Cranfield University’s Professor Ron Corstanje and Associate Professor Steve Hallett have been co-appointed to the newly-created role of Constructing a Digital Environment Champion by the National Environment Research Council (NERC).

This prestigious appointment will see the academics lead and co-ordinate a new four-year programme on ‘Constructing a Digital Environment’, investigating the role of digital data in improving our understanding of environmental change.

NERC says that the ‘Constructing a Digital Environment’ initiative is, “one of a series of strategic programmes which are important in supporting UKRI’s (UK Research and Innovation) mission, allowing us to bring collective expertise from a wide range of disciplines and sectors to bear on addressing important matters affecting all of society. These will bring together a broad range of research disciplines, ranging from mathematics and biology to climate science and technology development, with key agencies and government departments including the Met Office, Department for Transport and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.”

Ron Corstanje, Professor of Environmental Data Science & Head of Centre for Environmental and Agricultural Informatics at Cranfield University, said: “This role will allow us to explore the potential of digital technology to generate a better understanding of the role of digital in acquiring knowledge about the environment and its response to global and local stresses and pressures. It also allows us to explore its potential to enable effective policy outcomes, such as those described in the Governments’ 25-year environmental plan, but also its disruptive capability in implementing environmental policy.”

New and advanced digital technologies have led to a rapid increase in the volume of data captured and managed daily. Advances in the global capacity for integrated monitoring, analysis, modelling and visualisation of the natural environment could be used to inform policymaking and benefit businesses, communities and individuals, allowing them to cope better with acute and long-term environmental changes, and supply intelligence to predict future events.

The programme will look at ways to develop a digitally-enabled environment benefiting from an integrated network of sensors (in situ and remote sensing based), and the process methodologies and tools for assessing, analysing, monitoring and forecasting the state of the natural environment in greater detail than has been previously possible.

Steve Hallett, Associate Professor in Environmental Informatics at Cranfield University, said: “We are both delighted to be given this opportunity to shape future thinking and planning of the natural environment through this new role. Cranfield has an established environmental background gained in more than 40 years of research.  Information held at Cranfield continues to influence land management policy nationally and internationally.”

Simon Gardner, NERC’s Head of Innovation Programmes and Partnerships, said: “Along with the other programme partners – EPSRC and DEFRA – we look forward to working with Ron and Steve in the construction of an integrated, digital picture of our natural environment. This will bring benefit to policy makers and other users by enabling better decision-making across a range of sectors, and increasing the opportunity to gain value from natural resources and mitigate environmental challenges.”

The first ‘Constructing a Digital Environment’ workshop is to be held in Manchester on the 12 March, where the 'digital environment' community including attendees from environmental science, informatics, computer science, statistics and social science, along with policymakers and businesses, are invited to develop connections and explore how environmental data can be further taken into the digital space. 

Follow the @SPFDigiEnv twitter and the NERC webpage for news on the programme.