GAIA (INCO 950809)
A Multi-Media Tool for Natural Resources Management
|Author:||K.Fedra, ESS GmbH|
Information is a key commodity for well planned,and sustainable development. Modern information technology, accessible through the rapidly growing Internet, can provide powerful tools for decision making, planning, resource management, but also training and learning, and general awareness raising.
The integration of a range of technologies and tools, and in particular, multi-media methods integrated with geographical information systems (GIS), simulation models, and expert systems, supports a new generation of powerful information and decision support systems: GAIA is a prototypical example.
The interactive nature of multi-media systems not only helps to provide easy access to environmental information and analytical tools for a broad user group; it can also support the effective training in resource management at institutions of higher and continuing education, and NGOs with an educational mission, as well as for government institutions who need to train their professional staff.
Information technology by its very nature of facilitating communication helps to promote the role of high quality research and development in the collaboration of European and DC countries, and encourage the building up and maintaining of research capacities in the DCs. The rapid development of the Internet as a cross-boundary truly international communication channel provides an attractive opportunity to build up competence and maintain multi-lateral links in the domain of development cooperation.
Finally, GAIA is firmly based on, and in fact incorporates in its hypertext data bases, the recommendations of the UNCED Rio Conference - Agenda 21. The guiding principles are taken from Chapter 40 on Information for Decision Making, that addresses issues of environmental information in particular. The recommendation to provide easy access to decision relevant environmental information is directly translated into an open Internet based environmental information system.
GAIA as a project builds on a number of precursor projects, including:
EARSS provides an easy to use, fully interactive set of tools to
define and assess state-of-the-environment indicators within an issues and
model oriented framework, based on a large volume of underlying data sets.
It supports efficient access to a very large volume of environmental and development related socio-economic data, organised by issues, geographically, or in terms of processes and models.
EARSS supports SoE Reporting in terms of issues (organised by alternative frameworks, including Agenda 21) defined in terms of a set of indicators.
As an open system, EARSS can be user configured in terms of its data and map sets, the conceptual framework for organizing and grouping indicators, the rules or models for assessment, and the entire hypertext system.
GAIA takes these ideas one important step further, by
Multi-media systems, in general, provide an interactive interface to textual
and pictorial information, based on a network (hypertext)
structure of linked components. The approach taken in the GAIA project is
based on the integration of more complex tools of assessment and analysis
such as simulation models, expert systems, and geographical information systems.
This adds a new dimension to the interactive access, since now also the
contents of the system itself and not only the navigation through the (fixed)
contents are under the interactive control of the users. In addition to
browsing through static information, users can now introduce and assess their
own assumptions, experience, and judgement to evaluate specific environmental
and resource management problems.
GAIA aims to provide innovative tools and methods to promote the conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources, compatible with long-term equitable economic growth and enhancement of productive capacity which is environmentally acceptable. At the same time, and through the methodology used to address the first objective, it aims to integrate developing countries, in particular those which have attained a higher level of development, into the global information society; to combine research skills established in developing countries institutions with their EU counterparts and to facilitate the growth of an information and communications area allowing developing countries to participate in solving their regional problems with regard to development.
In particular, its objectives are:
To improve the management of natural resources and the environment through better management and training tools, based on modern multi-media methods and wide-area networking information technology.
To develop an information network of collaborating institutions, linking European institutions with partners in a number of developing countries that have traditional or emerging ties with European countries.
To develop and disseminate, together with the partners in the DCs, a multi-media training tool with illustrative case study applications for natural resources and environmental management.
To help develop the institutional capabilities in the developing countries, both with regards to the methods, tools, and approaches used in natural resources management and the teaching of these methods, as well as with the information and networking technology required to access and disseminate resource management information.
Specific Objectives are:
To develop, in collaboration with the partners from seven developing countries, a multi-media framework and set of demonstration cases at a regional or local scale, addressing regional priority problems To implement this system at the participating institutions for both educational use and project activities, and obtain practical classroom and project experience in its application, as the basis of further, local developments.
To provide wider access, and possibilities for active contribution, to the system through a wide-area network (Internet) World Wide Web implementation.
