for National Geographic News
Part of the Digital Places Special News Series
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If a picture is worth a thousand words, digital satellite imagery could inspire tomes' worth of new environmental policies.
At least that's the hope of the designers behind the Atlas of Our Changing Environment, a unique new Web site that uses a digital map framework to catalog damage inflicted on the Earth over the last few decades.
"It is as simple as seeing is believing," said Patrick Joseph, an environmental journalist who writes a blog for the nonprofit Sierra Club.
"You can read a million times over that the Amazon is being deforested, but satellite imagery really helps give you an idea of the scale on which it is happening."
(Related news: "Amazon Logging Twice as Heavy as Thought, Images Show" [October 20, 2005].)
The atlas's visual evidence of destruction is already helping some environmental groups get the word out about their issues.
Sierra Club, for instance, has used images from the atlas in its member magazine, Sierra.
"Our experience is that people respond very enthusiastically to maps," Joseph said. "So we try to integrate them into our outreach whenever possible."
Compare and Contrast
The new site is based on Google Earth, a popular desktop program that displays a virtual globe comprising high-resolution satellite images from government and private sources.
The U.S. branch of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) partnered with Google to create a "layer" of data that users can navigate using Google Earth or view in a Web browser.
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