Data for climate

Marta Arantes Godoy

PhD candidate in Global Health and Sustainability at the Faculty of Public Health, University of São Paulo

It is important for civil society to become aware that the so-called ‘climate crisis’ can no longer be considered as such and the challenges this represents. It is no longer a crisis but rather a process or state of significant ongoing change with points of no return regarding certain climatic conditions, such as the rise in global temperature by 1.09 °C above pre-industrial levels, which is caused by anthropic action, as confirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes (IPCC).

The IPCC was created in 1988 by the UN and the World Meteorological Organization to address climate change, which had already been noticed at that point in time. In 1990 the IPCC-UN scientists were able to see evidence of the possible effects of the release of greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, that had occurred as a result of the burning of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution, and of deep changes in land use and land occupation that involved deforestation, forest fires and the construction of cities.

The consequences of the greenhouse effect caused by the imbalance in the carbon exchange between sources and sinks in the atmosphere and biosphere, and by changes in atmospheric and oceanic circulation systems, are better perceived through extreme weather events, through intense rains and storms, cyclones, hurricanes, extreme high and low temperatures, heat waves and prolonged droughts, as well as through the melting of glaciers and snow surfaces. These lead to rising sea levels and irreversible changes in terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems, which have become more frequent and gained in intensity due to global warming.

Flood in Altenahr-Kreuzberg, Germany, on 15th July 2021.

Photo by Martin Seifert, Wikimedia Commons.

In order to cope with this ‘new normal’, the UN signatory nations have been meeting in the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They have thus established protocols and agreements, and set goals for sustainable development and the reduction of GHG emissions, goals that are in line with those of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which makes up the 2030 Agenda established by the Paris Agreement in 2015, committed to by 195 countries.

Since the Conference of Parties No. 26 (COP26) in November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland, and the previous conferences promoted by the IPCC, the world population starts to understand that we will have to learn how to live with the new normal, in light of climate change and its consequences. Also, it is urgent to contain the increase in global temperature by 1.5 °C, at most, by 2030, or by up to 2.0 °C by 2050, in order to reach Net Zero in 2050. This is a huge challenge!

With this purpose, various countries are developing national climate policies, planning their actions in the face of climate change guided by the SDG of the Paris Agreement. Dr. Milena Ponczek, scientist linked to the Laboratory of Atmospheric Physics at the University of São Paulo (IFUS-USP) in Brazil, highlighted four actions identified by the IPCC for nations to address climate issues and their impact on the different territories. The four actions can be understood as follows:
Actions aimed to reduce GHG emissions to avoid the rise in temperature and mitigate the incidence of climate change and its effects;
Climate adaptation
Actions taken in order to adjust and reduce the harmful effects of climate change and, when applicable, take advantage of possible opportunities
The ability of all natural, social, economic and environmental systems to deal with hazards and extreme weather events
Measurement and monitoring of GHG emissions
Inventories of all pollutants must be carried out, through a holistic approach, considering all forms of pollution: air, water and soil. 
This means that, in addition to carbon dioxide emissions – which stay hundreds to thousands of years in the atmosphere, methane gas emissions – which do not remain for a long time in the atmosphere and are associated with deforestation, fire and livestock activities – must also be monitored. Moreover, although methane gas emissions have a shorter life in the atmosphere, they are often more polluting. Nitrous oxide, ozone and CFC emissions must likewise be measured and monitored. This monitoring is a mitigation action that is highly recommended by the global climate authorities, aiming to reduce GHG emissions and thus constrain the increase in global temperature.

in addition to carbon dioxide emissions, methane gas emissions – associated with deforestation, fire and livestock activities – must also be monitored

It is worth mentioning the great help brought about by technological innovation projects and research in the field of collection and analysis of geospatial data, such as those undertaken by Dr. Thomas Bartoschek through the Institute for Geoinformatics at the University of Münster (IfGI-WWU) in Germany.

