Our Common Future Under Climate Change

International Scientific Conference 7-10 JULY 2015 Paris, France

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Wednesday 8 July - 14:30-16:00 UNESCO Miollis - ROOM XVI

1105 (b) - Quality and availability of data for global sustainability

Parallel Session

Lead Convener(s): M. Mokrane (ICSU World Data System IPO, Koganei, Tokyo, Japan), D. Ojima (Colorado State University, Fort Collins, United States of America)

Convener(s): B. Minster (Scripps Institute of Oceanography, La Jolla , United States of America), K. Fukushi (The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan)


Parameterisation, ground-truthing and benchmarking: the importance of in-situ data for global sustainability

S. Harrison (University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom)

Abstract details
Parameterisation, ground-truthing and benchmarking: the importance of in-situ data for global sustainability

S. Harrison (1)
(1) University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom

Abstract content

Many key aspects of the global system can only be measured in-situ. In-situ measurements are required for ground-truthing remotely-sensed products. More importantly, they are vital for developing process-based models and individual model parameterisations. Furthermore, in-situ measurements are used as benchmarks for model evaluation, including the historical and palaeoclimate observations used for out-of-sample model testing. Problematic features of in-situ data include being collected by individuals, using different and evolving methods, and often the same type of data is collected for different purposes. Thus, key steps in using such data are documentation, harmonization and synthesis. There has been considerable progress in creating unified data sets of in-situ measurements, but more effort is required specifically in terms of data rescue, data documentation, communal access and data stewardship. Given the utility of in-situ data in developing and evaluating models that are used to predict the likely trajectory of future climate and environmental changes, organisations such as the World Data Service and Future Earth need to provide attention to and support for data rescue, synthesis and sustainability of in-situ data.


Future Earth data and information needs

H. Mario (Future Earth Engagement Committee, Geneva, Switzerland)

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Future Earth data and information needs

H. Mario (1) ; D. Ojima (2)
(1) Future Earth Engagement Committee, Future earth, Geneva, Switzerland; (2) Colorado State University and Future Earth US Hub, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Fort Collins, United States of America

Abstract content

Future Earth has been set up as a platform to deliver solution-orientated research for sustainability, linking environmental change and development challenges to satisfy human needs for food, water, energy, health. This will require an effective interdisciplinary collaboration across natural and social sciences, humanities, economics, and technology development, to find the best scientific solutions to multi-faceted problems. The main aim is to provide timely information for policy-makers by generating the knowledge that will support existing and new global and regional integrated assessments. Therefore the main stakeholders are a heterogeneous group of researchers (all scientific disciplines) and policy-makers, all of them working jointly in co-designing and co-producing research agendas and knowledge. One particular priority is in developing countries, mainly in support to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Recent advances in data collection and analysis provides a unique opportunity to observe, detect and analyze the earth dynamics at multiple scales and across interacting social ecological system processes. This data explosion has emerged through advances in remote sensing, citizen science networks, and census efforts. These data are being used in ways to enhance our understanding and to inform management decisions on ways to reduce the impact and reducing the harmful consequences and enhancing opportunities as they arise. This information era has benefits to food and water management, response to hazard, forecasting of weather and extreme events, alerting communities of dangers associated with plumes of pollutants, and detecting the presence and movement of rate and sensitive wildlife on land and in the seas. A variety of biophysical and social-economic data sets and observations are available and through coordinated integration provide additional knowledge of the state and transition of social-ecological systems across the globe in order to better inform decision makers.

Such a very ambitious goal requires a wide range of data and information.  Jointly with data, it also requires the expert knowledge networks associated with such data. The main challenge is for each individual scientific discipline, to further add value to their data and to re-packaged it, so that it can be understandable, usable and integrated with the data coming from all other disciplines and what is more important accessible to decision makers.

