One Stop for Climate Change Info

New site consolidates climate change data in one easy-to-use portal.

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By Marlene Cimons, National Science Foundation

The “Climate-1 Stop” aims to be just what its name implies: a single place where people easily can find all the reliable information, resources and tools about climate change that they need.

“There’s plenty of information out there, but it’s really difficult to find the one specific thing you need,” said Jessica Coughlin.  “You can become overwhelmed.”

Coughlin heads the Institute for the Application of Geospacial Technology, a nonprofit organization located in Auburn, N.Y. and affiliated with Cayuga Community College. The institute, which provides expertise in geographic information systems technology, including GPS, remote sensing, digital mapping, and geospatial data, among other things, has created a new single Web site on climate change.

The goal is to help scientists, decision-makers, nonprofit workers, other officials, and even lay people, find the right climate change data they are seeking. The site will provide access to research papers and other documents, news articles, other Web sites and useful tools from other agencies.

“The initial focus is to foster collaboration among climate adaptation and mitigation practitioners—people who are working in the field, especially countries with more need,” Coughlin said.  “The effects of climate change are going to be felt more severely in underdeveloped nations that don’t have the resources to change as rapidly as the United States. But, can anyone use it? Of course. Researchers already are using it. A lot of different people are using it.”

The Web site, or geoportal, first unveiled last December at the climate conference in Copenhagen, is funded by a two-year $299,853 award as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It is a collaboration of three federal agencies, the National Science Foundation, USAID (The United States Agency for International Development), and NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.)

Others who are involved include experts from the University of Alabama at Huntsville, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC), in Panama.

“It’s almost like an electronic table of contents to help you find the information,” Coughlin said. “For example, if you don’t know whether NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] has what you need, or NASA, or the World Bank, you would have to go to all those individual sites.  This is very taxing and time-consuming. This is more of a filter that helps narrow down what you are looking for.

“We didn’t want to redo what is already out there, so this is more of a ‘pointer’ data base,” she added. “We will keep things current.  This helps somebody looking for a specific piece of information, who doesn’t know where it came from. It means they don’t have to look at 22 different agency Web sites.”

The new climate portal builds upon NASA’s existing SERVIR site, which uses satellite imagery and other data to rapidly map locations where a flood, fire, hurricane, earthquake or other natural disaster has struck. With facilities in Central America and East Africa, SERVIR tries to help policymakers decide where to send aid in a hurry. The SERVIR team also monitors and delivers information on climate change and environmental threats, and, since its March 2005 introduction in Central America, has tracked more than 11 environmental threats and 25 natural disasters, according to NASA.

Scientists and others will be able to add research and other data to the new climate site, “but we’re not allowing anybody to just type in any random thought,” Coughlin said.  The site will have a moderator who will monitor entries. “He’s not going to go through every single link and judge it, but if there is some piece of junk that doesn’t belong, he will let us know and we will remove it,” she said.

As part of the undergraduate research component of the project, a group of students from Cayuga and Alabama went to Panama last January to work with researchers and educators at CATHALAC.  Among other things, the trip included a visit to Barro Colorado, a tropical island that serves as a lowland moist tropical forests study site for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.