Modern connectivity has produced a new way of understanding spatial relations, often transcending administrative boundaries in favor of functional geographies. And while our planet’s political borders are far from obsolete, the growing sense of “connectography”, what author Parag Khanna defines as the geographical layer of interconnectedness, alongside a rising environmental consciousness has spurred public/private partnerships that collaborate on the projects fighting to protect the Earth, its natural resources, and fragile ecosystems.
Recently, the World Resources Institute (WRI), along with more than 30 partners including CARTO, launched Resource Watch, which is in many ways the epitome of this idea of connectographic environmentalism. This dynamic platform provides access to hundreds of trusted and relevant datasets on a wide range of topics from all around the world.
Unlike many open data portals, Resource Watch understands that global sustainability challenges are connected to one another. As Janet Ranganathan, VP of Science and Research at the World Resources Institute explains:
We know that the world's principle sustainability challenges – climate change, food security, land degradation, water scarcity, and more – are deeply intertwined. The problem is, too often people and data are stuck in silos. Now, Resource Watch allows users to see how issues intersect by visualizing, overlaying and interacting with data hand-picked by WRI experts. Finally, analysts and decision-makers can cut through the daunting mountain of data and find a signal in the noise.
Four years ago, in partnership with CARTO and other partner organizations, WRI released Global Forest Watch. A dynamic forest monitoring platform, Global Forest Watch boasted near-real-time deforestation data and tools for interactive mapping and spatial analysis.
An open-source platform, Global Forest Watch empowered governments and organizations working to combat deforestation and protect critical ecosystems. By providing up to date information, the tool became a one stop shop for those looking to end illegal deforestation and manage forest fires, identify unsustainable or illegal activities, sustainably source commodities, and inform and power conservation research.
And while GFW was an incredibly useful tool, it was limited in the depth of understanding that it could provide. Forest fires don’t happen in a vacuum, and their causes and the full extent of their global impact could only be realized by investigating where they intersect with additional factors. Resource Watch, a tool that can layer data from across hundreds of fields was the logical next step.
Resource Watch allows users to access and map its hundreds of datasets. The datasets are highly varied and filterable by topic, data type, time period covered, and update frequency. Layering the datasets onto one another is easy, intuitive, and allows users to work and discover at the intersection of the issues that impact our planet.
In the below example, Resource Watch is used to layer instances of violent events around the globe, with the Global Adaptation Index, a measure of how vulnerable a nation is to climate change and other global challenges. Investigating conflict through the lens of climate change can provide a more nuanced understanding of where, how, and why conflict emerges in the modern world.
Another key component of Resource Watch is The Planet Pulse tool, which pulls data from satellites and ground sensors to provide a global snapshot of the factors that impact people’s lives on a daily basis. Through Planet Pulse, users can toggle data layers on and off to provide greater insight. The tool can be used to track global temperatures, air and water quality levels, instances of conflict, and provide live updates on natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, and forest fires. Users can also set up notifications so that they are alerted to new and changing crises in real time. Using the Planet Pulse tool, observers can visualize patterns, improve response times, and mitigate damage for those most in need.
A primary driver of Resource Watch’s success lies in its open nature. In an age where views can be extremely polarized, where false information is constantly being generated and disseminated as if it were fact, and where the scientific community is under threat, having an open platform for professionally vetted and curated data is critically important.
To make sure that Resource Watch maintains its value for its users, the World Resources Institute has a team of objective experts in charge of selecting datasets that are reliable and accurate. As such, new datasets are subject to WRI’s rigorous data collection and curation policies. Once in Resource Watch, the data is open, in addition to being able to create dashboards and perform analysis within the platform, users can download this carefully vetted data for further use, alleviating the fear, uncertainty and risk that comes with data that has not been put through such a process. The guiding principles of their Data Policy are:
As a data compendium, Resource Watch features datasets related to a wide range of topics, from natural resources, to people movement, to global commerce and trade. Many of Resource Watch’s data sources have APIs so that updates and new data can be directly updated into the platform. Alternatively, for many of their vector datasets, such as air quality observations and armed conflict alerts, the Resource Watch team has built connectors to stage the data on CARTO for visualization.
Resource Watch also uses CARTO’s SQL API, to constantly post new data to CARTO that can easily be queried and visualized on the Resource Watch website. The long term aim of the program is to continue to add more datasets every month.
The underlying infrastructure of Resource Watch is also open-source. Developers can utilize Resource Watch APIs to build and create their own custom applications, reinforcing the platform’s utility as a force for global good. WRI has provided significant API documentation and access to their source code in github. By making sure that the building blocks of Resource Watch are open-source, the World Resources Institute can foster a community that develops powerful conservation applications.
Resource Watch is a powerful and open tool, designed to democratize data access and broaden the understanding of our planet. It isn’t enough to look at a concept like global conflict, ocean health, or deforestation in isolation. In order to understand and protect our planet we need to look at the intersection of global issues to build solutions and raise awareness. Resource Watch’s curated and open data, in conjunction with their powerful technological infrastructure allows users to visualize these intersections like never before. Celebrate this Earth Day by exploring Resource Watch and learning more about our planet today.
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