Series Focuses on Earth's Environment

The IEEE Committee on Earth Observation has launched several educational and public outreach programs

5 September 2008

1The IEEE Committee on Earth Observation (ICEO) has launched several educational and public outreach programs this year to publicize the 73-nation Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). One such program is a series of three videos on from the Group on Earth Observation. They cover the GEOSS project, its applications, and the technology behind the Earth-monitoring network a

GEOSS BASICS The first of the 12- to 15-minute videos presents an overview of how the remote sensors collect and process environmental data. It’s expected that more data will lead to more informed decisions on a whole host of critical topics involving environmental disasters, energy and water resources, climate, sustainable agriculture and desertification, ecosystems, and the oceans. The video explains how the GEOSS framework allows different data-gathering systems—some new, others quite old—to work together. Common data standards and data-sharing agreements among nations are, of course, key.

For its part, IEEE is leading the effort to develop interoperability standards through an International Standards and Interoperability Forum. The forum will support the interoperability requirements of GEOSS but will not dictate standards. Rather, it will foster cooperation among the many GEOSS participants to reach a consensus on standards for the program’s components, which fall into four categories: observation (acquiring data), processing (converting data into useful information), storage, and dissemination. The group recently established the technological and procedural framework for carrying out the forum’s objectives, and it expects its agenda to expand next year as systems are added to GEOSS.

2SOLVING PROBLEMS The second video, which deals with applications, explores how remote sensing is used to document, analyze, and solve global problems. It details how Earth-observation systems are helping scientists understand such things as how the atmosphere works to produce rain. The video provides insight into the challenges surrounding the Water for the World initiative, a project the ICEO took on this year. Water for the World is focused on creating pilot programs for making more water available in developing countries. The initiative's goal is to provide clean, safe drinking water in areas where there is not enough. Some 1.7 billion people—28 percent of the world’s population—do not have access to clean drinking water. Information gained through the initiative “is absolutely critical to understanding water usage and the water supply of the future, particularly since this future is about to be influenced by climate change,” says Graeme Stephens, a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, who is featured in the video.

In particular, satellite data is expected to help improve agricultural productivity and help direct relief efforts during disasters. For example, the Global Positioning System and images from satellites helped coordinate relief efforts during the tsunamis of December 2004 and Hurricane Katrina. Images collected during the hurricane are now being used for ongoing reconstruction efforts.

The video also explores how earth observations can help planners decide where to build renewable energy resources.

3EXPERTS WEIGH IN The third video, on technology, features interviews with 11 prominent scientists and engineers, who describe recent developments in remote sensing. They discuss microwave, optical, and infrared technologies and explain how passive and active remote sensing works.

Also addressed are the advantages of both mechanical and electronic antennas in scanning Earth to track weather and air turbulence.

In one interview, Deborah Vane, manager for the CloudSat project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif., discusses how a new experimental satellite relies on high-frequency radar to observe clouds from space and “see” rain as it’s created.

“This is the very first space-borne cloud radar,” Vane says. “We are able to see inside and all the way through clouds, giving us a view unlike any we’ve had before.”

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