Can Data Save the Planet?

There’s no doubt that data is the core of technology advancement and one of the reasons businesses are so successful. But the question that many people are still baffled by is what exactly is big data? To answer this, big data is a term used when datasets are so large that normal processing tools cannot process it sufficiently. Some application of data processing includes engineering, munging, analysing and visualisation. So why exactly is this important to us?

To understand and grasp the importance of data we need to think about it on a much larger scale; and what could be larger and more important than our very own Planet Earth? The home to every person reading this post; every living animal; every living being. Let’s have a little think about what is harming our planet.

One important topic we can use big data to investigate is the history and future of our wildlife. As years go by more and more animals are becoming endangered species. Can data really help save what is left of our wildlife? The answer is yes! But only if we put our findings and solutions to practice.

“If we really want to try to change the world in a data-driven way, you really need to collect a lot of data” – Jorge Ahumada

Take yourself millions of years back in time and try to picture our hunter-gatherer ancestors. They had no computers, tablets or phones to keep track of everything they needed. Not even pen and paper, at that. But even way back then, they collected data on trees, roots, and animals so as to calculate which roots and plants would thrive in which season, whether they were edible or a health hazard. They collected data on animal whereabouts, their size and potential outcomes if confronted. The importance of the data they collected determined the outcome of their everyday lives and, more importantly: their survival. As evolution continued, every living creature and being on our earth evolved into better-equipped, adapted species. Clearly, then, technological advancements and the very existence of data itself is aiding humankind to win an ultimate race of life.

Maybe if we take a step back, using our advanced abilities, we can help out our fellow living creatures such as wildlife, sea life, the amazon, rainforests and inhabitants. Then we have a chance of ensuring these creatures have protection from extinction and endangerment. The most important people who have played a huge role in doing this are conservationists who have been collecting data on the natural world for years, using their analysis to make appropriate decisions to save wildlife.

Conservation International is a good example of an organisation using big data to protect nature. As Jorge Ahumada, acting executive director of the Tropical Ecology, Assessment and Monitoring Network at CI, puts it: “If we really want to try to change the world in a data-driven way, you really need to collect a lot of data.’’ By setting up cameras and traps throughout the forest, wildlife experts can capture images and movement of animals in their natural habitats to provide the kind of big data that can prove invaluable for saving our planet. However, CI has been challenged with a “mammoth big data problem”, as CI senior writer Thor Olavsrud has noted, meaning we are generating too much data to handle with up to a high of two million images of data each year. They have now joined Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) to launch Earth insights, a way to use data, science, and technology to innovatively solve the world’s “earthly challenges”. This illustrates the advancement in data analysation, and the positive change this can have on our world.

If we’re talking about saving the planet, what about climate change? If we’re talking about climate change, what about the polar bears?

There have been many talks about how severe climate change is in the Arctic. It’s alarming how fast the Arctic is warming. Almost twice the global average. This is causing the ice to disappear at a considerably fast rate and the sea levels to rise. The dangerous problems this raises is that as the ice melts, the Arctic cannot reflect heat back to space which leads to a constant increase rate of global warming.

There’s an urgent call to protect polar bears habitats. The rising temperature of our planet means the Arctic is melting, meaning polar bears are losing their homes: all as a cruel result of climate change. To help protect polar bears from endangerment, WWF and polar bear researchers have been tracking these animals for over 10 years all over the Arctic. They follow the whereabouts of these polar bears by satellite beams from the radio collars on bears necks.

The data they collect allows them to get regular updates on the behaviours and movements of polar bears. From this, they can analyse how far a polar bear travels from their homes on a daily basis and other general insights into their habits. The importance of the data collected gives scientists the privilege to know the ins and outs of life as a polar bear. In addition, scientists have been gathering data on polar bears, length, height, weight, blood, fat, hair and age when fitting the radio collars to their necks in order to monitor their health. Essentially, thus, it becomes evident just how this informative data can aid the survival of the polar bear species. The more we know about a subject; the more we can help.

It’s no secret that IoT is turning people’s heads at the speed they are growing at. They have created a smart network of micro-sensors that connects electronic devices to home appliances and industrial systems.

IOT has taken on the biggest challenge yet: the big blue ocean. Since the ocean is considered the ‘origin and engine of all life on this planet’, as the Conservation International Website describes it, and accounts for over 70% of the earth’s surface. Keeping this in mind, we should all be doing what we can to keep it safe. IOT technology has given scientist, and conservationists the ability to track endangered species by allowing them to collect and store high amounts of data. Some examples of IoT in use:

  • The implementation of tiny micro-sensors in honey bees in Australia to track their movements
  • Fisherman in the Philippines are tracking dugongs (otherwise known as sea cows) to gain data to save them from extinction
  • Tracking turtles to monitor behaviours and patterns


Up and coming technologies that are taking the world by storm are the ‘internet of underwater things’ the idea behind this is for submarine robots to ‘talk’ to each other in a similar way whales and dolphins do. The goal is to create ‘shoals of submarine drones exchanging information using sound signals similar to the way marine animals such as whales and dolphins communicate and cooperate’ (Technologist Online). Bringing IoT to the depths of the ocean would help manage marine environments, help monitor offshore oil and gas pipelines, investigate and reduces pollutants, observing marine animals and their habitats and could even detect early signs of tsunamis and other catastrophic events.

Ultimately, thus, there are still so many uncertainties and challenges that lie ahead, but one thing is for certain: data can undoubtedly save our very own planet earth.



by Chloe Ching

Posted on March 26, 2018