The project has developed and implemented a multi-media software system for natural resources management and environmental education in a number of key institutions in developing countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Merging multi-media and networking technology with methods and tools such as geographical information systems (GIS), simulation models, and expert systems, proofed to be a good basis for a new generation of effective tools initially for environmental education and management training, but ultimately for natural resources and environmental planning and management.
The general information system framework provides a hierarchical structure, starting at a global geographical scale to provide context and a basis for comparative analysis at a regional and local scale; it is based on a logical framework of Issues and Indicators, with their underlying data, derived from Agenda 21. Within this geographical and conceptual framework, individual regional and local case studies, concentrating on specific priority issues, have been embedded. They use detailed regional and local data, as well as specific models to address specific priority issues of local and regional concern, linked to the global framework of Agenda 21.
Participants in the project used the overall framework to design and implement their specific case studies. Through the exchange of this material, compatible through the common framework, a rich repertoire of examples has been developed.
The case studies use hypertext descriptions with extensive imagery, including maps, satellite imagery, photographic and video material. The same multi-media interface is also used to access and exercise specific simulation models that simulate resource management WHAT-IF scenarios and a rule-based expert system for assessment and evaluation tasks, linking dynamic models into the multi-media system seamlessly.
Case studies are again structured in term of Issues (related to the Agenda 21 framework) and Indicators, linked and evaluated through the expert system and derived from underlying data bases, models, and user specifications. Using the common approach, framework and tools of the GAIA system, the project participants in the developing countries did:
The system has been implemented on the Internet, which also allowed for the near real-time communication of the development partners through the same medium. This made the the coordination and synchronization of these distributed developments into one consistent product with a common architecture feasible.
Modern information technology, and in particular, multi-media methods integrated with geographical information systems (GIS), simulation models, and expert systems, implemented and accessible via wide-area networks provide powerful tools for resource management. They can also support the training in resource management at institutions of higher and continuing education, and NGOs with an educational mission.
With the rapidly developing communication infrastructure and the ever more affordable computer and communications technology, also in developing countries, environmental information systems will provide opportunities for global integration and cooperation for researchers, educators, planners and managers in developing countries and their European counterparts.
Concentrating initially on a number of centers of excellence and primarily educational institutions in countries that have already achieved a higher level of technological development, the project hopes to achieve a multiplier effect through regional diffusion of results and the underlying technology in the medium term. A larger number of informally associated partners and users is expected to access the system trough the Internet, provide feedback, and continue to contribute case study examples, as a contribution towards the development of a global information society.
Multi-media system, in general, provide an interactive interface to textual and pictorial, and video/audio information, based on a network (hypertext) structure of linked components. The GAIA system is based on the integration of more complex tools of assessment and analysis such as simulation models, expert systems, and geographical information systems. This adds a new dimension to the interactive access, since now also the contents of the system itself and not only the navigation through the (fixed) contents are under the interactive control of the users. In addition to browsing through static information, users can now introduce and assess their own assumptions, experience, and judgement to evaluate specific environmental and resource management problems.
Environmental assessment addresses a broad range of diverse themes or topics. They need to be presented (but also compiled) within a consistent framework that ensures completeness and consistency of the information presented, both for educational as well as operational purposes. Different organizational frameworks have been developed, including:
As an inclusive combination of issues, topics or themes, resource sectors, media, and selected processes, the thirty plus chapter headings of the UNCED document Agenda 21 offer a widely accepted and well publicized framework and organizing principle. The selection and prioritisation of these issues and topics, as well as their definition in terms of measurable indicators and their linkage to the underlying data and their relationships through environmental (but also socio-economic) processes is of central importance for any flexible but comprehensive SoE reporting approach.
As an information concept, issues are loosely defined; they are described in the language of policy rather than science. Issues are not, per se, directly measurable entities, but can rather be understood as a more or less loosely coupled set of indicators and their interpretation in a broader environmental and socio-economic and political context.
Indicators , however, are representing measurable entities, which may be described on either cardinal or ordinal scales. They can directly (although potentially with rather complex and involved methods) be based on observational or derived statistical data.
ISSUES are : Policy-level questions and problems of environmental or related socio-economic nature. Issues are controversial, subject to debate, and require interpretation. Issues can be defined in terms of (usually several) INDICATORS, through explicit or implicit rules depending on context such as time, space, and a cultural and socio-political framework.
INDICATORS are : Measurable properties of the environment, defined in a spatial, temporal, and policy context. Indicators are linked to issues through subjective interpretation and complex evaluation. Indicators illustrate issues. Indicators are derived from environmental DATA by simple algorithms such as summation, averaging, interpolation, based on subjective agreements of experts or a well defined regulatory framework of environmental standards and agreements.
DATA are (or are derived from): Direct measurements and observations, possibly involving automatic conversions or interpretation, in hardware, firmware, or routine procedures, usually based on well established theory.
The central concepts in GAIA are issues and their related indicators, illustrated by specific case studies. However, given the dynamic concept of sustainable development, many common indicators are inadequate. To quote Agenda 21, from Chapter 40, section 4:
"40.4. Commonly used indicators such as the gross national product (GNP) and measurements of individual resource or pollution flows do not provide adequate indications of sustainability. Methods for assessing interactions between different sectoral environmental, demographic, social and developmental parameters are not sufficiently developed or applied. Indicators of sustainable development need to be developed to provide solid bases for decision-making at all levels and to contribute to a self-regulating sustainability of integrated environment and development systems. Indicators, to be useful, must also have a context and reference point: desirable and undesirable values or ranges, and thresholds such as standards or objectives and targets, where applicable need to be defined, so that a concrete indicator value can be interpreted in this context (provided in GAIA through one or more concrete case studies), including relationships, feedbacks, and constraints of related indicators."
As the primary dissemination medium and instrument, as well as a major project output in its own right, GAIA maintains a web server at http://www.ess.co.at/GAIA/ which is being mirrored at several partner sites. Total information content, text and imagery, of the GAIA web site currently holds a total of more than 500 MB, distributed over more than 2,100 HTML files and about 200 GIF images.
The GAIA Web Site at http://www.ess.co.at/GAIA/ has been extremely popular with the international research community, but also with commercial and governmental organizations as well as private users. From January 1997 to July 1998, the GAIA server was accessed more than 600,000 times (number of GAIA pages viewed) in more than 70,000 individual sessions, by users from 115 countries. Requests to the GAIA server increased fourfold in the period January-July 1998 compared to the same period of the previous year. See details in Annex 2.
This all by itself represents a major success for the project and the worldwide dissemination of its results.
GAIA incorporates a number of case studies from the participating institutions. Each case study is meant to illustrate a set of issues, related to the structure of Agenda 21. Adding concrete examples to a general and global framework not only provides useful detail and concrete material, it also helps to communicate the breadth and depth of environmental problems by adding this geographical and national dimension.
Using the same structure for the presentation of the case studies supports comparison across regions and across issues.
The case studies have been chosen
Please see Annex 1: GAIA Case Studies for a more detailed illustration of the current set of GAIA case studies.
The Case Studies currently include:
The case study tries to evaluate potential measures for the control of
tuberculosis in urban centers. The objective is to answer questions like :
Is there a connection between the time and frequency of the public transportation system and the spread of tuberculosis ? or
Can we predict the number of new tuberculosis cases by the year ?
The case study includes a JAVA interface to the integrated
dynamic epidemiological model. The model is based
on studies by Castillo-Chavez and Feng with features that allow
for the incorporation of drug resistance as well as the evaluation of the
role of exogenous re-infection. The JAVA model interface consists of interactive
forms for data entry and a line graph tool for the display of model results.
Both the user interface and the model itself are written in JAVA and executed
by the browser software on the users side of the system.
There are very limited data available that describe the
current and historic situation of air quality in the City of Buenos
Aires. This makes it difficult to develop an air quality simulation
system and to define mitigation measures for zones of high air pollution.
This case study tries to develop a solution to the problem that does not rely on historical air pollution data.
It is shown that air pollution does not depend only on the level of emissions, but also on other urban and meteorological aspects that can increase or decrease contaminant concentrations in the air. The study applies risk indices to perform a air pollution risk assessment for Buenos Aires. These risk indices combine urban topography with meteorological variables as indicators of the atmosphere's capacity to dilute contaminants.
