Start-up Spotlight: Data management for environmental monitoring

March 4th, 2019, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

MAP Scientific Services (MAPSS) is a classic university start-up that aims to find innovative and sustainable solutions for people, animals, and ecosystems to thrive in a rapidly changing world. MAPSS comprises of a dynamic team of ecologists and GIS professionals geared towards solving problems. To achieve this they focus on conservation, ecological restoration, and sustainable development and utilise a combination of a talented team, current technology, internationally acknowledged best practice methodologies, collaborative solutions, and continued learning.

The start-up’s aim is to bridge the gap between science and implementation. Although more data is collected now than ever before, it remains time consuming, expensive, and difficult to visualise and interpret this data. It is therefore not easy to turn raw ecological data into practical, evidence-based management actions.

On a daily basis, practitioners in the environmental field collect an invaluable amount of data. This data is supposed to help programme managers make informed decisions. However, the sheer volume of data, its storage, and ultimately its use is becoming problematic. Data is collected in a variety of ways on different variables (e.g. physical conditions, species composition, external exchanges, community structure, ecosystem function, and threats), which increases its complexity.

Moreover, data management and subsequent analyses are then undertaken in multiple, time-consuming steps. Management of large and diverse datasets for reporting and modelling ecosystem processes are also demanding and may increase the probability of mistakes in data handling, analyses, and interpretation, which is ultimately not cost-effective. The sheer volume of data collected during the life of a project, its storage, and use could result in a shifting baseline effect – a generational amnesia due to lack of experience about past conditions – it is therefore essential that a system of continual “memory refreshment” is implemented and that progress is continually checked. Yet, few organisations have the capacity required to collect and interpret data correctly to formulate evidence-based management decisions.

The solution

The MAPSS solution focuses on developing a customised tool that guides environmental monitoring organisations to adequately collect, store, analyse, and view ecological data to ensure scientifically sound outputs that inform decision making. The organisation leverages Esri software to develop a platform that is based on four components: data input, data storage, data analyses, and data outputs. This solution is based on a spatial database which incorporates various forms of real-world input data sources, for example: GPS tracking devices, environmental sensors, remotely sensed spatial layers, and direct observations.

The spatial database collates this data and provides clients with a data management front end to view, analyse, export, and interact with the data, and generate informative reports. Ultimately, clients are provided with a tool that ensures quality data collection, and thus informative outputs that add value to environmental monitoring programmes.

Contact Pieter Olivier, MAPSS, pieter@mapss.co.za

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