Future Earth hopes to initiate a suite of activities, such as:

  • Data inventory, integration, harmonization and experts networks of data-knowledge to support Sustainable Development
  • Co-development of data harmonization to facilitate integration of social-biophysical data to derive information in support of transformations toward sustainability  
  • Assessing data and information needs, and data use in support to the UNFCCC Adaptation activities
  • Enhancing capacity to enable the flow of interdisciplinary science in support of the decision making process (resilience, water management, sustainable development).

Developing Indicators to Support Climate Adaptation and Sustainability Decision Making

R. Chen (Columbia University, Palisades, NY, United States of America), A. De Sherbinin (Columbia University, Palisades, NY, United States of America), M. Levy, (Columbia University, Palisades, NY, United States of America)

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Developing Indicators to Support Climate Adaptation and Sustainability Decision Making

R. Chen (1) ; A. De Sherbinin (1) ; M. Levy, (1)
(1) Columbia University, CIESIN, Palisades, NY, United States of America

Abstract content

Every day, decision makers ranging from individuals to governments make important decisions based on composite economic and social indicators on topics such as unemployment, inflation, trade, debt, and prices. These indicators reflect the shared understanding that our global economy is a very complex, interconnected system that operates on multiple temporal and spatial scales. Yet, even though the global environment is at least as complex and interconnected as the global economy—and equally critical to humanity’s survival—the world lacks integrated indicators of critical environmental systems and climate change that have the quality, reliability, resolution, and relevance to support both individual and collective decision making on both short and long time frames.


We summarize experience to date in developing policy-relevant environmental indicators at global, national, and subnational levels and in tackling a range of scientific, technical, and institutional challenges related to designing and implementing useful indicators. Despite the growing diversity and volume of environmental data becoming available through new technologies, mobilizing and harnessing this “data revolution” to support sustainability science and decision making requires careful attention to user needs, establishment of suitable organizational and review processes to ensure “buy in” by stakeholders, and close collaboration with the relevant scientific communities and observational and data networks.


The ongoing development of a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and associated targets provides a unique opportunity to promote the integration of environmental, socioeconomic, and health data within a coherent framework of policy-relevant indicators. Such a framework would not only provide justification for continued or expanded investment in data collection and integration, but also a means to prioritize data collection efforts and improve their efficiency and efficacy. As with conventional economic indicators, the development of integrated environmental indicators is also likely to promote their use in both formal and informal decision making in both the public and private sectors. 


Marine community initiatives building biodiversity data systems and products in support of global change research

K. Deneudt (VLIZ - Flanders Marine Institute, Oostende, France), S. Dekeyzer, (VLIZ - Flanders Marine Institute, Oostende, France), B. Vanhoorne (VLIZ - Flanders Marine Institute, Oostende, France), L. Vandepitte, (VLIZ - Flanders Marine Institute, Oostende, France), S. Claus, (VLIZ - Flanders Marine Institute, Oostende, France), F. Hernandez, (VLIZ - Flanders Marine Institute, Oostende, France)

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Marine community initiatives building biodiversity data systems and products in support of global change research

K. Deneudt (1) ; S. Dekeyzer, (1) ; B. Vanhoorne (1) ; L. Vandepitte, (1) ; S. Claus, (1) ; F. Hernandez, (1)
(1) VLIZ - Flanders Marine Institute, Oostende, France

Abstract content

Global change research requires high quality and readily available biodiversity datasets that are standardized based on internationally accepted standards and can easily be used in integrative analyses that transcend geographic or administrative boundaries. The marine biodiversity community is progressively  organizing itself to offer advanced data services and high quality data products. Diverse aspects of this work are ongoing in the framework of initiatives like the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS),  the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), the European Marine Observation Network biological (EMODNet Biology) project and the LifeWatch European Research Infrastructure on biodiversity and ecosystem research.

The World register of Marine Species is an authoritative list of names of marine organisms. The content of WoRMS is controlled by more than 200 taxonomic experts, each of them responsible for a specific taxonomic group. The register currently holds over 419,000 species names described in literature worldwide, of which 190,400 (45%) were deemed duplicate identities. The register is a key instrument in biodiversity research, as it is used on a daily basis for taxonomic standardization and quality control of biological research and monitoring datasets.

