iEnvironment: A next-generation research platform for water research

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Researchers, government agencies, private sector companies, and civil society organizations routinely collect environmental data to understand better how our world is changing and to predict what is likely to happen in the future. With no standard storage repository, researchers often duplicate data collection efforts and do not benefit from the insights afforded by historical data.

In response, a research team at UW have developed iEnvironment, a research software platform for storing and sharing vast amounts of data on many different aspects of the environment related to fresh surface water. The team has received substantial financial support from CANARIE (>$900K) to develop and enhance iEnvironment.

Don Cowan
The team is led by Water Institute member Don Cowan, Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Mathematics David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science. The detailed design and implementation is primarily provided by Doug Mulholland of UW and Les Stanfield a retired Ontario Government fisheries biologist with input from many different environmental organizations and research scientists.

Don Cowan, Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Mathematics David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science

The iEnvironment platform can be leveraged to support a wide range of research initiatives in such areas as climate change, natural storm management, biodiversity, water pollution prevention, and water level management. It has been used to create the Flowing Waters Information System (FWIS), a data repository on the quality of flowing freshwater or “wade-able” streams in Ontario. Hundreds of thousands of data records on channel morphology, water quality, wildlife health, and other indicators, collected since the late 1800s and held in various locations, are now centrally located in this one repository, and made available to many different government and research organizations.

Researchers who use iEnvironment for data collection, processing, and storage can cut the time to complete many important studies by half, creating a significant gain in productivity and allowing researchers and engineers more time to focus on using the data to answer complex questions about environmental change and develop mitigation strategies. An important component of the iEnvironment system is an ability for authorized users to create and manage their own data, both structured (i.e., tabular) data and unstructured (e.g., photos, documents, collections). iEnvironment/FWIS provides rich, context-based metadata with advanced search capabilities and was recently selected for funding and membership in the CoreTrustSeal Certification Support Cohort by NDRIO-Portage.

The iEnvironment team is aiming to get more researchers using the platform, while working diligently to capture historical data, as a large number of researchers approach retirement age or move on to new responsibilities. The software toolkit used to develop the iEnvironment platform is evolving to support new teams of researchers and practical applications, some in completely different disciplines such as:

VolunteerAttract – an organization that develops software to promote volunteerism and facilitate community engagement. – an online resource built on a community-based version of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing that tracks the wellbeing of communities in the Perth and Huron areas of southwestern Ontario.

For more information on the software, visit the platform’s  CANARIE website or the CANARIE iEnvironment page.

iEnvironment platform

iEnvironment platform