An agency of the European Union, the European Environment Agency (EEA) provides independent and reliable information on the environment for policy makers and the general public. The agency is working towards raising environmental awareness across Europe by delivering easy-to-understand information about a number of environmental topics—among them, water and air quality. It also encourages citizens to contribute their own observations about the environment around them. Working with Microsoft, it developed the Eye On Earth platform, based on the Windows Azure “cloud” services operating system. Users can view water or air quality from the 32 member countries of the EEA, using high-definition Bing maps. The EEA has also launched the Environmental Atlas of Europe, which features stories told by eyewitnesses about their first-hand experiences of climate change. Both solutions can help broaden awareness of the impacts of environmental change and help people in Europe make better-informed choices about their environment.Situation
At a time when environmental concerns dominate global policy and media, and affect the daily lives of individuals, the European Environment Agency (EEA) brings relevant and timely information to the fingertips of citizens.
||“Using this information, we can increase monitoring and awareness of environmental factors, adjust and improve our lifestyles, and, ultimately, make a strong statement to policy makers that air and water quality really matters.”
||Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director, European Environment Agency
Established in 1990, and based in Copenhagen, the EEA is an executive agency of the European Union (EU). The organisation collects environmental data across 32 European countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. This data is used to develop and implement environmental policy and is a crucial resource for almost 600 million citizens across the continent.
The European Environment Information and Observation Network (Eionet) is the EEA’s network of 600 partner organisations, which include research institutes, universities, ministries, and agencies. The EEA cooperates with additional agencies such as the World Health Organization and various non-government organisations to meet its goals. Using this network, the EEA can gather information—including data on greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, water quality, and biodiversity—into its “environmental observatory.” Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA, explains: “The organisation is also extending its work towards sectors such as agriculture, forestry, energy, and transport, which have a big effect on the environment. The EEA can communicate with the public, using quality data that would otherwise be difficult to acquire,” she says.
With the aim of helping policy makers develop relevant and effective policies, the EEA not only looks at environmental statistics and trends, but also collects feedback from individuals. McGlade says: “We show people’s own neighbourhoods and encourage citizens to gather more data themselves.”
Through the use of latest technologies, the EEA wanted to make key information about water and air quality across Europe easy to access, while giving them the tools to develop a more effective response to climate change. Bert Jansen, Technology Lead, EEA, says: “Our mandate clearly states that we should inform the general public in the EU, and technology is the only way to reach half a billion people effectively.”
The challenge is all the more poignant because European citizens have become increasingly sensitive and responsive about changes to their local environment. From a technical point of view, the increased demand for information raised a number of issues, not least the fact that the organisation’s Web site, which hosted its on-premise servers, were nearly at capacity.Solution
In 2009, the EEA launched a pioneering application to make its environmental observatory accessible. Eye On Earth is the outcome of a long collaboration with Microsoft. The two-way communication platform gathers critical information from a variety of sources in one place, and allows citizens to take a more active role in the exchange of information through its dynamic and user-friendly Web site.
Stefan Jensen, Head of Group, Information Services at the EEA, explains how the first component of Eye On Earth—called WaterWatch—makes use of bathing water data from 22,000 sites that countries deliver in accordance with European legislation. “In the past, this data has been limited to expert systems,” he says. WaterWatch was also inspired by the public’s concern about bathing water quality. McGlade says: “People are passionate about the water quality at the beaches they visit.” Within Eye On Earth, citizens can look at the official data on water quality, and contribute their own rating of that location. “When WaterWatch was first launched, we had an initial 65,000 people out of several 100,000 visitors contacting the site to interact with and record data about their local water resources,” says McGlade.
Rather than stop there, the EEA sought to include air quality information in the application. “Many thousands of people across Europe suffer from breathing disorders—from slight problems to severe asthma. For them, air quality really matters and can be a matter of life or death. It can help them determine the safest times to leave their homes to avoid dark smog, and where they should go,” says McGlade.
AirWatch uses the European Air Quality Index, provided by scientists. Jensen explains: “We describe air quality through three key substances—ozone, particulate matters, and nitrogen dioxide. There are 6,000 monitoring stations across the 32 countries, including 1,000 that provide frequent updates and 300 that deliver hourly updates displayed in Eye On Earth.”
As with WaterWatch, citizens’ input forms a large part of the AirWatch tool. Easy-to-use features help individuals to report their perception of air quality in a particular location and the results are displayed alongside the official data on the site.
