Environmental Data Infrastructures

Major investments are being made in environmental data collection efforts to identify pollutant sources and characterize environmental impacts and harms. Effective responses to climate change and environmental justice issues, however, require us to go beyond data collection. We need tools to help us share, access, understand, and use data to inform environmental governance decisions, as well as to facilitate communication between communities, researchers, and regulators. Furthermore, centering justice in environmental monitoring and action requires approaches and infrastructure that avoid reproducing exploitative relationships typical of scientific research and data collection projects in frontline communities where environmental racism has historically played out.

In response, we are building social and digital infrastructure to facilitate the exchange of environmental information and expand the environmental data commons by ensuring that this data is open, accessible, understandable, and actionable to those most impacted by climate change and environmental pollution. The infrastructure of this project has three major components: (1) workshops for researchers, students, and government staff on managing, sharing, and using properly contextualized environmental data; (2) a Data Facilitators Consortium to strengthen connections between community priorities, local tribal government, and technical open science expertise; and (3) an online resource hub containing data, training, and policy resources designed by and for the community.

In 2023 and 2024, we will embark on a process to collaboratively design and test this infrastructure in Utqiagvik, Alaska—the ancestral home of the Iñupiat, and one of the most affected frontline communities with respect to the ongoing climate crisis. Our hope is that this infrastructure will support climate researchers in sharing environmental data collected in the Arctic in ways that are open, actionable, responsible, and appropriately contextualized. We also aim to support local community members, Iñupiaq tribal officials, and government agencies in understanding and using environmental data to inform adaptation and mitigation measures, and advocate for climate resilience and infrastructure funding from federal programs. In the longer-term, we hope to shift environmental data collection practices away from extraction, as well as coordinated federal climate action toward contextualized and community-centered approaches. We also hope to apply lessons and tools from this work in other communities.