High-quality data is the essential component for decision-making in a challenging world
Monday, 19 October 2020
There is no doubt that in Europe and across the world we are currently facing many unprecedented challenges, from the constantly shifting parameters of the COVID-19 pandemic to the warming climate.
Added to this pressure is a growing population alongside the very real possibility of an economic slump. It is undoubtedly a headache for decision-makers, let alone businesses and individual citizens.
On the plus side, however, we have never had so much technology at our fingertips, giving access to a world of information. But it is not enough to have a wealth of data – the wires need to be untangled for the story to make sense. Well informed choices are key to facing these challenges successfully and decisions backed up by data could be essential for our recovery and continued journey towards a greener, more economically resilient future.
In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with information, sometimes without even realising it. The progression into a digital world has more or less crept up on us, and from the Big Data systems and super computers, the Internet of Things to Earth observation data, we have never before had so much information. But how do we make sense of it all and use this information to overcome the current challenges we face in society, from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change?
How useful the information for decision-making is depends on its quality and how it is interpreted. Two services of European Union’s Copernicus programme implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) on behalf of the European Commission, not only provide quality-assured data but concrete insights to help with crucial decisions.
Drawn from sensors across space, land, sea and air, the freely available data provided by the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service and Copernicus Climate Change Service serve policymakers, businesses and citizens alike. This is made possible by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts’ sophisticated data assimilation and modelling which, combined with its world-renowned meteorological expertise, provides much-needed insight to help environmental decision-making.
A prime example of this is how Copernicus has tailored the information it provides on atmospheric conditions around the world to help monitor the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its atmosphere monitoring component has provided vital information and visualisations, from maps to time series, alongside animations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM10) across 50 major European cities.
Scientists from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service have been working closely with medical research teams to investigate the role of air pollution in the pandemic and whether fine particulate matter can aggravate its spread as well as worsen symptoms in the same way it affects cardio-pulmonary health and immune response. In the meantime, scientists from the climate change component of Copernicus, also worked with software experts to develop an application that offered health authorities and epidemiology centres the opportunity to explore whether temperature and humidity can influence the virus’s spread.
Screenshot of Copernicus visualisations of NO2, PM2.5 and PM10 on 2nd October, displayed on the dedicated COVID-19 microsite. Source: ECMWF Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.
However, the way such high-quality environmental data aids decision-making goes far beyond the pandemic, important as this is. Being able to project into the future is vital for many climate-dependent industry sectors that are likely to be affected by climate change so that they may mitigate or adapt to the risks. From energy to agriculture, the insurance sector to tourism, many organisations use data provided by Copernicus to adjust to and plan for the likely impact of climate change on their sector.
In the renewable energy sector, for example, climate data helps with decisions on where to site new wind farms or estimate future supply and demand from a growing population. An increase in provision of renewable energy is one important factor in the European Union’s Green Deal, which pledges Europe to become the first climate neutral continent by 2050.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to re-set and re-think and the best, most insightful data, used wisely, can help us plan for a better, more sustainable future for the generations to come.