|Aug 22, 2006 4:59 pm
||Scientists solving global problems with technology!
| Christina Winsey-Rudd
Look at what scientists are doing now! If you want a great photo of planet Earth see this article on the link (at the bottom) and you'll go to the website where I got it from!
Mapping new ways to save the planet
Monday August 21, 2006
By Simon Hendery
Next week, hundreds of IT specialists, programmers, scientists and environmentalists from around the world will gather in Auckland to discuss saving the planet.
More than 340 professionals with areas of expertise including remote sensing, digital mapping and geo-informatics will be attending the Digital Earth Summit on Sustainability at the Aotea Centre from Monday.
The Digital Earth movement grew out of a Nasa programme established in the 1990s. Put simply, its aim is to use advances in digital mapping technologies to help solve global issues.
The technologies that have combined to give us applications like Google Earth - the free web-based image of the entire globe created through a merging of satellite images - can be put to myriad uses for solving environmental issues, say Digital Earth's supporters.
"Good decision making requires good information and what Digital Earth provides is a context to get that good information together and establish stewardship of that information," says Auckland City councillor Richard Simpson.
"We're in the quandary we're in now because of bad decisions and a lot of those bad decisions have been because of poor information."
Simpson, a computer scientist with a long background in 3D graphics and geospatial applications, was a driving force behind Auckland's bid to host next week's summit.
He says the type of initiatives being discussed and developed in the Digital Earth context include web-based "calorie maps" allowing members of the public to calculate things such as how many calories they would burn up walking from home to work and comparing that to the amount of fossil fuel they would use making the same trip by car.
"Making that sort of information available to people, you're getting on to another layer of informed decision-making," Simpson says.
A large proportion of resource consents in Auckland City relate to requests to cut down trees. A database based on aerial photographs could automatically calculate the "carbon balance implications" of removing a particular tree and the resulting effect on air quality, he says.
The council has committed itself to providing location-based information relating to sustainability by 2010. By embracing Digital Earth, New Zealand could become a pioneer in what will become a multi-billion-dollar industry in environmental mapping technology, Simpson says.
"While there is some great technology that comes out of here, we've got to brand New Zealand much more strongly as a nation that is about Digital Earth, not Middle Earth."
Not everyone shares Simpson's enthusiasm for the Digital Earth ethos. Resource management writer Owen McShane, writing in the National Business Review last month, described the Auckland summit as a curious meeting of highly-qualified and respected technocrats and well-known environmental polemicists - a "congregation of secular guilt-trippers".
"If we are going to have a conference promoting floods, famines, pestilence, war, planetary collapse and a global warming hell, I would prefer it to be based on the 'old time religion' rather than this secular catastrophism," McShane wrote.
"At least the original version delivered some great music, art and architecture."
Digital Earth organiser Tim Foresman, a former Nasa scientist who ran the programme when it was under the space agency's wings, says information shared through the sustainability focus of the Auckland summit will be passed on to the broader International Symposium on Digital Earth, to be held in San Francisco next year.
"The idea of sustainable development is obviously a great focus so when we get back together in San Francisco we'll be dealing with peace mapping, we'll be dealing with indigenous people and communities, we'll be dealing with visualisation of 3D globes," says Foresman.
He also rejects McShane's "do-gooder" label.
"The overwhelming scientific evidence is that we're changing the face of the planet, we're impacting the climate," Foresman says.
"You have to be into sustainability or there will be no future."
One of the speakers at next week's summit is Ian Dowman, professor of photogrammetry and remote sensing at London's University College.
Dowman says a key challenge in applying mapping technology to sustainability issues is developing methods to effectively process the huge amount of data now available from satellite and aircraft scanning.
"There is now so much imagery becoming available, from satellites and from airborne platforms, that if you're going to exploit this fully the only way to do this is to apply automatic feature extraction."
Using digital mapping information for commercial applications such as in-car navigation systems or Google Earth has sped up technology development in the mapping arena.
Dowman says the next step, using the technology to advance global sustainability concerns, requires grappling with political issues.
"There's clearly a political dimension to this, particularly in talking about sustainable development outside of developed countries," he says.
"So to have an international organisation pushing these things forward is important to get that sort of thing to happen, you have to have a political will as well as the scientific interest. An international conference like Digital Earth is a good way to try and motivate governments to take this seriously and do something about it."
Another speaker at next week's summit, Manfred Ehlers, professor of geographical information systems and remote sensing at Germany's University of Vechta, points to a large-scale vegetation monitoring project he is involved in as an example of research which has been greatly enhanced by high-resolution digital mapping.
The area of vegetation being monitored used to take a team of biologists three years to assess as they physically walked through it. Using automated scanning, the same task can now be done in only months, and repeated annually, effectively providing a "continuous monitoring" programme for the ecosystem being studied.
Ehlers says he is grateful to the rise of tools like Google Earth and car navigation systems for making it easier to explain to laypeople the type of work he does.
"Now they [the general public] are more familiar with what we're doing. It's a real push for geoinformatics as a science," he says.
• More by Simon Hendery
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Dr. Christina Winsey-Rudd
The "I Can Doctor"
Executive Coach, Life & Weight-Loss Coach, Holistic Chiropractic Physician
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Great photo from the moon of Earth: http://article.wn.com/view/2006/08/21/Mapping_new_ways_to_save_the_planet/
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