Sifting through piles of environmental data is not something that most people want to spend their time doing. But if that data is laid out in a simple, visual format, it becomes more compelling. This week, European residents gained the power to literally see just how intolerable their air pollution, water pollution, and noise levels can be, courtesy of Microsoft, the European Environment Agency (EEA), and geospatial mapping company Esri.
The Eye On Earth network, a cloud-computing-based service designed to share data about the environment, has been in the works since 2008. At this year’s UN climate conference (COP17), the network debuted three services: AirWatch, WaterWatch, and NoiseWatch. The services use the EEA’s water quality ratings at public swimming sites, air quality stations, and noise data. Users are also invited to submit their own observations. Air and water ratings are subjective, but Europeans can submit real-time noise measurements to the site using the Noise Meter smartphone app.
The service is easy enough to use. See those blue dots? Those represent places where the European Environment Agency has water quality testing stations. Zoom in a little closer and you can see how well the EEA rates water at any given testing spot. All those other dots represent user feedback on water quality, ranging from good (bright green) to bad (pink). If you zoom in even further, you can see how the EEA’s ratings differ from community ratings in the same location. They don’t always match up, as you can see below.
Zoom in even further to see exactly where the water quality stations are.
The noise ratings are even more detailed, offering information on road, train, plane, and industry noise levels.
So who will use all this stuff? Imagine how the water data, for example, could have been leveraged by the public after a major accident like the BP oil spill. That same data could be used by policymakers to determine whether they need to update water quality standards. It could even be used by families who want to evaluate the safety of their local body of water before heading for a day on the beach.
Eye On Earth is limited to Europe for now, but stay tuned—the platform could be adopted by other countries that aren’t afraid of giving citizens access to detailed pollution data.