As the RNRF Board Member for SWST, I attended the RNRF Congress on Congress on Harnessing Big Data for the Environment at the American Geophysical Union Conference Facility in Washington, DC, December 5-6, 2016. The Congress brought together 54 attendees from federal agencies, associations, institutes, academia, and private companies. The subject, “Big Data”, was defined as data sets that are too large and too complex to be processed by traditional applications.

Thirteen experts gave excellent talks on a variety of aspects about big data. They explored opportunities to use big data for decision-making in natural resource management and environmental policy, and they surveyed ways big data can help facilitate effective responses to complex issues. The volume of data generated today is unprecedented compared to years past, and this volume tests our ability to refine and analyze data. The presentations ranged from challenges and limitations of applying big data for the environment, to an examination of emerging new technologies such as satellites, improved sensors, and data analysis. Other topics included data gaps to be addressed to better understand environmental indicators, and the role and capacity of the private sector to harness big data for improving the environment.

The second day of the congress featured five case studies highlighting the use of big data as decision-making tools for on-the-ground action on a global to local scale. Speakers discussed their experiences navigating the big data landscape to restore and sustain critical natural resources. Probably of most interest to SWST Members were the predicted conditions of forests and forested lands and the challenges faced in collecting, storing, and accessing high quality big data. The Congress provided a variety of perspectives on how these big data tools can be effective in decision-making and practical application?

More information can be found on the RNRF website:

Howard N. Rosen
SWST RNRF Representative