The Ocean Biogeographic Information System is a network of OBIS nodes integrating biogeographic information for marine organisms on a global scale. Individual nodes contribute local or thematic datasets to the global system after standardizing these data based on OBIS and Darwin Core data schemas. OBIS holds 41.93 million distribution records of marine organisms from over 1,700 individual datasets.

In the framework of the LifeWatch taxonomic backbone and the EMODNet biology project large scale efforts are being initiated to collect species traits information and link this ecological attribute information to WoRMS and OBIS. These recent developments allow the creation of specific tools that have large potential for supporting applied global change research. An example is the World Register of Introduced Species, a newly launched portal that in its current state already lists over 1,400 introduced and invasive alien marine species worldwide, compiled through study of over close to 2,500 publications and collaboration with related international initiatives. In the framework of EMODnet a series of DIVA interpolated gridded abundance maps is being created for selected species reconstructing remarkable distribution patterns over time.

The generated data products are of direct relevance to global change studies on aspects like species distribution shifts, species extinction and migration, exploitation of ocean ecosystems and fish stock collapse, etc…


Multi-Disciplinary Framework for BioEnergy Assessment

W. Hugo (ICSU-WDS, SAEON, Western Cape, South Africa)

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Multi-Disciplinary Framework for BioEnergy Assessment

W. Hugo (1)
(1) ICSU-WDS, SAEON, Western Cape, South Africa

Abstract content

The BioEnergy Atlas for South Africa is the result of a project funded by the South African Department of Science and Technology, and executed by SAEON/ NRF with the assistance of a number of collaborators in academia, research institutions, and government. 


Bioenergy assessments have been characterized in the past by poor availability and quality of data, an over-emphasis on potentials and availability studies instead of feasibility assessment, and lack of comprehensive evaluation in competition with alternatives – both icompeting bioenergy resources and other renewable and non-renewable options. The BioEnergy Atlas addresses some of these deficiencies, and identifies specific areas of interest where future research and effort can be directed.


We develop an approach that successively constrains biomass that is potentially available with environmental, social, financial, technical, and economic constraints, leading to an objective selection of appropriate feedstocks, land allocation, techology, and feasible projects for detailed investigation. We discuss methodology, availability of biomass and potentials, and the feasibility results of four case studies in respect of biomass application: (1) co-firing of woody biomass for electricity generation; (2) use of oil-bearing crops for biodiesel producion, (3) applications for organic components of domestic solid waste and wastewater; and (4) use of woody biomass as a feedstock for an existing GTL refinery.


Findings include

  • Availability is not a fixed quantum. Availability of biomass and resulting energy products are sensitive to both the exclusionary measures one applies (food security, environmental, social and economic impacts) and the price at which final products will be competitive.
  • Availability is low. Even without allowing for feasibility and final product costs, the availability of biomass is low.
  • Waste streams are important. There are significant waste streams from domestic solid waste and sewage, some agricultural production, and commercial forestry.
  • Rural firewood use is problematic. This is a significant resource, plays a large role in the energy budget of poor and rural households, and current use means that it will have little impact on the GHG emissions balance.
  • Process technologies are not all mature, cost-competitive or efficient: We have investigated 52 different process technologies in respect of costs, economy of scale, energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emission and job creation impacts, and maturity of technology.
  • Solutions are probably ‘packages’. One has to balance the diversity of available resource streams and processing technologies against the need to focus resources on development of critical mass (workforce skills, support industries, expertise). Combining feedstocks and aligning with other government initiatives or subsidies can achieve such critical mass more easily.
  • Solutions must be robust in future too. Feasibility studies that focus on the current situation only ignore the fact that future sustainability is strongly dependent on assumptions on relative economic growth (influences household and industrial energy consumption, and the limiting cost for energy), cost of capital and inflation (affects choices of labour- or capital-intensive industries), exchange rates and fossil fuel prices (huge effect on selection of alternatives).
  • The most promising biomass source is medium-term mining and eradication of invasive alien plants, but this source is limited in time and, if exploited as proposed, will not be available after about 20 years.
  • There is a need to focus research and development efforts in respect of specifc technology/ feedstock combinations hat show future promise.

