The Problem: The Effects of Climate Change on Your Doorstep
As Earth’s climate continues to warm, a new pattern of more frequent and intense weather events is unfolding around the world. This has led to longer periods of heat and drought, which in turn is having an impact on the environment that is being felt everywhere, from forests to farmer’s fields and even our own back gardens.
While we can all see some clear changes taking place, do we really understand the impact that the changing weather conditions are having on the green spaces that we value so highly, especially throughout the extended pandemic lockdown?
“The best way to truly understand how heatwaves and droughts are effecting our communities is by studying local data from fine-mazed networks,” explained Jonas Lembrechts scientifically responsible for CurieuzeNeuzen, a new project led by the University of Antwerp that is currently taking place across Flanders in Belgium.
“CurieuzeNeuzen is about examining the effects that changing weather conditions are having on Flanders and capturing variations across different areas so we can track the whole region. To do this, we needed help from our local community to access hard to reach and private green areas.”
The Solution: Data Driven Gardening
The University of Antwerp launched CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin or, ‘Curious Noses in the Garden’, in April 2021. Running for six months, CurieuzeNeuzen is one of the largest user-driven research projects ever conceived, with around 5,000 citizens in Flanders logging and analysing data insights and updates to understand the effects of climate change in their own gardens.
Funded by the Flemish Government in partnership with telecom provider Orange, Rabobank, VITO, The Flemish Environmental Society, De Standaard, the Flemish Government, Bio-Planet, iFLUX, DPD, Aquafin, Natuurpunt and embedded analytics company, Cumul.io, the project has seen the deployment of thousands of IoT sensors, known as ‘Garden Daggers’, across each of its citizen scientists’ gardens to measure everything from soil temperature and humidity through to surface and air temperatures and the impact on the lawn its planted in.
The CurieuzeNeuzen-sensors are based on an existing TMS-4 sensor from TOMST, a Czech company famous within the scientific microclimate community for its highly reliable and robust sensors. The main difference from similar projects being that the CurieuzeNeuzen-daggers connect to an Orange Narrowband 4G Internet of Things network to map the local effects of large-scale weather events on the gardens across Flanders. With the old TMS-4 sensors, researchers had to read the data manually with a cable.
Gert Pauwels, Head of IoT & M2M & Big Data & Innovation at Orange Belgium, explains, “The environment and energy transition are a major priority for us. We are making the measurement network smart, so that the data is immediately available to the scientists. For this we use our specific new narrow band IoT network. We have provided space in the national 4G network to send data in a battery-friendly way. In plain language: we have stripped everything we don’t need to leave a network that is as pure and energy-friendly as possible.”
All 5,000 citizen scientists remotely access and interact with the data through their own Cumul.io embedded analytics dashboard, which displays visualisations such as the highest and lowest measured soil temperature, air temperatures and soil humidity. In addition to sharing this data with the CurieuzeNeuzen project team, each citizen scientist can view and understand the statistics of their individual garden, as well as comparing their garden’ soil temperature and moisture levels with other participants and the rest of the community through social media.
Interacting and engaging with data
Project participants have been able to observe and interact with their garden data to analyse both the effects of changing weather conditions and their individual gardening decisions. Although early days, in the short time since the project started, the findings have contrasted with the initial assumption that inner city gardens would be worst affected by changing weather conditions, due to the built-up nature of cities causing hot air to get trapped and creating ‘urban heat islands ‘.
However, due to the design of these inner-city gardens, which are often smaller and shadier, they are naturally cooler on sunny days and thus less impacted by hotter weather. This kind of unexpected insight gives citizens a clear outline of how their gardens conditions can be both improved and worsened under these conditions.
Data for all of us
The study has shown that participants love interacting with their real time data. For example, many of the participants engage with the interactive map of Flanders or share their dashboards on social media. This has created a vast network of citizen scientists all sharing details and insights, allowing the project to reach a huge audience across Belgium including many who are interested in following issues around climate change, and enthusiastic green (and curious) nosed gardeners who want to create a healthy garden.
“The ease at which citizens have been able to access and use this data is a real-life showcase that you don’t need to be a data scientist to be able to engage with understandable, actionable data,” says Karel Callens, CEO and Founder of Cumul.io. “We are excited to be part of a project that shows the power of data to make an impact on how we can all better deal with the effects of increasingly hot and dry summers.”
Given the success and engagement around the project, the University of Antwerp – who previously ran a citizen science project into large-scale air quality mapping of NO2 concentrations – hopes to see the project repeated in different areas, regions and countries, to collect valuable data and gain further insight into the environmental impacts on the world’s green spaces.