applications and benefits arising from social and economic data were evident.

From the outset, the EVO pilot was purposefully ambitious - it sought to demonstrate new capability and ways of working, to expand the knowledge base and sign post the way for the future. In achieving these aims the EVO pilot has undoubtedly had a bearing on current funding and approaches being taken in this arena. In the context of research programmes, the outputs and impact of this pilot are significant considering the modest investment and timeframe for implementation.
Exploitation Route See further funding section
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment

Description The knowledge developed through this project informed the development of the NERC Resarch Work Bench project (linked to the Jasmine HPC) and also was used as evidence for the need and capabilities to deliver the Defra funded LM0308 project for a Data and Modelling Web platform for Catchment Managers plus opportunity to exploit new technologies to develop the 'Internet of the Wild' project funded by EPSRC.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

Amount £631,606 (GBP)
Funding ID LM0308 
Organisation Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (DEFRA) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2014 
End 03/2017
Description Internet of the Wild
Amount £113,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/L023555/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2014 
End 03/2016