Soil data harmonisation and geostatistical modelling efforts in support of improved studies of global sustainability

N. Batjes (ISRIC - World Soil Information, Wageningen, Netherlands), B. Kempen (ISRIC - World Soil Information, Wageningen, Netherlands), J. Leenaars (ISRIC - World Soil Information, Wageningen, Netherlands), R. Vandenbosch (ISRIC - World Soil Information, Wageningen, Netherlands)

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Soil data harmonisation and geostatistical modelling efforts in support of improved studies of global sustainability

N. Batjes (1) ; B. Kempen (1) ; J. Leenaars (1) ; R. Vandenbosch (1)
(1) ISRIC - World Soil Information, Wageningen, Netherlands

Abstract content

Future Earth and other large international research and development programmes aim to provide the scientific evidence base required for developing into a sustainable future. Soil, which is an important provider of ecosystem services, remains one of the least developed data layers in global land models and uncertainties are large. In this context, there is a pressing need for improved, quality-assessed soil information at multiple scale levels. ISRIC – World Soil Information, in its capacity of World Data Centre for Soils within the ICSU World Data System, is developing inter-operable web-based facilities aimed at facilitating collaborative soil mapping. The Global Soil Information Facilities (GSIF) provide a global spatial framework for collating, standardising resp. harmonising, and analysing soil data profile obtained from disparate sources. At present, the facility includes a 3D soil information services for the world at 1 km resolution (SoilGrids1km), which draws on analytical data for some 100,000 soil profiles and over 70 co-variate layers representing soil-forming factors. Global regression models were used to predict values (mean and 90%-confidence interval) for selected soil attributes (e.g. soil pH, clay content, bulk density, and organic carbon content) for six depth intervals up to a depth of 2 meter. Cross-validation for the initial run showed prediction accuracies of 23%-51%, which is promising. Being based on reproducible automated procedures, the geo-statistical predictions are improved on a regular basis. New releases will consider a larger complement of harmonised soil profiles for the World, as collated and shared for example within the broader collaborative framework of the Global Soil Partnership (GSP), as well as more advanced geo-statistical approaches that may be targeted at specific agro-ecological regions. Confidence limits generated by the SoilGrids model may be used to assess the impact of uncertainty in soil property predictions (means) during scenario/model testing — data are freely available for visualization and download at http://soilgrids.org. The SoilGrids procedure has already been applied at various resolutions, depending on specified user needs. For example, a 250m product in support of agricultural planning in Africa versus a 50 km (or 0.5 by 0.5 arc degree) product for Global Land Models that underpin IPCC-related assessments. Further, development of the overall system is already catalysing institutional collaboration and data sharing. Capacity building and collaboration with (inter)national soil institutes around the world on data collection and sharing, data screening and harmonisation, mapping and the subsequent dissemination of the derived information will be essential to create ownership of the newly derived soil information as well as to create the necessary expertise and capacity to further develop and test the system worldwide. The system can also be used as the basis for a distributed system, where national soil institutes build and provide standardised databases and digital soil maps for their respective regions, which can then be ‘combined’ with the SoilGrids-derived information to arrive at a product with global coverage and local ownership, possibly within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership.


