Ecosystem Services Databank and Visualisation for Terrestrial Informatics

Lead Research Organisation: CRANFIELD UNIVERSITY
Department Name: School of Water, Energy and Environment


Our project will allow researchers and students at Cranfield University, together with our research partners and collaborators, the opportunity to access, share and interact with a broad range of natural resource, soil and land-related materials gathered from around the world which are held in Cranfield's 'World Soil Survey Archive and Catalogue', WOSSAC (

Cranfield University's Department of Environmental Sciences and Technology is active and innovative in developing and applying systems approaches to soils, landscape ecology, biodiversity and ecosystem goods and services. As part of its integrative approach, Cranfield University has collected and catalogued the 'World Soil Survey Archive and Catalogue' (WOSSAC) over the last decade. This is a continually expanding collection comprising over 23,000 catalogued paper documents, maps and other materials relating to soils and land resources in about 300 territories worldwide. The material is complex, diverse and some of it is physically fragile. It includes much rare grey literature and, for many items, WOSSAC holds the only available copy. This project will provide the means necessary to enable capture of these materials in digital form and the pathways to make these materials available for access by researchers and interested stakeholders.

Our environmental research also leads us to consider the physical, chemical and biological processes at work in the soil and land system. Important to this is developing our shared understanding of changes that may occur due to natural and anthropogenic processes, and their impact and consequence. Our project will enable the capture and visual representation of these processes in three dimensions through dedicated 3D scanning and visualisation equipment. The visualisation suite, with its specialised visualisation software designed for the geosciences, will provide the tools for exploration of multi-dimensional 'big data' as well as new and powerful means to convey results and analyses, and to communicate risk and uncertainty to potential beneficiaries of research.

Appropriate computing facilities will also be put in place to permit the storage and dissemination of these materials to research collaborators and interested stakeholders.


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Description The project represented a capital call for items able to permit the capture in digital format of artefacts held in the unique WOSSAC soil and environmental archive at Cranfield University ( A key development for this project is the progression therefore beyond the 'cataloguing' of items, as was the situation before the award, towards the subsequent 'capture' in digital form of these items. A number of surveys, reports, maps, monographs and photographs have been captured and placed on the archive portal for free access by the wider research community, as well as importantly, their access (seen as 're-patriation') by the key stakeholders in the countries of origin of many of the materials, e.g. territories in continental Africa.
Exploitation Route I would wish to develop means to disseminate effectively the metadata for the items held in the archive, representing a unique environmental record of substantial parts of the globe, to the widest audience. I am therefore seeing to develop standards-compliant metadata records that can be harvested by wider initiatives and data repositories. There is a good potential to liaise with other NERC repositories to enable this.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description The 'big data' visualisation equipment provided by the project has been used to demonstrate the fusion of legacy soil and related environmental data from the WOSSAC archive ( with contemporary data, such as that arising from satellite remote sensing platforms. A series of demonstrator visual presentations have been prepared to present the catalogue items. Immediate outcomes have arisen through the adoption of these approaches to underpin MSc theses considering (i) land use change in Cote d'Ivoire, (ii) sugar cane suitability modelling in Nigeria, (iii) use of radio tracking to monitor movements of elephants in northern Kenya and their relationship with the landscape, visualised through time. The system was used by UKRI/NERC to support the AAAS Conference, Seattle, USA in February 2020. The materials were shipped to the venue and formed the centrepiece of the UKRI stand, showcasing 'coastal environmental resilience' case studies. The focus of the event is on British science and technology, and it represented a great opportunity to bring this initial capital investment to such a high impact event. Most recently, the virtual reality equipment has been used to support a number of the Doctoral research projects within the DREAM Centre for Doctoral Training. The equipment was used to support one of the NERC Innovation events 'EnvExpo' at the University of East Anglia in Feb 2017. Scanning equipment provided by the capital items call has been being employed, capturing artefacts from the WOSSAC archive ( and These items are in the process of being uploaded to the archive web portal as free and open access research materials for the wider research community.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Geovisionary workshop and exchange, British Geological Survey - 27/1/2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A Geovisionary workshop and exchange visit was made to the British Geological Survey in the immediate period after procurement of the capital items supported by the grant, in order to meet the 3D Visualisation team at the BGS and to exchange ideas as to the full capabilities of the equipment.

Subsequent to the meeting, we have kept in close contact with BGS regarding the equipment, and in turn wider collaboration. The contacts made during the visit assisted materially in paving the way for the joint inputs to the NERC initiative on the UK Soils Observatory -
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Participation in EnvExpo event in University of East Anglia 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I was able to bring the DREAM CDT students to the EnvExpo conference and workshop event to engage with the programme, to interact with all other NERC-sponsored Doctoral students and to host a 'Big Data' session, operated by the DREAM PhD students on behalf of the DREAM CDT and for the benefit of c100+ visitors.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description UKRI Exhibition at AAAS, Seattle, USA 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Attendance at the UKRI 'American Association for the Advancement of Science' (AAAS) 2020 conference in Seattle USA. The Virtual Reality equipment formed a central theme to the UKRI stand in promoting British science and technology to the American audience. A substantive number of visitors attended and passed the UKRI stand and a considerable interest was shown in the VR presentation showcasing environmental decision making in fragile coastal regions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Visit of His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Cranfield University were honoured to receive a visit from His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent. During the visit, Cranfield staff were able to demonstrate the range of soil-related research underway at the university, including a tour of the glasshouse facility, and a demonstration of the NERC Ecosystem Services Databank and Visualisation for Terrestrial Informatics virtual reality facility. Other visitors included national and local politicians and Councillors.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018