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RAVEN: Sharing air quality data across a growing number of borders

Ravn (corvus corax)
Foto: Colourbox

From the NILU Annual Report 2019: All EU countries must monitor and report air quality data to the European Environment Agency (EEA) in accordance with EU directives and standards. Every year, data on air quality zones, monitoring regimes, monitoring methods and “near real-time data” are reported, as well as environmental goals, plans and measures to comply with the limit values.

In collaboration with the EEA Topic Centre on Air Pollution, Transport, Noise and Industrial Pollution (ETC/ATNI, see also page 24), technical data reporting has been harmonised and standardised to provide targeted and reliable data related to air quality. NILU – Norwegian Institute for Air Research has continuously contributed to this development through our role in the Topic Centre, which we now lead.

Modest beginning in the Western Balkans

Among other things, the EEA is working to support the six countries that make up the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia) in their environmental efforts. In this context, NILU was in 2016 asked to contribute to the development of an open source-based system, supporting the EEA’s new mechanism for measuring and reporting air quality data.

Developing such a system requires both air quality expertise and relevant software development expertise. That is expensive, and the Western Balkan countries could not finance it on their own. The EEA initiative thus enabled them to report and share their data with the rest of the EU, via a secure and easy-to-use platform.

As the Western Balkan countries are not EU members, they currently only need to report metadata for the stations and the actual measurements to the EEA. Thus, the order NILU initially received from the EEA was to develop a database for storing metadata and air quality measurements, as well as a program that could provide an API for extracting data in the correct XML format. This was the background for the project that was given the development name RAVEN.

Western Balkans in blue

Senior system developer Christoffer Stoll at NILU was responsible for the product, and during 2017 it was installed in five of the six Western Balkan countries. Everything worked as planned, and the EEA was very pleased with the result. “Our success is due to the fact that we have created an application that is both easy to use and easy to install”, says development manager Rune Ødegård.

Ravn som flyr
Extraction of measurement data. Screenshot from the RAVEN-system.

RAVEN flies further

The success in the Western Balkans led to NILU being asked to expand the project in 2018. Now the goal was to find out how the countries of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and Armenia could share their data with the EU. The project had two parts: the first part was about providing up-to-date information on air quality systems and measurements from the countries; part two was about how the countries could share their air quality data with the EU.
“We then proposed to the EEA that RAVEN be introduced there as well, and that we should further develop the user interface for the solution”, says Ødegård. “This was agreed upon, and the extended contract with the EEA was signed in 2019.”

Ødegård goes on to say that all the countries involved wanted to use the system. Some wanted to use RAVEN in its entirety, while others, such as Georgia, integrated the solution into their existing system. They use RAVEN to report up-to-date (UTD) data to the EEA, making the data available through the EEA’s air quality index portal https://airindex.eea.europa.eu/

“NILU has a new project in place now, that includes all Western Balkan countries from the original deployment”, says Ødegård. “The plan is to expand the system to contain more data flows, so that the countries can start reporting air quality zones, monitoring regime, monitoring methods, and model data as well. Doing that, they will be in line with other EU countries regarding air quality data reports.”

Open source and GitHub

The next step for NILU is to develop an open data logger. One of the current challenges is proprietary data loggers, where users must deal with “closed” systems that are difficult to integrate. Ødegård and his colleagues want to develop an open source solution for this. That will in turn make RAVEN into a complete system that eliminates the need to handle different file formats for each monitoring station.

The RAVEN system is free and open source, but Ødegård says they plan to license it so that anyone can use it, but not sell it. Anyone who wants to can develop solutions based on RAVEN, but what is developed must be returned to the system.

In addition, NILU, together with Sweden’s Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI), plans to form an open source community for developers working on open air quality systems based on RAVEN.

RAVEN can be downloaded from NILU’s code repository: https://git.nilu.no/eea-tools/raven

<a href="https://nilu.no/en/about-nilu/annual-reports/#annual-report-2019">Read The NILU Annual Report 2019</a>