observing the earth coverA focus of NERC Policy Fellow with the Natural Capital Initiative and Royal Society of Biology James Borrell ‘s work with us was analysing the current state and future directions of natural capital monitoring. Before he returns to his PhD thesis he shares his views on a new landmark report on environmental observation published by the Royal Society earlier this months.

Observing the earth is the emerging umbrella term for monitoring our collective natural capital. Combining remote sensing technologies with on the ground survey techniques enables accurate analysis and reporting on the state of the natural world. This kind of evidence will become more and more important as we increasingly recognise society’s reliance on natural capital.

It is thus encouraging to see the recently published Royal Society report entitled ‘Observing the Earth’ commissioned by Government Office for Science with expert views on earth observation from a broad range of scientists and stakeholders.

The key conclusions appear to be that the rapid advance in technology and data are catalysing growth in our environmental observation capability. The UK is well positioned to take advantage of this, and reap benefits in social policy and economic growth. The papers produced for this report highlight a number of common factors crucial to successfully realise these benefits.

First, is to encourage broad observational data sharing between a variety of stakeholders, integrate these observations with modelling systems and improve analysis to exploit data for more actionable use across government. Secondly, several recommendations explored the value to be found in increasing the skills of the workforce to utilise this data and the benefits of international collaboration. Finally, the report highlighted the importance of transitioning new technologies from research to practical deployment in the field.

There are many new technologies on the horizon, from cloud computing and citizen science to automated sensors and the Internet of Things. We are likely to be able to utilise a variety of new data sources too, from autonomous underwater vehicles, to large constellations of small satellites and opportunistically perhaps from aircraft and cars.

Finally, most encouraging is that the final chapter focuses on UK earth observations in an international context, a perspective that has at times been lacking in a UK monitoring strategy. The report highlights that many satellites key to UK observations are operated on an international scale and basis, thus engagement is important. Our international policy also requires supporting evidence which – considering the nexus between the economy and the environment – will be underpinned by earth observation data. Finally, the UK is recognised as world leading in environmental science, and has a particularly strong research base at the forefront of new technology.

This report goes a long way towards ensuring that monitoring continues, as a result the UK and whole earth observation will surely benefit.

Download full report on the Royal Society website: Observing the Earth – Expert views on environmental observation of the UK