Eye On Earth is supported by “cloud” services operating system Windows Azure, which works seamlessly with the existing infrastructure, and helps developers quickly deploy new features. The service-based architecture and cloud operating system provide the same level of reliability as an enterprise data centre, but offer greater agility, ensuring it can very quickly scale to meet rapid growth in data and traffic. This makes Windows Azure the ideal technology for the Eye On Earth application. “We chose Windows Azure because it offers us more flexibility than any of the other technical solutions that are available,” says Jensen.
||“Everyone can participate, independent of their device. The tools are accessible to people with Windows computers using Internet Explorer and the Firefox browser, Macintosh users with the Safari browser, and people with Linux machines.”
||Stefan Jensen, Head of Group, Information Services, European Environment Agency
For WaterWatch, the EEA experiences peak demand during the summer months as people plan their holidays and seek information about the water quality at their destinations. Hundreds of thousands of citizens access the application during its busiest periods, and demand is growing rapidly. AirWatch users are also likely to be increasingly interested in ozone levels in summer when air circulation is more stagnant due to the warmer weather, trapping toxins and pollutants. Jensen says: “With this technology, we can respond to large-scale peaks in demand.”
Bing Maps for Enterprise provides high-resolution satellite images and aerial photography across Europe and beyond. And it’s easily customised, so the agency can incorporate its environmental data into the mapping technology with ease.
Data is fed into Microsoft SQL Azure—a cloud-based database service built on Microsoft SQL Server data management software—every hour. The powerful database supports rapid retrieval of information, making it possible for Eye On Earth to process and deliver data in real time. In addition, the Microsoft Silverlight 3 browser plug-in delivers a seamless media experience, providing users with highly interactive features and Deep Zoom functionality.
Determined to make the application as interoperable as possible, the EEA offers a Microsoft ASP.NET version of the application. “Everyone can participate, independent of their device,” says Jensen. “The tools are accessible to people with Windows computers using Internet Explorer and the Firefox browser, Macintosh users with the Safari browser, and people with Linux machines.”
In addition, a short message service (SMS) aggregator—called mBlox—was also incorporated into the system to support access information on mobile devices. Jensen says: “With Eye On Earth, we want to reach the public first and foremost. Microsoft technologies provide us with flexible, reliable solutions that make that possible. The addition of the SMS aggregator enables greater mobile use of Eye On Earth and provides citizens with immediate feedback by way of text message about factors such as air and water quality.” As well as receiving information by SMS, mobile phone users are able to query current environmental data readings, such as air quality, for a desired location.
Says Jensen: “It’s a software-plus-services solution because we’re acquiring software for our common development, and we’re using a service construction that is also provided outside the European Environment Agency.”Benefits
With Eye On Earth, the EEA brings the most advanced environmental modelling to citizens across Europe, and encourages them to participate. The data is made available to other interested parties such as urban traffic control, tourism, or healthcare systems—helping organisations and citizens work together to address climate change, using data that has never before been available on such a scale. McGlade says: “Using this information, we can increase monitoring and awareness of environmental factors, adjust and improve our lifestyles, and, ultimately, make a strong statement to policy makers that air and water quality really matters.”
Feature-Rich and User-Friendly Interface Inspires Citizen Involvement
Eye On Earth will be available in 25 European languages. A location is entered on the screen and the application recognises not just any city or town within the 32 countries, but also far more specific map locations, such as streets and buildings. In an instant, the application can zoom in to an aerial image of a location and show its official air and water quality ratings. For example, air quality will show as very good, very bad, or levels in between, and that information is supported by columns that display ozone levels, nitrogen dioxide, particle matter, and carbon emissions. Combined ratings from individuals for that location are also shown for air and water quality results.
Another feature captures feedback history and displays information in the form of coloured markers on the map. Users can also see all the AirWatch and WaterWatch stations, or select a specific location—zoom in to a close-up image of a building, for example, and drag and drop a push-pin onto that building to view the air quality data instantly. If the individual rates the air quality of that location, he or she can see the system instantly update itself with the new information.
“Participation of the public is so important to the EEA that we have also integrated instant connectivity to social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Windows Live Spaces, allowing people to share information quickly and easily,” says Jensen.
Data Helps Citizens and Communities Make Better Choices
By providing the public with such local and timely information, the EEA believes that it will help citizens make decisions that can improve their lives. Those with health issues can choose appropriate holiday destinations, or even use the data to raise awareness of conditions in their communities.
Jansen says: “This technology gives people the power to understand their environment. They can look at the air quality in their gardens or the water quality at the beach where they want to swim. Armed with the facts, 600 million people in Europe can influence the environment in which they live.”
Agile Technology Helps Organisation Manage Application Use
||“This technology gives people the power to understand their environment…Armed with the facts, 600 million people in Europe can influence the environment in which they live.”
||Bert Jansen, Technology Lead, European Environment Agency
The services-based model and cloud operating system help EEA minimise infrastructure overheads. They offer a more agile environment that has helped the organisation deploy WaterWatch and AirWatch in a matter of months.
