Data availability in environmental sciences is growing rapidly. Conventional monitoring systems are collecting data at increasing spatial and temporal resolutions; satellites provide a constant stream of global observations, and citizen scientist generate local data with electronic gadgets and cheap devices. There is a need to process this stream of heterogeneous data into useful information, both for science and for decision-making. Advances in networking and computer technologies increasingly enable accessing, combining, processing, and visualizing these data. This Feature reflects upon the role of environmental models in this process. We consider models as the primary tool for data processing, pattern identification, and scenario analysis. As such, they are an essential element of science-based decision-making. The new technologies analyzed here have the potential to turn the typical top-down flow of information from scientists to users into a much more direct, interactive approach. This may accelerate the dissemination of environmental information to a larger community of users. It may also facilitate harvesting feedback, and evaluating simulations and predictions from different perspectives. However, the evolution poses challenges, not only to model development but also to the communication of model results and their assumptions, shortcomings, and errors.
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