Supporting Climate Science with Cryospheric Data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center DAAC

B. Johnson (National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO, United States of America), S. Tanner, (National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO, United States of America), A. Leon, (National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO, United States of America)

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Supporting Climate Science with Cryospheric Data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center DAAC

B. Johnson (1) ; S. Tanner, (1) ; A. Leon, (1)
(1) National Snow and Ice Data Center, NSIDC DAAC, Boulder, CO, United States of America

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Global satellite observations are central to understanding and monitoring our climate system. The physical processes operating in the Earth’s cryosphere and their interactions with climate are tightly coupled. A change in one of its component will drive change in another. To improve our understanding of how a changing climate may drive these changes and how feedback processes in the cryosphere affect climate requires continuation of long-term satellite observations, intensive field and airborne campaigns and new ways to analyze observational data and to integrate them with large-scale Earth system models. Polar science has historically involved interdisciplinary research programs, and the collection and management of large, diverse data sets.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder is a primary archive for snow and ice data in the United States. NSIDC’s mission is to improve understanding of the Earth’s frozen realms. This includes floating sea ice, lake ice, glaciers, ice sheets, snow cover, and frozen ground, collectively known as the cryosphere. The NSIDC Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC) is one of NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) Data Centers archiving, documenting, and distributing data from NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS) satellites and field measurement programs. NSIDC DAAC data management involves activity at all stages of the data lifecycle, from planning through acquisition, preservation, publication, and distribution.  A key goal for NSIDC is to meet our data user needs in a way that facilitates data use. This is accomplished through improvements in data inter-operability, usability, data searching, and visualization and analysis tools.


The World Data Service at the University of Colorado Boulder and National Snow and Ice Data Center: Data and services supporting science

L. Yarmey (WDS-CUB National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO, United States of America), R. Duerr (WDS-CUB National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO, United States of America)

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The World Data Service at the University of Colorado Boulder and National Snow and Ice Data Center: Data and services supporting science

L. Yarmey (1) ; R. Duerr (1)
(1) WDS-CUB National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO, United States of America

Abstract content

The World Data Service at the University of Colorado Boulder (UCB) led by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is a leader in connecting data and science. These connections are built through targeted programs brought together under the NSIDC umbrella categorized into three high-level categories: curated data products, research partnerships, and cyberinfrastructure research and development:

The 432 datasets in the WDS-UCB/NSIDC catalog include some of the most popular and visible datasets at the Data Center, for instance the NOAA/NSIDC Climate Data Record of Passive Microwave Sea Ice Concentration as well as decades-long sea ice extent, concentration, and thickness time-series. The Frozen Ground Data Center at WDS-UCB/NSIDC is in the process of being updated and integrated with the new Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost system. In-situ field data such as from the Snow Data Assimilation System (SNOWDAS) are available alongside products such as the MODIS Mosaic of Antarctica Image map. All of the digital datasets are augmented by critical legacy data often in analog form, for instance the global Glacier Photo collection as well as many resources from the rich history of the International Geophysical and Polar Years.       

Ensuring a strong connection with not only scientists in both the data contributor and data re-user roles, but also the general US public and indigenous Arctic communities, WDS-CU researchers maintain tight partnerships with stakeholder communities.  The Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic (ELOKA) program has spent years building relationships that support and connect Community-Based Monitoring programs embedded in Arctic communities with each other and with environmental scientists. Projects looking to document sea ice knowledge, partner WDS-UCB/NSIDC researchers with shipping operations, Arctic community, and semantic experts to map understandings and advance understanding across different perspectives. A growing Arctic social science data program at WDS-UCB/NSIDC reaches out to another domain community to expand interdisciplinary context and participation in data sharing efforts. Connecting WDS-NSIDC resources to stakeholder communities requires clear communication and a shared understanding of use cases and stakeholder needs. An emphasis on usability work with website interfaces has improved connections and communication of content.       

Supporting and leveraging both the management of well-described data holdings and tight connections with partners and stakeholders, WDS-UCB/NSIDC maintains a strong cyberinfrastructure research and development focus. Expertise in metadata and data brokering enables distributed data search and has been showcased in diverse venues over recent years. Web crawling for science data of relevance moves the community closer to ubiquitous data discovery. Once relevant data are found, reading and analysis tools support data use and integration for new scientific discoveries.       

All of these targeted programs and more come together under the virtual umbrella of the WDS-UCB/NSIDC. Active participation in the WDS community and connections to the many aligned WDS activities and systems are key to advancing our common vision.