Study co-authored by the JRC on Next Generation Digital Earth
A recent paper, co-authored by JRC scientists and published in the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, assesses the achievement of the first generation of Digital Earth virtual globes and envisages future developments.
In 1998, the former U.S. Vice President Al Gore presented his vision for Digital Earth as a digital replica of the entire planet. In line with this vision, first generation virtual globes were developed with the aim of opening access to science to the public. Unlike geographic information systems (GIS), which have a reputation for being difficult to learn, Digital Earth implementations showed the Earth as seen from space and therefore avoided the difficulties posed by using different map projections. Since then, technological developments have made it possible to present scientific data and information for both scientific community and general public in a much easier and interactive way. This is particularly useful to illustrate and start addressing problems facing humanity, from climate change and natural disasters to warfare, hunger, and poverty.
Fourteen years later, JRC scientists and their co-authors present several suggestions to improve the next generation Digital Earth. They argue that there should be multiple connected views of Digital Earth based on open access and participation across various technological platforms to address the needs of different audiences.
The authors call for the next generation Digital Earth to support multi-disciplinary research across the social, physical, and environmental sciences, to be able to visualise complex patterns such as migration flows and sense of place, and to emphasise change (from past, to present and future) across multiple thematic areas such climate, sea-level rise and food supplies. Integrating these multiple views and the interactions across themes would allow to investigate how the Earth works and how it might evolve in the future, rather than to observe how it currently looks.
Finally, the paper states that this will require new governance models and a strengthened collaboration between the private sector, academia, non-governmental organisations, and government.