Concept Note

An Open Environmental Modelling Platform

Our platform for participation

Both the NERC Strategy and Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) are encouraging environmental science communities to work more closely with each other to model and understand the environment and to make predictions upon which policy can be developed. To do this the NERC and LWEC need to change behaviours within the environmental science community and one driver for this would be the creation of an open environmental modelling platform developed by the community as a true platform for participation. The BGS Strategy “Applied Geoscience for our changing Earth” embraces the culture of collaboration and includes the development of such a modelling platform as a major initiative, together with crosscutting projects that would be used as test-beds for the validation of the platform and exemplars for the development of process models that would use the platform.

Various parts of the environmental science community are building modelling platforms to meet the specific requirements of their own communities and projects. For example the British Geological Survey has been developing GSI3D to enable the systematic production of geological framework models. This application is being used by a multinational geoscience community as evidenced by the attendees and speakers at the 2nd International Conference held in September 2008 . BGS now needs to add parameters to the modelled 3D volumes to enrich the models and improve our understanding of processes in order to make decisions about our changing environment. Furthermore we have to better understand the purpose and limitations of these models and begin to communicate their uncertainty. It is becoming clear that to do so we need work with other environmental science communities who are, or have developed independent modelling systems. Another example might be the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES), being developed for community use by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and the Met Office. At the same time for instance, to understand groundwater, as a sustainable natural resource, we need to create linkages between the 3D geological models and the groundwater models such as the ZOOM family of groundwater models. In turn we need to integrate with hydrological and meteorological models and understand predicted changes in precipitation over time. There are many other scenarios, including other variables, like ecology, socio-economics, and so on that will require linkage to these types of environmental predictive models. These models will be required for the science community and then for practitioners in governments and their regulatory agencies to provide the decision making capability to enable us to live with environmental change.

Currently all the communities’ modelling systems have a number of common issues:

  • They tend to be 'discipline based' supporting only one sphere of the environmental science community thereby not facilitating a Whole Earth Systems approach, urgently needed to tackle todays environmental challenges
  • Little consideration is given at the design stage to interfacing with other science communities, including socio-economic sciences
  • If there is a need to interface with other parts of the environmental science community the modelling platforms may need significant redesign or complex interchange formats have to be considered;
  • Often large parts of the software code produced is proprietary; and
  • Environmental Data Centres find it difficult to provide web services that meet the needs of a broad breadth of the environmental modelling community.

Initiatives such as GeoSciML. and OpenMI ,try to bridge the gap between the different modelling communities by creating common standards on data formats and ontology’s as well as publishing input/output (i/o) formats of different modelling software.

The platform would be:

  • Open;
  • Interdisciplinary;
  • Designed with interoperability at its core;
  • Standards based, building on the OGC ISO standards and others;
  • Community owned and built;
  • Free to use; and
  • Enable environmental data centres to provide appropriate web services.

Industry experience suggests that there are real advantages to open platforms. IBM was spending large sums unsuccessfully competing with the emerging Linux operating system. In 1998 they decided that they would support Linux and invest in the development.

“IBM spend about $100 million per year supporting Linux development. If the Linux community puts in $1 Billion of effort, and even half of that is useful to IBM customers, the company gets $500 million of software development for an investment of $100 million. ‘Linux gives us a viable platform uniquely tailored to our needs for 20% of the cost of a propriety operating system,’ ” says Joel Caley (IBM VP).

IBM engaged with the community at two levels, firstly by showing leadership, and secondly by doing the less glamorous activities in the Linux workflow such as promoting standards and producing documentation. In this way they gain community buy-in. The NERC could adopt this model by leading the community and encouraging the developers within NERC to do some of the less glamorous activities essential to a successful platform.

BGS’s recent experience with OneGeology suggests that such community engagement is possible and by so doing the activity becomes a focus of funding. By its formal launch in at the International Geological Congress in Oslo in September 2008 OneGeology has attracted major funding from both the EU eContentPlus Programme and the USA National Science Foundation.

BGS is keen to progress this idea with a nine month international scoping study commencing in April 2009. The results of the scoping study would be:

  • Build community engagement;
  • Articulate the vision and objectives of the open environmental modelling platform;
  • Identify any existing parallel initiatives developing around the world and seek to engage with them;
  • Identify appropriate international standards under which the platform should develop;
  • Recommend leadership framework under which the development would be steered; and
  • Identify components that need accelerated development to create a ‘critical mass’ that others can build upon.

Please add comments on this concept here.

There is also an illustrative diagram.

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