Environment

While No One is Watching

The IntersectionBy Sheril KirshenbaumNov 20, 2007 1:30 PM

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...the world is changing. How will we observe these changes if we're flying blind? That's what Loarie et al. are worried about - and with good reason.

Let me explain... Imagine you're a scientist monitoring the planet from space using satellite imagery. You depend on these pictures to understand climate change, asses deforestation, and track the loss of biodiversity. These images allow you to observe many different processes from shrinking tropical forests to melting icecaps and this information is useful in policy and raising public awareness on critical issues. If you're that scientist, and in reality, even if you're not - the latest from Trends in Ecology and Evolution comes as bad news:

As a result of battery failure on October 6th, 2007, the United States government's Landsat mission which had imaged the globe continuously since 1972 stopped functioning. The thirty-five year sequence of Landsat images has allowed scientists to monitor long term changes to the environment. The private sector is launching high resolution satellites and is doing an excellent job making images available to scientists. But these images under represent places most threatened by environmental changes. The scientific community must find ways to work with the government and the private sector to ensure that we monitor these processes.

What does that mean? Well the private sector has the ability to fill the gap and provide data to climate scientists. The thing is we need to be watching tropical forests and the poles, yet most high resolution images are of cities and roads. As the Pimm group suggests:

The scientific community must find ways to work with the government and the private sector to ensure that we keep a vigilant eye on our environment through our satellite network.

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