Progress in accessing environmental data and information

Integrative commentary
Department of the Environment and Heritage
prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2006

Future initiatives

A large number of initiatives for the collection, collation, processing and sharing of environmental data are presently underway in Australia and are expected to come to fruition in the next five years. Some of these are highlighted below, but there are potentially many more such projects that other stakeholders are developing. All of them could have positive outcomes for state of the environment reporting.

National Data Network

A good example of how agencies holding disparate datasets could cooperate to provide an integrated data management system is the National Data Network  (NDN), which has been developed by ABS in collaboration with Department of Transport and Regional Services, AGIMO, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Research Alliance For Children And Youth, Centrelink, CSIRO, the New South Wales Department of Health, and the Queensland Office of Economic and Statistical Research.

The NDN will create a distributed library of statistical data holdings that are relevant to policy analysis and research. Like the ASDD, the NDN will provide a catalogue of available data sources to allow users to easily search for and access data that remain held and controlled by the custodian organisations. The purpose of the NDN is to promote stronger integration of data by providing access to metadata, standards and guidelines, and to do so in ways that meet custodian obligations to maintain confidentiality, protect intellectual property and comply with privacy principles.

ABS Statistical Geographies

ABS continues to work on improving the relevance of census and agricultural census data to both government and industry users. The recent ‘Mesh Blocks’ project is a practical initiative towards facilitating the spatial application of statistical data for natural resource management and environmental monitoring. Mesh Blocks offer more detailed geographic units that aggregate and align more closely with administrative, social, economic and environmental boundaries while preserving confidentiality.

ABS and BRS are also trialing the functionality of the ‘land parcel’ survey method as an alternative spatial, land-based area framework for natural resource surveys that facilitates better spatial outputs at the sample design stage.

National Water Initiative

The National Water Initiative, established under the Council of Australian Governments in June 1994 has responsibility for a number of key areas that will be critical to water reform:

  • water access entitlements and a planning framework
  • water markets and trading
  • best practice water pricing
  • integrated management of water for environmental and other public benefit outcomes
  • water resource accounting
  • urban water reform
  • knowledge and capacity building
  • community partnerships and adjustment.

To implement the water reform agenda, the National Water Commission has contracted a consortium to undertake a Baseline Water Resources Assessment that will support the work on water reform.

Water 2010

The Bureau of Rural Sciences’ Water 2010 project is developing an interactive website and CD-ROM to enable users to explore factors influencing Australia’s dynamic water balance. The Water 2010 project applies a land use mapping approach to show how and where water is generated and used including runoff, transpiration, irrigation and groundwater. The website will be integrated with a national water database maintained by state and territory and Australian Government agencies and dynamically updated to ensure the most current data are available.

National Agricultural Monitoring System

The National Agricultural Monitoring System (NAMS) is being developed by BRS to streamline the exceptional circumstances (drought relief) application and assessment processes. The proposed website will provide maps, graphs and reports to demonstrate the production situation for major agricultural systems, as well as the state of their climatic drivers. NAMS will contain current and historical data on measured and modelled agricultural production, financial impacts, remote sensing and climate. Collectively, the information in the NAMS will show conditions for production and prospects for dryland and broadacre agricultural systems.

Australian Soil Resource Information System

The Australian Soil Research Information System (ASRIS) is a product of the Australian Collaborative Land Evaluation Program (ACLEP), which is jointly funded by CSIRO Land and Water and the Natural Heritage Trust. ASRIS will provide the best available information on soil and land resources across Australia in a consistent format. The programme entrains significant contributions from all state, territory and Australian government agencies that are involved in land resource assessment. The goal of ACLEP is to enable natural resource management in Australia to be undertaken with an appropriate land resource information base to generate economic and environmental benefits.

Australia’s Resources Online

The objective of the Australia’s Resources Online (ARO) project is to provide a dynamic, online application to report on the condition and trend of the land, water and biological resources in Australia using interoperable, authoritative data sources. ARO is a cooperative project being undertaken by the Audit through the ERIN.

The innovative concept of the ARO application is to allow custodians from jurisdictional agencies to deliver web services that are based on agreed theme-based schemas and interoperability standards. The products are then accessed through the ARO application to deliver a collated view, thus eliminating the need for centralised national collations. The complexity of the system lies in the application technology and design as there are a number of issues to consider. These include effective delivery of data for use at regional to national scales, performance issues related to large volumes of data, access to previous datasets for enabling trend analysis, and the continual availability of online data services. Institutional arrangements are also being facilitated to develop agreed standards and capacity to deliver services.

Australian Collaborative Land Use Mapping Program

The Australian Collaborative Land Use Mapping Program (ACLUMP) is a coordinated and cooperative effort between various state, territory and Australian government agencies to promote the development of nationally consistent information about land use and land management. This is a vast improvement on previous approaches, which were independent of each other and used a range of scales and a variety of cartographic methods and classification systems.

ACLUMP delivers a number of key benefits, including nationally consistent land use mapping coverage for Australia at both continental and catchment scales, a national information system for land management practices, agreed national technical standards including the Australian Land Use and Management Classification, a national land use data directory, and the maintenance of land use datasets on Australian, state and territory government data repositories, and regional and national reporting of land use and land management practices. An interactive website has been proposed to replace the CD-ROM ‘Land Use Mapping for Australia’ that is currently available to the public and land use managers.

Air quality database

The State of Air Quality database will compile state and territory data on measured levels of air toxic and criteria air pollutants in a consistent and therefore comparable format for the whole of Australia. The database will be a welcome step in accessing nationally consistent air quality trend data: the only information that is currently reported is exceedances of standards rather than actual trends in air quality. Development will be promoted through a Memorandum of Understanding between DEH, the Bureau of Meteorology and the National Environment Protection Council Service Corporation.

OZCAM Australia’s Fauna

The Online Zoological Collections of Australian Museums (OZCAM) ‘Australia’s fauna’ website  will provide an online, distributed network of databases containing information about the faunal collections held in Australian museums and other institutions such as CSIRO. The portal is being designed to parallel the query network that Australia’s Virtual Herbarium provides for flora collections, and it is currently in a ‘proof of concept’ stage of operation. OZCAM is being funded through contributions from participating institutions and the DEH.

Australian and Global Biodiversity Information facilities

The Global Biodiversity Information Facility  (GBIF) is an international non-profit organisation that is working towards free and universal Internet access to the world’s store of primary data about biodiversity, which are currently held in natural history collections, libraries, databases and other institutions around the world. The GBIF prototype data portal (a work in progress) currently provides access to checklists of species names and allows for searching of specimens and observations held in distributed databases. GBIF will also offer a range of analytical tools for interrogation of the data such as the Biodiversity Assessment Tool, which can be used to detect biodiversity hot spots. The Australian Biodiversity Information Facility  (ABIF), managed through the ABRS, will provide the gateway for real-time access to Australian biodiversity data. ABIF functions as the Australian node of GBIF.

Ocean Portal Project

The National Oceans Office’s Oceans Portal Project involves the development of three distinct and physically separate components: a web-based portal, a marine catalogue and a network of interoperable service and content providers. The Oceans Portal is the interface that will allow users to discover and access information and data, and create and manipulate maps online from distributed sources using international standards. Data sources will include the National Oceans Office, CSIRO Marine Research, Geoscience Australia, the Royal Australian Navy, Australian Antarctic Division, Bureau of Meteorology, BRS, OZCAM, DEH and the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences.