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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

An Environmental Map Made by You

Air Date: Week of January 13, 2012

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Eye on Earth combines environmental maps from scientists, governments and anyone with a smartphone. The new site features a water watch, an air watch and even a noise watch. Jaqueline McGlade is the director of the European Environmental Agency, a lead partner for the Eye on Earth. She tells host Bruce Gellerman how this project could change the way we view our environment.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: For a new perspective on our planet’s environment - check out: Eye on Earth- the cloud computing-based network just launched. It creates a place on-line where the world’s leading environmental scientists… and you … can collaborate. Jaqueline McGlade is the director of the Copenhagen-based European Environment Agency, it’s one of the lead partners in the Eye On Earth project.

MCGLADE: Well Eye on Earth works in a very distributed way. It’s an engaging website, you might call it, which we would want people to join. But, having joined, it’s a possible club that you’ve come into to share information about the environment.

GELLERMAN: So, I can contribute?


Jaqueline McGlade, the director of the European Environmental Agency. (Eye on Earth)

MCGLADE: Absolutely. As a citizen, we see this as one of the fundamental ways, for the first time, that we can bring individual efforts on looking around and seeing what’s happening in the environment, alongside data that’s being collected by governments, by institutions, and really look at that formal and informal combination to give us a bird’s eye view of what’s happening in a particular part of the world.

GELLERMAN: So, walk me through it. I’m on the Eye on Earth website, how does it work?

MCGLADE: Well, when you first come, you’ll see that there’s a whole row of little boxes which go across like a ticker tape. Some of them are called watches: water watch, noise watch, air watch. So, if you click open, lets say, air watch…

GELLERMAN: Ok, hang on, ok…

[CLICKING NOISE]

MCGLADE: You should get actually a map of the world.


Water Watch Eye measures the water quality for more than 22,000 bathing sites across Europe. (Eye on Earth)

GELLERMAN: Here it goes…

MCGLADE: So, if you actually go into the search box, you can type a place…so, where would you like to go? I mean we could go to Copenhagen, if you like

GELLERMAN: Okay, that’s where you are- let’s do that.

MCGLADE: Yeah. Okay, so let’s go to Copenhagen. As I go in, I can see a map of the roads, you can have a 3D picture of the buildings. The most important thing is that you’ll see a kind of stream that comes in from the right, which has our rating and community rating on it. The ‘our rating’ is actually the air quality measured by a formal reporting requirement from the country. And, in the case of Copenhagen today, it says that the rating is very good. The ‘community rating’ is the one that’s been given by members of the public.

GELLERMAN: So, that would be a subjective rating, or can they take an instrument and take and accurate rating?

MCGLADE: You can have instruments, you can have sensors, but we have detected that over the years we’ve been running this- people who are, particularly those who’ve got breathing disorders- are very sensitive to the quality of air. And, when we ask the members of the public to rate the quality of air, we can get not only the overall picture of how good is the air, but also we can ask them about whether or not it smells clean- is there an odor? So, using these different words, we get a very good picture about what the quality of air really is.

GELLERMAN: So, if I were to go to water watch, and, was walking down the beach and I saw a red tide- could I just pull out my cellphone and report that to Eye on Earth?


Citizens can text rating terms like; polluted and unsafe for water watch; and irritating and smelly for air watch. (Eye on Earth)

MCGLADE: Absolutely. And, because it’s pretty much live, it means that anybody else who’s looking at water watch let’s say round about the same time or during the day, would not only be told from you that there’s water contamination and algal bloom, but other things, litter on the beach or whatever. So, in a way the immediacy of somebody going out on a picnic and encountering a beach that’s in not very good shape- means actually that that day not many people will visit the beach, if people use water watch.

GELLERMAN: Now, I noticed that you have a mobile application for a noise meter…

MCGLADE: Yes, so here we go one step further. Because, one of the questions that you raised, very important, is: ‘Well this is very subjective.’ As someone is measuring for their own purposes air quality or water quality or the quality of the beach, that’s a kind of subjective thing.

On the noise meter, then we actually have moved one step on because we have the possibility of mobile telephones being extremely good noise receptors, so having a meter on your smart phone and then literally just recording the noise of where you stand for ten seconds in terms of how intense the noise is, you then have the possibility of transmitting that into the noise watch site. And, it appears as a dot, and you can then look at it and see how many decibels were experienced at that time at that place.


The living façade of the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen. It has developed Eye on Earth. (European Environment Agency)

GELLERMAN: Boy, that’s not Eye on Earth, that’s EAR on Earth!

MCGLADE: (Laughs.) There’s the ear on earth. I think the Eye on Earth is a very, very broad umbrella to give the sense that we can see what’s happening around the world. And, noise watch is very, very popular. We have politicians and mayors, and different people around the world in cities, really interested in understanding now how important noise is for public health.

If you were able, I think, to get lets say a huge global movement to go out at one moment and measure noise, I think you would find it very interesting. But, people who are designing cities, I mean, this is a device where very simply, they can ask citizens to participate and really start to document where the noise corridors are, and understand how, even moving traffic through the day, can really be changed actually moderate the levels of noise that we are exposed to.


The Eye on Earth Noise Meter app tested in Abu Dhabi. ( Eye on Earth)

GELLERMAN: Boy, this could put a whole new perspective on the environment.

MCGLADE: I believe that we have turned the corner through the environment’s lens, into a world where people can genuinely have reliable data and information that will inform their daily living. And, I believe that’s what we need to do to change people’s perceptions of how we’re going to survive in the future.

GELLERMAN: Well, Jacqueline McGlade, thank you so very much.

MCGLADE: It’s been my pleasure, thank you so much.

GELLERMAN: Jaqueline McGlade is the director of European Environment Agency, it’s a lead partner in the Eye On Earth public science project. To survey the maps, head to our website: LOE dot org.

 

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