The case study also contains a JAVA interface for the ISC air pollution
model where the user is able to scroll to the area of interest on a
large background map. He may define the size of the model grid, zoom in or
out, and edit model parameters such as wind-speed, wind direction, and the
strength of the emission modeled.
The Mexican case study (Energy Use and Atmospheric Urban Pollution) features several chapters including numerous images and links to a number of Mexican government agencies. The case study includes the following chapters:
The study contains chapters with detailed description of the natural setting of the case study area, the industrial and environmental structure of the area, and the methodology of the decision support system used. An interactive slide-show was added to display numerous photographs of the Guilin region.
In addition, a complex multi-criteria decision support system was implemented.
The system is accessible via JAVA applets that contain multiple interactive
data entry forms, bar and pie charts for data display, and embedded algorithms.
The system allows for variable and index selection, display of alternatives,
simulation of alternatives with feasibility analysis and analysis comparison.
At the moment, the system is only accessible through the case study page
on the Chinese server.
The study has primarily concentrated on data collected for Thailand, in collaboration with UN EAP. The case study report contains articles on the following topics:
The Spanish version of the Venezuela case study
covers among other topics the detailed information
about the study area, the Caparo Forest Reserve, numerous photos, satellite
images and maps, and detailed descriptions of ecological forestry models.
A detailed description of the geographical, political and cultural background
as well as the description of scenarios for sustainable land-use management
comprise the Zimbabwe case study. The case study report contains
sections describing the methodology of the SAVANNA Landscape and Regional
The Egyptian case-study examines the impact of global warming and the resulting rise in sea levels on the coastal areas of Egypt. The case study report contains satellite photos and maps.
During the second year of the GAIA project, a new case-study was added:
The study describes and compares urban development in six large and small Indian cities: Bombay, Calcutta, Ludhiana, Madras, New Delhi, and Roorkee.
After a description of the geographical and historical setting of each cities
listed above, the study focuses on specific environmental problems, such
as air and ground water pollution, waste management problems, and
To support the selection and integration of simulation and forecasting models
into the GAIA system a model data base has been established and put on the
GAIA server at
The model database covers in different degrees the domain of environmental problems and tries to complement what is already available on the web. Each model description is complemented by a set of references, which indicate both the relevant literature for the development of the model and studies in which the model has been applied. These represent the best indications to understand if the model can also be applied in other situations.
Models in the following areas are covered:
The model database has been implemented in HTML as a complement to the information already present in the WWW, more suited to the needs of the GAIA users. The model database can be accessed by model names and is ordered by application domain. It presently contains short descriptions and availability information of some 70 environmental models.
The application is a true client server application, i.e. the JAVA client on the Internet browser directly communicates with the air pollution model on the ESS web server.
Buenos Aires Epidemiological Model
The Buenos Aires epidemiological model is based on model developed by Castillo-Chavez and Feng. It includes features to allow for the incorporation of drug resistance as well as the evaluation of the role of exogenous re-infection.
The JAVA interface consists of data-input forms and interactive line graphs for display of the model results. In this application, both the user interface and the model algorithms are written in JAVA language and executed on the client system.
Guilin Case Study Multi-criteria Decision Support System
A complex multi-criteria decision support system was implemented for the Guilin case study. The JAVA applet consists of multiple tables for data entry, charts and embedded algorithms. Various screens allow for variable selection, display of alternatives, alternative simulation, feasibility analysis, analysis comparison and index selection.
In addition to the Internet system also a workstation version for local area networks has been implemented. This system provides access to more sophisticated analysis and visualization functions based on X11 graphics which require high-bandwidth network connections currently only available on local area networks.
The workstation version is installed at all partner institutions on compatible hardware acquired as part of the project. The workstation version also provides access to the full on-line WWW data through an embedded web browser, combining the features of both implementations of GAIA.
The slide show describes the elements of the system step by step, using screendumps to illustrate all major functions and the underlying data bases of the system.
Both the Internet and the local workstation based system are now being used at all DC partners institutions and the Internet system gets more than 200.000 hits a year on the main server at ESS alone.
For the Internet community, we can take the very large number (more than 500,000) of visits to the GAIA site as proof that the system offers something useful; we have also received a few communications from users expressing their appreciation, and also enquiring about the possibilities to join that project in some form.
