COBWEB: Gathering crowd-sourced environmental data in Europe
The advent of crowd-sourcing and volunteered geographic information (VGI), facilitated by easy access to relatively cheap, GPS-enabled devices and cloud-based mapping services, have transformed our ability to record and respond to natural and man-made hazards and emergencies. VGI can provide an invaluable local commentary on rapidly changing situations that would otherwise be bereft of real-time, detailed observation.
This VGI resource is also increasingly valued in the documentation of more insidious regional and global phenomenon such as climate change. The high cost of traditional scientific data capture and the lack of a consistent, regional overview prompted a re-think of how such information should be captured. The pan-European research Citizen Observatory Web (COBWEB) project, launched at the end of 2012 and due to be released in 2016, aims to develop an observation framework to support the collection of crowd-sourced environmental data throughout Europe. The emerging COBWEB infrastructure is set to be trialled in study areas that come under the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere reserves (WNBR). The COBWEB consortium (made up of 13 European organisations) hopes the motivation to retain the unique characteristics of the biosphere reserves will encourage local citizens to become involved in monitoring the local environment.
To address some of the inherent problems with VGI – data quality, interoperability and validation – COBWEB will integrate the crowd-sourced observations with authoritative reference data published by public authorities under the INSPIRE directive, from compliant spatial data infrastructures (SDI) and the Global Earth Organisation System of Sensors (GEOSS). If these integrated data sources are accepted as a reliable source of information to support further research and as a basis for policy making, this will be significant a achievement for COBWEB. Another major challenge for the project is to develop a workable accessibility framework for the data sources, which will combine publicly available crowd-sourced data with information from more restricted sources.