The Great Lakes Regional Environmental Information System
Robert C. Worrest
Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN)
1747 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20006 (USA)
Philip E. Meier and Michael R. Thomas
Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN)
2250 Pierce Road
University City, MI 48710 (USA)
The Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) has constructed a computer-based environmental information system within the Great Lakes area to assimilate environmental data of various types and from distributed sources, and to use those data to generate information necessary for local risk assessment and for promoting regional environmentally sustainable development. When fully operational, the Great Lakes Regional Environmental Information System will illustrate the integration within a single, coherent system of geographic information system capabilities (in particular, for spatial data display and analysis), distributed data access, statistical analysis and display capabilities, and interactive modeling. The effort increases the capacity of the user community to make effective use of environmental information and informational technologies in decision making. In addition, CIESIN is generating information necessary to better understand the effects of industrial and resource development on the environment, economy, and the social structure of the Great Lakes area. The Great Lakes Regional Environmental Information System is intended to be the paradigm for ongoing and planned CIESIN activities in other large geographic regions, such as the U.S.-Mexico border area, the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Northwest.
The Great Lakes are an important part of the physical and cultural heritage of North America. They contain one-fifth of all fresh surface water resources on Earth and drain an area larger than the State of Texas. Spanning more than 750 miles from west to east, these vast inland freshwater seas have provided water for consumption, transportation, power, recreation and a host of other uses. With some 32.4 million people living in the area, the Great Lakes Basin is a major agricultural resource, as well as representing nearly 11% of total employment and 15% of manufacturing employment for the United States and Canada.
As part of its efforts to increase public access to environmental data from the Great Lakes region, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has provided assistance to the Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN, pronounced "season") to enable them to develop the Great Lakes Regional Environmental Information System (REIS). The REIS is accessible by the user community over the Internet and is compatible with the Great Lakes Commission/Great Lakes Information Network and the interagency Global Change Data and Information System (GCDIS). CIESIN has developed a suite of cataloging and analysis tools, using common technical standards, that exploit data and information located in a variety of data systems accessible via the Internet. Within the Great Lakes REIS, CIESIN has developed directory, inventory, and guide portions of an environmental catalog containing selected socioeconomic, public health, and environmental databases. The targeted user community includes policy analysts, resource managers, educators, scientific researchers, the general public, and the
private sector. The Great Lakes REIS is intended to be the "place-based" paradigm for ongoing and planned CIESIN activities in other large geographic regions, such as the U.S.-Mexico border area, the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Northwest, and geographic areas in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The purpose of these efforts, taken together, is to increase the public availability of socioeconomic, public health, and environmental data, and to facilitate human dimensions and earth science data integration for improved decision making at the local to global level.
The Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN)
CIESIN is a United Nations accredited non-governmental organization and not-for-profit consortium comprised of universities and research institutes. CIESIN is supporting the mission of improving access to, and enhancing the use of information for decision makers in the public and private sector with regard to human interactions with the environment. Emphasis includes three topic areas: (a) human dimensions of global, regional, and local environmental change; (b) sustainable development; and (c) natural disaster research and reduction.
CIESIN specializes in the access and integration of earth and human science information across scientific disciplines and geographic boundaries. Its efforts are directed toward making the data collected by government agencies, the scientific community, non-government organizations, and international institutions easily available for widespread use in research, public policy making, and education. Specifically, CIESIN is responsible for bridging the socioeconomic and natural science research communities, as well as the research and policy communities. To support such efforts, CIESIN is developing the following resources and capabilities:
• Data and information identification, acquisition, management, integration, and dissemination through a distributed, worldwide electronic data and cataloging network;
• Global-scale time series and baseline data and information on human interactions in global environmental change; and
• Advanced network computing tools for data access, research, and analysis across disciplines.
The Great Lakes Regional Environmental Information System
The Great Lakes Regional Environmental Information System is based on the premise that effective environmental and economic policies in the Great Lakes area depend upon access to sound data and information, and understanding the complex interactions of environmental stress phenomena. This requires forging strong interdisciplinary links between the natural and human sciences, as well as providing needed information to the policy analysts and policy makers of both the United States and Canada who must confront environmental and social issues. These activities must begin with sharing of information and knowledge that transcends political and cultural boundaries.