For the demonstration and teaching activities, the usual reaction were very positive, but in many cases with a number of caveats. These include:
In general, we feel that it is somewhat early to provide any more detailed analysis of socio-economic impacts of the project at this point in time. Due to its very nature, impacts of GAIA are long-term impacts that need to trickle down from the educational system to actual field applications.
However, since many of the teaching applications are for continuing rather than student education, these effects can be expected to be much faster than in the normal educational system: many of the participants in these continuing education courses are professionals in government agencies that have a direct influence on the environmental policies of their respective countries.
However, it is apparent even at this stage that the project has:
Provided a considerable positive effect for the DC academic institutions by adding a new level of quality to both their teaching and applied project capabilities; it thus has promoted the role of high quality research and development in international cooperation;
This successful and high-profile research has encouraged scientific collaboration between the DC and European partners, best exemplified through the preparation of a number of joint projects for future funding opportunities;
Demonstrated the capabilities of European research teams in a domain that in many countries is viewed as a US American or Japanese stronghold;
Raised the level of awareness about sustainable development issues, both environmental and socio-economic, in the target audience;
Opened the possibilities for a number of derived projects where GAIA is used as a proof of qualification as well as a tool for the actual analytical work; project discussions and preparations for derived studies based on GAIA are underway in Argentina and Egypt.
Results of GAIA are being incorporated in projects that are underway in Thailand, China, and Zimbabwe;
Directly contributed to the implementation of the recommendations of the Rio 92 Conference, UNCED Agenda 21, and in particular its Chapter 40 on Information for Decision Making.
Designed for a 30 months duration, and funded at a level of 700,000 ECU, the project falls under two sectors of the INCO Work Programme:
The Internet as well as the workstation system are currently being used at all DC partners institutions and the Internet system gets more than 100.000 hits a year on the main server alone - documenting a world wide interest in GAIA.
With the development phase of GAIA being completed, the next step will focus
on the commercial exploitation of the project. A survey carried out by ICCE
provided initial market information and found that there is considerable interest
in GAIA, particularly among academic institutions and NGOs in developing
See http://www.ess.co.at/GAIA/Reports/icce_rc.html for the Questionnaire Response Report.
With the considerable set of countries (the 7 DC partners: Argentina, China, Egypt, Mexico, Thailand, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, plus two more associated countries, South Africa and India) GAIA provides a unique opportunity to draw some comparative conclusions:
As expected, many small problems of a more administrative and technical nature were encountered, but always solved within a reasonable time; surprisingly enough, there was no consistent pattern emerging between or within the EU and DC groupsd of partners;
While there are obvious cultural differences between the countries involved, the shared culture of professional academics and researchers provided a common understanding, language, and ultimately compatible problem solving strategies that enabled the large and diverse project team to work efficiently towards a common goal.
Despite a tight management structure, progress, as usual in international collaboration projects, was at times slow. While all Project Milestones were met, a longer project duration of a minimum of three, and up to five years, for this type of international research and development project can be recommended.
While the level of technological development scross the seven DC partner countries certainly differs considerably, e.g., between Argentina and Zimbabwe) the differences within the project team were small, largely because the partners were all drawn from advanced centers of excellence within their respective countries. They all had experience in international collaboration.
Technological problems with computer hardware and Internet access also turned out to be no obstacler; here the decision to buy, and implement a common computer platform as a workstation and web server across the project proved very helpful.
As a product that can be licensed rather than as a tool that can be used for teaching, training, and consultancy, GAIA can develop in the following directions:
A generic environmental information system, e.g., for state-of-the-environmental reporting, primarily targeted at national and regional government;
As a generic environmental assessment tool, e.g., for Environmental Impact Assessment projects (one such concrete development step is currently underway in collaboration between ESS and the University of Alexandria, Egypt); this can be targeted both at public institutions (national, regional, large cities) as well as at larger industrial enterprises; an additional potential market here are environemtal consultants and engineering bureaus.
A teaching tool both for academic and continuing education applications;
As an on-line (Internet) information service for a fee.
GAIA as a product along any one of these potential lines of development must address a number of issues and constraints.
