Promoting synergy in the innovative use of environmental
data—Workshop summary

Open-File Report 2018-1104
Prepared in cooperation with NatureServe
By: , and 



From December 2 to 4, 2015, NatureServe and the U.S. Geological Survey organized and hosted a biodiversity and ecological informatics workshop at the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. The workshop objective was to identify user-driven future directions and areas of collaboration in advanced applications of environmental data applied to forecasting and decision making for the sustainability of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Substantial effort to recruit attendees from diverse Federal, State, and private sector organizations successfully attracted participants from 20 Federal agencies and 48 different institutions in the academic, nonprofit, State government, and commercial sectors; the total number of attendees ranged from 100 to 144 during the 3-day workshop. The first one-half of the workshop was divided into 7 plenary sessions and 3 sets of lightning talk sessions organized by sector, providing 48 oral and visual plenary presentations that shared diverse perspectives on biodiversity and ecological informatics, including original biospatial analyses from 6 graduate student map contest winners. The second one-half of the workshop focused on 10 breakout sessions with participant-driven themes from the environmental data sphere and concluded with an address by the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The workshop was structured to encourage interactivity. About 80–90 percent of attendees provided direct feedback using clicker devices for specific questions related to biodiversity and ecological data uses and needs, and 10 breakout session leaders shared the highlights of their group discussions during the final workshop plenary sessions. Participants were encouraged to use the Twitter hashtag #ShareUrData. Over lunch on day 2 there were 20 simultaneous presentations of tools and apps during a special “Tools Café” session.

The 10 participant-defined breakout session topics are listed below:

  • Ecosystem services and ecological indicators
  • Inventory and monitoring
  • Biogeographic map of the Nation
  • Pollinators
  • Invasive species
  • Remote sensing
  • Drivers of agricultural change
  • Citizen science
  • Climate
  • Hydrology and watersheds

Numerous common themes that emerged from the workshop include the following:

  • The vital importance of completing foundational environmental datasets that are nationally consistent and are essential to multiple sectors, such as the Soil Survey Geographic database high-resolution soils data, a minimum 5-meter resolution digital elevation model, national hydrographic data, high-resolution land cover data, time series high-resolution spatial climate data from historical to future time steps, and a national wetland inventory.
  • Improved, nationally consistent environmental datasets (integrated with targeted observations) will dramatically advance forecasting capacity and support early warning systems (that is, drought, forest disease); however, multiagency coordination should focus on decision support tools that convey appropriate actions and responses to adapt to, and mitigate, potential negative consequences.
  • Digitizing and providing access to the vast stores of underused historical data that can be leveraged for this purpose is of national importance. Modern computational techniques and the ever-increasing flow of environmental data from ground and remote observations can support improved understanding of environmental change. Success of understanding patterns of change for decision making requires establishing baselines from which change can be measured. The value of digitized historical data is greater than ever before.
  • There is a need to recognize the multifaceted potential of citizen science to engage the public in resource stewardship, to create the next generation of science, technology, engineering, math, and environmental leaders, and to have sufficient field personnel to monitor environmental trends, including early detection of alien invasive species, phenological shifts, shifting distribution and abundance of indicator species, and species inventories. The Federal government has an essential role in creating the infrastructure to dramatically improve mobilization of citizen science (and other) data by fostering the following: creation of data standards, creation of nationally consistent framework datasets, vertical integration of observation data, visualization and dissemination of aggregated datasets, and calculation and communication of derived trends.
  • Current and near future trends in the availability of remotely sensed data (rapid expansion of satellite fleets and drones) is revolutionizing access to near-real-time ecological data. Targeted integration with ground-based observations and instrumentation has an extremely valuable role in validating remotely sensed data, filling data gaps, improving data quality, and fully realizing the potential of the near-real-time monitoring of environmental indicator trends.
  • Integrated management of environmental data at the landscape scale is required even as specific actions on the ground are largely local in nature. The workshop highlighted numerous success stories; however, almost every breakout group pointed out the still-too-fragmented nature of the current data landscape.
  • Management and delivery of the necessary data, tools, and analyses to sustain our Nation’s environmental capital must be a collaborative effort between Federal, State, and local governments, academia, nonprofits, and the commercial sector, even though the responsibilities of each sector are different.

Suggested Citation

Hamilton, H., Guala, G.F., and Simpson, A., 2018, Promoting synergy in the innovative use of environmental data—Workshop summary: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2018–1104, 52 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Summary of Plenary Sessions
  • “Take Homes” from the Breakout Sessions
  • Student Projects
  • Summary and Conclusions
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Seven Questions for Every Breakout Session
  • Appendix 2. Tools Café Program
  • Appendix 3. List of Participants of the Biodiversity and Ecological Informatics Workshop, December 2–4, 2015
  • Appendix 4. Questionnaire Results
  • Appendix 5. Social Media Posts

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Promoting synergy in the innovative use of environmental data—Workshop summary
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2018-1104
DOI 10.3133/ofr20181104
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Core Science Analytics and Synthesis
Description vii, 51 p.
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N