“Steps to the digital Silk Road” Published in Nature


     In the newly released Nature, CAS Academician Prof. GUO Huadong(HIST director) from the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth (RADI) published a comment titled “Steps to the digital Silk Road”, in which he invites more natural and social scientists to further promote the sharing of big data from satellite imagery and other Earth observations, so as to build a digital Silk Road and support the sustainable development of the region.
     This is the first time that Nature has published a Chinese scientist’s comment on the Belt and Road. It is a reflection of the recent growing interest among the international scientific community towards the Belt and Road, an initiative launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.
     In the article, Prof. Guo gives a detailed analysis of the challenges that the Belt and Road region faces, including environmental change, food security, natural hazards, urban sprawl, and world heritage protection. He also states four main obstacles to a strategy on big Earth data for the Belt and Road region: poor access to data; the digital divide between developed and developing countries; lack of awareness among some policymakers, local scientists, and practitioners of the potential of Earth observations; and too little collaboration.
     In order to address the above challenges, the Digital Belt and Road Program (DBAR) was initiated by Chinese scientists in 2016, and Prof. Guo Huadong acts as chair. The program aims at improving environmental monitoring, promoting data sharing to support policymaking and sustainable development by using big data from Earth observations.
     Since its inception, DBAR has taken on as its mission the establishment of a “Big Earth Data” platform to share big data related to the Earth system. The program will investigate indices and indicators to feed into the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. DBAR plans to focus on five priority areas: 1) Enhance infrastructure, and construct an open platform with shared data, code, and algorithms that are urgently needed for analyzing the vast amounts of Earth observation data; 2) Promote data sharing and interoperability, and ensure that data is openly exchanged and explored to its maximum in order to provide reliable decision-making support; 3) Extend applications to more people in various services; 4) Identify research opportunities within huge multidisciplinary datasets, and raise awareness of the scientific potential and solutions; and 5) Strengthen international collaboration bilaterally or multilaterally, and build stronger links with international scientific programs and organization.
    Currently, over 26 countries and international organizations are involved in this program, and DBAR has also set up seven working groups, two task forces, and eight International Centers of Excellence, located in Pakistan, Thailand, Finland, Italy, Russia, Morocco, Zambia and the United States. Most recently, the DBAR Science Plan was released to the public, setting out the main scientific challenges and priorities for DBAR in the next 10 years, and invite more natural and social scientists to join this shared endeavor.

Guo Huadong. Steps to the digital Silk Road. Nature, 554 (1 February 2018): 25-27.