The needs of Eye On Earth users vary throughout the year, and, consequently, load patterns fluctuate. Windows Azure helps the organisation manage that load efficiently, giving developers and service managers the ability to scale up and down seamlessly without complex operational procedures. The flexible Windows Azure pay-as-you-go model also helps the EEA to save money by paying only for capacity that’s used.
And, by taking advantage of Microsoft data centres to house data from the EEA in the cloud, Windows Azure also reduces the need for investment in hardware and computers that would otherwise remain idle. McGlade says: “Cloud computing ensures we can be more adaptable.” This is a welcome departure from the often restrictive server framework and the costs and resources associated with keeping it running seven days a week. “This includes the costs of electricity to run the servers, and recycling the hardware after it has exceeded its life span. After all, we need to be aware of our own carbon footprint too,” says McGlade.
Jensen agrees: “Thanks to Windows Azure, we can be more flexible regarding the number of users. Another significant advantage is that we don’t have to provide the whole IT environment for the application.”
Environmentally Focused Partnerships Strengthen Vision
Working with Microsoft Services, the EEA has delivered an innovative application quickly and efficiently. “Microsoft has pushed us to the cutting edge of technology,” says McGlade. “It has given us the courage to position ourselves as a more innovative public service, making a positive difference at a time of climate change.”
The agency is also open to inspiration from other interested partners. “We encourage organisations or communities to join us because everyone can bring new depth to our vision. Our strength lies in data and Microsoft delivers innovative technology—but there’s always room for new influences to help us create an even more powerful solution,” says Jansen.
New Opportunity Extends Climate Change Message
In 2009, the EEA started a partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme and the European Space Agency to create a new channel for sharing the message of climate change across Europe. Built using the existing Eye On Earth solution, the Environmental Atlas of Europe examines the impact of climate change across different regions, and the work to reverse the damage to the local ecosystem.
Atlas features stories told by eyewitnesses about their first-hand experiences of climate change and how their communities are coping. McGlade says: “Users can access Atlas through Eye On Earth. They can pinpoint and select stories from locations shown on Bing maps, zoom into the local area, see individuals telling their stories, and explore ways in which environmental change is affecting other parts of that region.” The Atlas solution includes a full suite of multimedia assets such as video, interviews, and photography. As well as learning more about the personal stories behind climate change, visitors can also post messages and give feedback.
Jansen says: “We go out and speak with people who are either directly affected by climate change or have solutions to climate change. For example, we speak with reindeer herders in Lapland, and ask them how the melting of the Arctic ice cap affects their lives. But we also want to tell positive stories, so we speak with people in the Netherlands who have built houses that float up and down, as the water level rises and falls.”
||“With Eye On Earth, we want to reach the public first and foremost. Microsoft technologies provide us with flexible, reliable solutions that make that possible.”
||Stefan Jensen, Head of Group, Information Services, European Environment Agency
For the EEA, telling stories and connecting communities is far more useful than providing raw statistics. The Atlas stories told by eyewitnesses across Europe help citizens understand how the global environment is shifting due to climate change and inspire them to take action and make a difference.
Jensen says: “The European Environment Agency now has one of the world’s leading repositories of environmental data, and, through the power of software and technology, the Eye On Earth and Atlas solutions have turned powerful information into action. We’re also looking to the future and we plan to use Microsoft Surface so citizens can interact more deeply with Eye On Earth and Atlas. Thanks to both of these solutions, we can play our part in helping everyone to contribute towards a cleaner environment and a sustainable future.”Windows Azure Platform
The Windows Azure platform provides an excellent foundation for expanding online product and service offerings. The main components include:
• Windows Azure. Windows Azure is the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage Web applications on the Internet through Microsoft data centres. In addition, Windows Azure serves developers’ connectivity needs through the following services.
• The Service Bus connects services and applications across network boundaries to help developers build distributed applications.
• The Access Control Service provides federated, claims-based access control for REST Web services.
• Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft SQL Azure offers the first cloud-based relational and self-managed database service built on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 technologies.
To learn more about the Windows Azure platform, visit:
Software + Services
Software-plus-services is an industry shift driven by the fast-growing recognition that combining Internet services with client and server software can deliver exciting new opportunities. Microsoft is dedicated to helping individuals and businesses take advantage of these opportunities. By bringing together the best of both software and services, we maximize capabilities, choice, and flexibility for our customers. The broad software-plus-services approach unites multiple industry phenomena including software as a service, service-oriented development, and the Web 2.0 user experience under a common umbrella.
For more information about software-plus-services, go to: www.microsoft.com/softwareplusservicesFor More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
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