Clearly, the shape and focus of environmental systems and treatment techniques must be determined through a continuing assessment of both broad and subtle environmental changes that take place regionally and locally. This assessment can best be accomplished with the use of a comprehensive and technologically advanced information system focused on a regional level and incorporating the most complete and accurate data available. These data resources include both foreign and national state and federal government data, as well as data available through the private sector. The integration of these disparate data bases into a consolidated regional environmental information system is essential to the successful implementation of pollution prevention strategies and risk assessment capabilities.
The ultimate functionality of the Great Lakes REIS is driven by local socioeconomic, public health, and environmental needs, and is subject to region-specific data availability. The system presents governmental policy analysts, the private sector, and other users a directory of available data and information, a means of access to that data, tools for data manipulation and analysis, and the capability to display the resultant information. The system will maintain the flexibility necessary to accommodate the information needs of different classes of users. It is designed to supply managers the information necessary to manage projects and resources. The system will also be able to supply research scientists information about, and access to, the raw data and tools necessary to perform model development and analysis activities, thus allowing a means to generate information vital to resource management.
The Great Lakes REIS is part of the distributed system developed by CIESIN for search, browse, retrieval and ordering of data and information. This distributed query and retrieval system is currently used in the implementation of CIESIN's Catalog Services application, providing integrated search and retrieval functionality for CIESIN's primary data resources—the Information Cooperative and the NASA-affiliated Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC). The Information Cooperative is an international alliance of governmental, non-governmental, academic, and private research institutes who are cooperating in the implementation of a globally distributed information system and archive of socioeconomic, environmental, public health, and other policy-relevant data and information. The active partners of the Information Cooperative include the World Bank, UNDP, UNEP, World Health Organization, World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and over forty other institutions on five continents. Country Nodes are also under development or implemented in a variety of locations, including Central and Eastern Europe, the Former Soviet Union, China, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, in Africa and the Americas. SEDAC, developed and currently operated by CIESIN, is CIESIN's primary mechanism for sharing data and information, providing a bridge between the data needs of the socioeconomic and the natural science research communities, as well as a bridge between the research community and the data and information needs of policy analysts and decision makers.
In making regulatory and policy decisions involving the Great Lakes area, and air and water quality issues in general, EPA has recognized that important data and information exist at different locations and from diverse sources. These sources include state and local governments, academic institutions, the private sector, and other federal agencies. The Agency also realizes that the success of its environmental management efforts depends upon the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the environmental data and information base. In the Great Lakes area, CIESIN is developing systems that provide to the public the information required to fully understand the effect that current policies have on the abundance and quality of wetlands, ground water, rivers, streams and lakes, soils, and native biota. These systems can then be used to support the development of predictive models that help decision makers understand the potential impact of proposed policies on ecological resources.
The CIESIN partnership with EPA and collaboration with the Great Lakes Commission and Environment Canada focuses the systems engineering and analysis capabilities of CIESIN on assessing, integrating, and improving the use of air and water quality, socioeconomic and human health impacts, environmental monitoring, and global change data and information holdings. The collaborative effort with the Great Lakes Commission and Environment Canada expands the Great Lakes Information Network and Environment Canada's Great Lakes Information Management Resource, as well as providing users in the local area with the capabilities to assimilate environmental data of various types and from distributed sources, and to use that data in local risk assessment, pollution prevention, and promoting regional sustainable development.
The Great Lakes REIS is a computer-based environmental information system that establishes within the Great Lakes area the capability to assimilate environmental data of various types and from distributed sources, and uses that data to create information necessary for local risk assessment and for promoting regional, environmentally sustainable development (Figure 1). CIESIN is making an inventory of the existing information and databases in the Great Lakes area, and making this inventory available to those who are developing plans to augment monitoring efforts and mitigation activities in the region. In addition to developing regional directory and guide metadata, the effort is identifying, developing where necessary, and disseminating information products and a framework of tools, tailored to the needs of policy analysts and the public, that integrate environmental data, and that integrate these data with socioeconomic information. The system will illustrate the integration of geographic information system capabilities (e.g., spatial data display and analysis), distributed data access, statistical analysis and display, and interactive modeling. The effort will increase the capacity of the user community to make effective use of environmental information and informational technologies in decision making.
