The White House has unveiled a new website-based app, the Climate Data Initiative, to help explain the science behind climate change and draw attention to the immediacy of the threat.
"This effort will help give communities across America the information and tools they need to plan for current and future climate impacts," John Podesta and John Holdren said in a statement announcing the new website. Podesta heads up President Obama's political efforts on climate change. Holdren is a White House science adviser.
It comes at a critical time, officials say. They point to the fact that in 2012, extreme weather events in the U.S. caused more than $110 billion in damages and claimed more than 300 lives.
The launch comes during the same week the world's biggest science society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), released a report urging the public to begin preparing for climate change now and asking economists and politicians to work with scientists in developing concrete solutions to the problem.
The White House's New Website
The new Climate Data Initiative builds on the Obama Administration's efforts to release government data online, through data.gov, which boasts more than 90,000 data sets on a wide range of fields, from housing to weather.
For the climate website, data will be made available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Defense, and other federal agencies. The first batch of climate data released will focus on coastal flooding and sea-level rise.
At first, the data won't be presented in a way that is easily digestible by average citizens. But the government is announcing an innovation challenge that calls on researchers and developers to create data-driven simulations, which could show people how their own neighborhoods might be affected by rising seas and floods.
A few partnerships are already under way. Esri, a company that provides mapping tools, is working with 12 U.S. cities to develop "maps and apps" that show the impacts of climate change. Google is donating cloud storage space and computing power to help process the climate data.
"While no single weather event can be attributed to climate change, we know that our changing climate is making many kinds of extreme events more frequent and more severe," say Podesta and Holdren. "Rising seas threaten our coastlines. Dry regions are at higher risk of destructive wildfires. Heat waves impact health and agriculture. Heavier downpours can lead to damaging floods."