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The power of data at the service of the Environment

Posted on 20/05/2016

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1. Context

Air pollution damages human health and the environment. In Europe, as in Asturias, the emissions of many air pollutants have been remarkably reduced in the last decades, thus improving air quality in the region, thanks to the efforts made by the successive Air Plans carried out by the national and regional governments. However, the concentrations of air pollutants are still rather high and there are still some problems with the air quality.

A large part of the European population lives in areas -especially urban- where the established air quality limits are surpassed. In particular, the pollution caused by ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particles (PM) entails serious health risks. Nowadays, one of the main problems related to air pollution is found in the big cities in developed countries. Pollutants such as particles bigger than a few thousandths of a millimetre (PM10/PM2.5) or nitrogen oxides (NOX) pollute the urban air due to the emissions from private or public vehicles. The worst consequences are suffered by children, as schools, sport centres and other public centres are located in highly polluted areas. Elderly people also see their health seriously affected by polluting agents. This global reality is no different in our region, where PM10 limit levels (both daily and annual averages) have sometimes been surpassed in some control points in Asturias central area.

2. The role of data

Nowadays, air quality and air pollution monitoring networks generate huge quantities of data each year. The big databases from public administrations or competent authorities are made of hourly (or 15/30 minutes) average values recorded by pollutant gas analyzers and, in many cases, weather parameters registered in several measuring stations, such as temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, etc. In most cases, an air quality measuring station may generate more or less 175.000 data per year. In our country there are approximately 700 measuring stations. Therefore, more than 122.000.000 data are registered each year.

A temporal series analysis is performed to understand the past and sometimes to predict the future behaviour of certain variables. In the environmental field, we must mention that the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, whose target was the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, was based on an (intense) temporal series analysis, among other criteria.

3. The new Smart scenario

The technological advances made in the last years in communication technology (social networks, cloud computing) and digital sensors (GPS, IoT devices) are creating such amount of digital information that it could not have been imagined sometime ago. The management and analysis of this great amount of data may benefit companies and public authorities. For example, companies such as Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft have created a new business by capturing information and providing it in a useful way. These companies collect millions of pieces of data everyday and are constantly adding new services, such as the search for an address on a map or customized recommendation systems. These services have undeniable social benefits and have changed the way people use information in ordinary life.

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As well as Internet search engines, other application domains are generating a large amount of data that could have many economic or social benefits. This information revolution is known as Big Data. Big Data refers to the handling and analysis of a large amount of data, which is impossible to undertake with conventional analytical tools. The purpose of this is to turn into a value the data or information available. It is necessary to manage hybrid data, to combine structured and unstructured information and to extract predictive behaviour algorithms.

In general, the term Big Data refers to the technological trend which has led to a new approach to understanding and decision-making and which describes a large amount of data that exceeds the capacity of the classical systems based on relational data. However, Big Data does not refer only to the amount of data, but also to other characteristics of the information sources. Apart from the huge amount of information, there are many data that can be presented in different ways all over the word, for example, mobile devices, audio, video, GPS systems, digital sensors in industrial equipment, vehicles, electric meters, wind vanes, anemometers, etc. They can measure and communicate the position, movement, vibration, temperature, humidity and even chemical changes suffered by the air, so the applications analysing the data require a quick speed of response to collect the right information at the exact moment. These are the main characteristics of an opportunity for Big Data detected in the context of the control of air quality.

4. Envira Sostenible’s Big Data solution

Envira Sostenible, an undisputed national leader in the management of air quality, has developed a system for data analysis called EBA. EBA is an interactive application for data analysis specially designed for clients that look for freedom in their data analysis.  EBA is a platform for data analysis in the cloud oriented to the auto-consumption of data. EBA enables               our clients, without any advanced scientific knowledge in data analysis techniques, to discover new information hidden in their data. EBA works in a decentralized way and allows our clients to analyse their data from the first moment, at a highly competitive price and without using resources from the TI department or waiting for authorizations for the local installation of applications.

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