Open source front end for environmental data

Research institutes implement open source platform for environmental data sharing between government agencies.

Crown Research Institutes GNS Science, Landcare and National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) are working together with the New Zealand Geospatial Office to open the flow of environmental data between government agencies by harmonizing the systems used for managing it. Currently, New Zealand environmental information is collected by a wide range of government agencies including regional councils and district councils, SOEs, and research institutes. Each uses varying methods and systems, making the sharing of data and co-operation difficult.

"There is a lot of environmental data sitting in institutional archives across New Zealand which use their own systems. We currently don't have easy access to this information and it isn't being utilized as well as it should be," says Jochen Schmidt, Chief Scientist, Environmental Information, at NIWA.

"Adopting a common information sharing model will unlock a vast amount of environmental data and save New Zealand a significant amount of money currently wasted on information searches."

NIWA claims that the productivity benefits alone could save the government up to $500 million a year, with possible further economic benefits generated from easing access to environmental research.

"Take the marine space for example," says Schmidt. "There is a lot of information out there from GNS, NIWA, and other organizations. If all this information was available through a single portal or workflow, you could more easily make decisions about where to target mineral exploration on the sea floor."

The partnership will use an open source information sharing system called Spatial Information Services Stack (SISS), which was developed in Australia. SISS systems can be built on top of any local database, allowing the sharing of information across disparate systems, and because it is a freeware solution the initial setup costs are relatively low.

Schmidt says that he hopes to emulate a similar SISS system successfully deployed in Australia by earth science company AuScope, which is delivering environmental information between mining companies and government agencies.

Both GNS and Landcare have already set up partial SISS systems, with other agencies expected to begin work in the next three to six months.

"This is the first step towards a new era of information sharing in New Zealand."

On 22 November NIWA, along with specialists from Australia, will be hosting a workshop for system architects, information practitioners, and web service creators from a range of New Zealand agencies to learn more about SISS.

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