Through the Open Sense Map and Sense-Box projects, relevant environmental data such as temperature, humidity, intensity of the UV light, emission of dust and pollutants, precipitation, number of birds visiting a garden, or air quality data collected by bikers while pedaling, among others, can be monitored through the collection and storage of geospatial data. These data can be gathered and sent by individuals (students and/or citizens) who volunteer to participate in the project, using their own devices and sense-boxes. Data are analyzed in a database and made accessible in open access publications.

The Open Sense Map is an open data web platform to store and analyze sensor data, containing more than 4’000 sensor stations used by different citizen science projects. It can be used with different hardware configurations and programmed for specific purposes. One hardware configuration is the Sense-Box, a citizen science do-it-yourself toolkit operated with measurement and frequency parameters set according to the measurement stakeholder's objectives, with stations in different places such as forests. With this, interested individuals can create a large database for themselves or for other people.
An important consideration regarding climate change data for the purpose of research and monitoring was brought up by Dr. Ponczek, who highlights that Brazil has the relevant policy of making data available, open access and hence free of charge, especially for researchers and scientists. These data are also available to the general population, who can access data and research from university platforms, government research bodies such as the National Institute for Space Research (INPE in Portuguese), and NGOs.

The database contains data from satellites and platforms that monitor deforestation, such as those by the INPE itself, and land use mappings, as well as land cover, like MapBiomas for example, available to be downloaded, extracted and processed for analysis and monitoring of changes in land use by any citizen. These data are crucial to Brazil because deforestation is the biggest ‘villain’ in the country regarding overall climate change. This is so because deforestation promotes methane gas emissions into the atmosphere, preventing photosynthesis processes. The importance of the data relates also to monitoring forest fires and other types of fires, which release aerosols in the Amazon and other biomes.

In Germany, this opening up process started a few years ago, complying with recent laws. Dr. Bartoschek highlights the greater difficulty, complexity and the sometimes-high costs of data gathering due to different regulatory mechanisms related to information accessibility – a very recent development. Maps, satellite images, and area photographs are not only difficult, expensive and challenging to locate, but also to access, obtain and download as complete data. Dr. Bartoschek emphasizes that this complexity takes time to prepare and obtain data, but is extremely important for climate change analyses. That is why the German weather service, which collects long-term data, recently opened the platform, forced by law, and is providing access to information. Likewise, the federal environmental agency is also making information accessible, but mainly in PDF format, which limits opening and working on the data made available. Despite this hindrance, this recent development is a move forward.

The present reflection on existing data for environmental and climate change analysis can be completed by highlighting the importance of projects in which not only scientists and researchers but also students and the general population can generate their own database, have access to official databases, upload and download data, and consult satellite images. As these individuals become able to work with these data, learning how to use the information for various research, analysis and knowledge generation purposes, this can be regarded as an important tool to increase the level of action and awareness in society, so that individuals can act locally as true scientific citizens who can make their contribution to the improvement of climatic, environmental and social conditions, without having to wait for governmental initiatives.
  • Marta Arantes Godoy

    PhD candidate in Global Health and Sustainability at the Faculty of Public Health, University of São Paulo

    Marta Godoy is a geographer and holds an M.Sc. in Environmental Health. She is currently a PhD candidate in Global Health and Sustainability at the Faculty of Public Health, University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil. Marta has 35 years of professional experience in risk analysis, planning, licensing and environmental management [of energy projects (hydro, wind, photovoltaic, natural gas), water supply and sewage treatment, highways, railways, among the main ones]. Contact info:

Related Talk
Episode #4
What are the challenges imposed by the climate crisis and how data can help tackle them? What data is available to use and what information do we still need to collect? With Dr. Milena Ponczek, atmospheric scientist with Post-Doc at the Laboratory of Atmospheric Physics at the University of São Paulo (IFUSP- Universidade de São Paulo) and producer of the Atmospheric Tales Podcast, and Dr. Thomas Bartoschek, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Geoinformatics of the University of Münster (IfGI-Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster) and Co-Founder and CEO of the edtech Start-up re:edu GmbH & Co. KG
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