GEMS/Water CDC's Focus on Data

27 Jun 2023

In the broader world of GEMS/Water, data is officially the province of GEMStat, the Global Water Quality database and information centre hosted, operated, and maintained by the International Centre for Water Resources and Global Change (ICWRGC) based in Koblenz, Germany. GEMStat plays a vital role in the broader enterprise of water monitoring, as its database contains more than 18 million entries for rivers, lakes, reservoirs, wetlands and groundwater systems from 94 countries and more than 15,000 stations, from 1965 to the present (more information here:

However, in 2014, the first United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) set out a new mandate to help countries improve their water quality monitoring capacity, with specific reference to the problems relating to data handling and analysis. Put simply, in order to make the most of the capacity to monitor water quality, it is imperative that individuals and organisations around the world are following best practices in managing their data. This includes quality assurance and quality control, proper data storage, and a high degree of coordination among those gathering and handling data to ensure that data can be reliably shared and used among various organisations.

Enter GEMS/Water CDC: in the past year, the Capacity Development Centre has conducted a scoping report to better understand the particular challenges of data that water quality experts face in the field—or, more literally, in the water! This report, which has been drafted and is now being circulated internally in anticipation of its forthcoming release, involved a series of focus group interviews with professionals from around the world. It became clear that there are real shortfalls material resources and expertise related to data handling, in particular related to database management, statistical analysis, quality assurance and control, and organisational coordination. While the CDC cannot remedy the problems of material resources, the matter of developing expertise is right in our wheelhouse.

And thus, GEMS/Water CDC is now hard at work developing a new set of materials specifically geared toward remedying the problems identified in the scoping report. Dr. Karen Taylor is involved in this task, which has several components: updating the postgraduate short course and online PGDip and MSc modules which relate to data handling and analysis; creating an open access course on management and analysis of freshwater quality data for the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) e-learning platform; developing the material for data handling-specific summer school; and, in coordination with GEMStat, generate a technical handbook on management and analysis of freshwater quality data. Taken together, these tasks are a direct response to the problems that were suspected in data handling in 2014 and confirmed in our recent scoping report.

Dr. Taylor is well-suited to this task. Her background is in palaeolimnology, reconstructing past environments and climates, and her postgraduate research examined the environmental impact of prehistoric farming on freshwater lake systems in northwest Ireland. This required intensive processes of data collection, storage, visualisation, interpretation and assessment. More recently, she lectured in Physical Geography at the University College Cork and has even published in the field of pedagogy, writing about innovative active learning techniques.

EV6014: Data Handling, Assessment & Presentation for Freshwater Quality Monitoring - Course outline


Teaching data handling is a challenging subject, of course. “The best way of learning is by doing,” Dr. Taylor says, and to back this up, the courses are designed to provide students with a baseline of knowledge about the process of data handling and assessment and provide information on good research practices and software options available to them for effective data storage, data analysis and presentation; which they can then apply to their own context. The idea is to impart universal principles of data handling and assessment to aid freshwater quality monitoring.

EV6014: Data Handling, Assessment & Presentation for Freshwater Quality Monitoring - Lesson 1


We here at the CDC expect to have Dr. Taylor’s work up and available for both our Continuous Professional Development courses (the next intake’s deadline to apply is July 31st) and up on the United Nations Environmental Programme’s eLearning site soon.

UNEP GEMS/Water Capacity Development Centre

UNEP GEMS/Ionad Forbartha Acmhainneachta Uisce

Environmental Research Institute, Ellen Hutchins Building, University College Cork