The market for the environmental management and decision support systems as described above includes both public institutions (such as larger cities subject to the Air Quality Framework Directive (96/62/EC, or its respective national counterpart in countries outside the EU) or the competent authorities of the Seveso Directive (96/82/EC, or its respective national counterpart in countries outside the EU), environmental consultants and industry, and finally academic institutions.
These are, with few expections, low-technology and low-budget institutions, especially in developing countries.
The exploitation of the project results involves several steps: first, a marketable product version of the project results has to be developed. This requires additional investment, but is a necessary condition for marketing.
These developments include:
For GAIA, there is also the problem to adapt a high-tech product to a low-tech market such as governmental and academic institutions in developing couintries.
Since, however, the high-tech elements constitute the main innovation and the intrinsic value of the product this must be based on a flexible strategy of scalable implementation and a modular system with optional add-on components.
Scalability here refers to several related domains: systems must be available in a modular structure, with a low-cost entry level set of tools, that can be gradually expanded with optional components, e.g., starting with basic data bases, GIS< and analytical functions, simple screening level models and moving (eventually) to full-featured 3D dynamic codes.
The same applies for hardware: offering low-cost entry level hardware configurations with smooth upgrade pathes for increasing computational performance depending on the number of users, data volumes, and complexity of models that preserve customer investments is essential:
And finally, a low-cost entry level must also be available in terms of data requirements. In many situations, data availability is the most expensive constraint on the efficient use of information technology based solutions. Clearly, these three aspects of scalability are tightly related.
In parallel to the final product development, first marketing efforts are being based on
A core element of the marketing strategy for any one of the licened software products foreseen above is to build a network of international partners (which may go beyond the original project participants which of course have a right of first refusal in their respective countries and regions) to market GAIA as a product/service in different countries.
As so called VARs (Value Added Resellers) the partners, including first of all the project participants, will undertake targeted marketing campaigns in their respective countries. As a first example of this approach, a marekting agreement between ESS and the University of Belgrano, Buenos Aires, Argentina, has been prepared for the MERCOSUR countries.
As an on-line information service, GAIA can be marketed for subscribers world wide. The system can be made accessible by domain (e.g., universities) on an annual subscription basis; a moderate annual subscription rate should at the one hand attract a larger number of instaitutions, also in developing countries, and at the other hand recover the operational expenditures and upkeep of the web server version.
The on-line GAIA information service can be targeted primarily at Universities, world wide, but also at any other governmental institution or NGOs with an environmental interest/mission as well as training needs.
As a first step, addresses of Universities and in particular those that have been accessing the system frequently, will be collected world wide, starting with on-line registered users. Further, the web access log of frequent users of the GAIA server will be exploited to extract e-mail addresses of frequent users.
On the basis of that information:
Depending on the response to the mailing campaign
the following steps will be taken:
Access restriction to data base levels with the exception of a few generic and updated examples, e.g., case-study countries will be introduced, with aces being restricted to subscribers;
Clean-up of the basic system structure, additional links, external references, etc.
Development of data base cgi programs for population development, indicator comparison across countries, time series, and statistical analysis, country comparison, etc. as well as interfaces to additional simulation models;
Expansion/updates with new material (e.g., environmental regulations, additional case studies and more didactic material including on-line multiple choice test)
Environmental Software & Services GmbH,
ESS GmbH (Project Coordinator)
Kalkgewerk 1, PO Box 100
A-2352 Gumpoldskirchen, AUSTRIA
Tel: +43 2252 63305, Fax: +43 2252 633059
Lothar Winkelbauer: email@example.com
International Centre for Conservation Education,
GL54 5TZ Guiting Power, Gloucestershire, UNITED KINGDOM
Tel: +44 1451 850777, Fax: +44 1451 850705
Philip Steele: firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Mannis, University of Ulster email@example.com
Politecnico di Milano, ITALY
Universidad de Belgrano, Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA
Tsinghua University, Beijing, CHINA
University of Alexandria, EGYPT
University of Mexico, MEXICO
Asian Institute for Technology, Bangkok, THAILAND
Universidad de los Andes, Mérida, VENEZUELA
University of Zimbabwe, Harare, ZIMBABWE