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Open source to help Wales protect environment

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Using open source software solutions is helping a Welsh pilot project to manage flood risks and provide a stepping stone for future research. The Citizen Observatory Web (Cobweb) project involves citizens using their smartphone or tablets, to submit data observations within the Dyfi area in Wales, to help collect environmental data for use in evidence based policy.

"Using an open source approach, and following good spatial data standards such as those outlined by Inspire and the Open Geospatial Consortium, we are able to maximise interoperability", says Barry Evans, one of the researchers involved. "This type of software solution allows the project to be scalable, potentially allowing other applications to be bolted on and utilise the data repositories."

Barry Evans presented his work on the flooding component of the project at the Inspire conference, which took place in the Danish city of Ålborg from 16 to 20 June.


The researchers are co-designing smartphone applications such as the fieldtrip-gb app and the Cobweb flooding app with citizens to enable members of the public to capture a range of data about their environment to support biological monitoring, earth observational science and flood risk management.

"Specifically, the flooding interface allows citizens to capture a range of data including annotated pictures of flooded areas during flood events", Evans says. Not only is this information captured: the project aims to also capture GPS coordinates, angle of tilt of the camera and other sensors to derive additional information, such as estimate the flood extent based on the data captured.

Biosphere reserves

By analysing the data captured by citizens, the researchers aim to augment pre-existing datasets. They seek to assemble large data repositories, combining authoritative and crowd-sourced data. This data will be accessible via a web portal to help authorities manage other environmental risks as well as providing information back to local citizens.

"Cobweb’s overall aim is to make it easier for citizens to collect environmental data suitable for use in research, decision making and policy formation", Evans explains. The project is partly funded by the European Commission's Framework Programme for research and technological development (FP7). The project is focussing on Unesco Biosphere Reserves and is being trialled in Welsh Dyfi (the pilot study area), Samaria Gorge and Mount Olympus in Greece, and the Wadden Sea and Hallig Islands in Germany and is looking to expand into other areas in the future.

"Using an open source approach, authoritative data, data captured by citizens, and subsequently derived datasets, will all be made accessible through a variety of channels including web based mapping systems as well as being freely available for download in appropriate formats." Evans says the objective is to increase the availability of information for citizens, local communities, government agencies, NGO’s and academia. "We hope to improve and stimulate research, improve governance and increase citizen interest in local environmental concerns."


More information:

Managing the Flood of Crowd-Sourced Flood Data (pdf)
Cobweb project