Satellite Global Disaster Alert System Planned

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The draft plan for the U.S. component of GEOSS—the U.S. Integrated Earth Observation System—was published last September. The plan noted benefits of a global monitoring network, including improved weather forecasting and climate change predictions and better protection of water resources.

The report stated, for example, that weather- and climate-sensitive industries account for a third of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), or 2.7 trillion dollars and that improved El Niño forecasts are worth up to 300 million dollars to the U.S. annually.

Satellites can help save lives and protect property from natural disasters, report authors noted. Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) are used to detect and monitor forest fires across the Western Hemisphere. The satellites are so sensitive that a blaze can be detected within 15 minutes of igniting. The report stated other satellites could be incorporated to extend fire-alert coverage globally.

European Role

The European component of GEOSS—Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES)—is a joint initiative of the European Commission and the European Space Agency, based in Paris, France.

"As well as areas of environmental concern, such as marine pollution, GMES covers natural hazards to society—from land fires, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions to avalanches, subsidence, and flooding," said Mike Grimmett, national program manager of the British National Space Centre in London.

"People who have their own observing systems, satellite missions, and processing capabilities will all share information," he added. "We need to get the whole world sharing good, valid data."

Grimmett said the Indian Ocean tragedy has highlighted the benefits of Earth observation systems in helping those affected by natural disasters.

A GMES project involved with the current tsunami relief effort is Respond. The Europe-wide initiative based in Leicester, England, provides humanitarian organizations with geographic information.

Grimmett said, "[Respond] provides access to maps, satellites images, and other geographic information for regions that are at risk. That can be slow-moving risk, such as desertification and famine. But it also includes reacting to a disaster situation and helping to plan and manage in the aftermath of such an event."

Grimmett said the information is published freely on the Respond Web site and that everyone can access it. He added, "It's an example of what will be a part of GEOSS."

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