CIESIN Catalog Services
The CIESIN Catalog Services is a distributed system that greatly simplifies the task of locating and using catalogued data and information. The system supports seamless query and retrieval of metadata and data stored on many different systems in a concurrent fashion. (Metadata provides descriptive information about data, including for example its heritage, collection history, calibration, and custodians.) The mechanics of the distributed systems and variations in data formats are completely hidden from the user, allowing Catalog Services to behave as a single information resource. The method of information transfer is based on the Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) protocols, implemented on top of TCP/IP for compatibility with the existing Internet infrastructure. Indexing vocabulary appropriate to environmental data will also be developed and applied.
CIESIN Catalog Services is a client-server based system, providing search and retrieval of a hierarchical collection of metadata (Figure 2):
• Directory-level metadata contain high-level descriptions of data and information collections. Most directory entries in Catalog Services are described by using the Directory Interchange Format (DIF) standard. These metadata provide an overall summary of an entire data set or a subset thereof.
• Guide-level metadata contain supplementary information pertaining to data collections. These metadata are designed to complement a directory with expanded information on a holding.
Directory. The directory component of the catalog system provides a representation of socioeconomic, public health, and environmental data or information in the form of metadata. These metadata describe the data content concisely and precisely, and are provided electronically through the catalog as searchable fields of descriptive information that permit the location and retrieval of metadata. The directory for both the national level catalog and the Great Lakes REIS assists users in locating information about subject matter, even if the user is uncertain about the existence of that information, and helps them to evaluate the information as to its utility and relevance. Directory entries describe aggregated data such as a major database, a time-series, or a collection of data sets. These entries will be searchable via the Internet by means of Catalog client software that allows the user to either dynamically browse the available directory entries or search for data sets using selective criteria. The directory is compatible with GCDIS, which utilizes the Directory Interchange Format (DIF) as the standard format for directory entries, and is Government Information Locator Service (GILS) compliant as well. Directory entries are developed using the DIF and Federal Geographic Data Committee digital geospatial metadata standards with modifications considered to best accommodate EPA metadata requirements.
CIESIN is developing an inventory and models of EPA data assets to enhance public access to those national assets. In addition, this effort will contribute to the process of planning for Envirofacts, a proposed national repository of environmental information. The results of these efforts will lead to improvements in the ability of the scientific, policy-making, commercial, and public communities to access and understand environmental data. The products of these efforts will include a series of data set modeling reports and a document that prototypes a logical model for unifying two or more EPA systems. EPA data were selected to represent typical environmental data needed for a broad variety of decisions.
Guides. Guide metadata contain detailed information designed to complement directory metadata by providing context and background information. Three types of guides are being developed for the environmental catalogs—data set, organization, and initiative. Data set guides provide an overview of the data set and details on its source and history, access to variable lists and data dictionaries if available, and guidance in using the data set. Organization guides provide the user with summary information regarding relevant organizations. Initiative guides provide information on Great Lakes Basin initiatives, as well as access to associated documents.
The guide component of the catalog system provides data set, organization, and initiative information in the form of hypertext documents presented by a World Wide Web (WWW) browser (Figure 3). These hypertext documents allow the user to navigate smoothly through a series of text screens, whose physical location may be distributed throughout many remote computer sites, but which are conceptually linked on the user's screen via highlighted keywords, phrases, lists, graphics and icons. These highlighted tokens are woven into the text of individual documents so that the user may interact with the information more naturally than with a fixed set of menus and forms. Guides contain live links to other Wide Area Information Servers (WAIS), WWW, and Gopher servers as appropriate. The guides themselves are also full-text indexed for WAIS searches.
To access CIESIN's Great Lakes Regional Environmental Information System on the World Wide Web, the URL is: http://epawww.ciesin.org/glreis/GLREIS-home.html.
Although the information in this document has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency through EPA Cooperative Agreement CX821505, it has not been subjected to Agency review and therefore does not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency and no official endorsement should be inferred.
Figure 1. Schematic structure and function of a CIESIN Regional Environmental Information System.
Figure 2. Architecture and operational concept of CIESIN Catalog Services.