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U.S. Launches Initiatives to Share Climate Science Data


11/05/2010


A message from David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Interior

To tackle the challenges facing our planet - from climate change and pollution to deforestation and disappearing wildlife habitat - we must have comprehensive and integrated scientific data about the Earth and how it is changing. We must share our science with the world, and others with us.

That was the goal of a critical international summit - called the Group on Earth Observations - that USGS Director Marcia McNutt, OSTP's Associate Director for Environment Shere Abbott, I, and representatives of 8 U.S. agencies attended this week in Beijing.

With the growing understanding around the world that the environmental and economic challenges facing the global community are too great for any one nation to confront alone, the United States and our partners in the international community advanced our effort to make critical scientific information about how climate change, population growth, and other pressures are changing our planet open and available to everyone in the world.

This international effort to build what is called a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) will help land managers, policy makers, and communities around the world make wise decisions about managing resources and improving economic and environmental sustainability.

For our part, the United States - including the Department of the Interior - already makes open and available to the public the scientific information about our planet that we collect. Data from our Landsat satellites, stream gages, seismic observations, and field work across the continent are up online and accessible to anyone. Farmers use the Landsat data to improve yields. Scientists around the world use stream gage information for climate change research. And first-responders use our satellite imagery to respond to fires, floods, hurricanes, and oil spills.

Making more of this kind of information available - from sources around the world - will be critical to economic and environmental sustainability.

That is why the U.S. delegation to the GEO summit was proud to launch two new initiatives that will help improve our collective understanding of the planet and how it is changing.

The first initiative, called SilvaCarbon, aims to strengthen global capacity to understand, monitor, and manage forest and terrestrial carbon.

Through this program, in collaboration with experts from GEO governments such as Australia and Norway, U.S. experts will work with local partners at sites around the world to illustrate how to build monitoring systems for forest and terrestrial carbon so that they can meet existing and emerging international standards, and then compare science methodologies and best practices among those sites.

Our second U.S. initiative, called the Global Landcover Data Initiative, aims to develop the first-ever comprehensive and up-to-date database of 30-meter satellite imagery that will show changes in land cover and land uses worldwide.

More than 80 percent of the imagery for the Global Land-Cover Data Initiative can be obtained with Landsat, a satellite program operated by Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with NASA. We are asking international partners at the GEO summit to assist with developing the remaining information that would be needed for a comprehensive global land-cover database.

As Shere Abbott pointed out this week, these investments in science will promote a better understanding not only of the changes in land cover, but also of the effectiveness of various efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from land use change. They can thus help promote transparency in national and international mitigation actions in this critical sector, and strengthen multilateral efforts to combat climate change as they inform countries on the best ways to design and improve such policies going forward.

We took big steps forward this week to improve our ability to understand the planet and how it is changing, but there is more work to do. We are committed and focused on working to ensure open access to data and information so we can make science-based decisions and lay the foundation for a brigher future for all nations.