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Online Tools to Monitor Climate Change

Categories: North America, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, India, South Africa, U.S.A., Uganda, Development, Economics & Business, Environment, Governance, Indigenous, Science, Technology

Leading up to the Climate Change Conference [1] in Copenhagen (COP15) in December 2009, here is a sample of online tools to monitor climate change. Using these tools, ordinary people can learn more about the effects, and help push decision makers to deal with solutions.

In the field

Tracking climate change impacts generally starts in the field. James Balog [2], a photographer, has been to Alaska, USA, to record time-lapse ice cap melting. You can see the stunning results of his photography in this video:

If you don't have expensive cameras and spare-time to journey to Alaska, another approach would be to read the experiences of people on the frontline.

On the Frontline of the Climate Change [3] is a project cataloging first-hand stories on the impacts of climate change, in indigenous communities, on small islands, and other vulnerable communities. The forums contains numerous recent contributions by email, mostly from South Asia and Africa. One contributor and consultant for African development, George Katunguka [4], writes from Uganda:

The impact of climate change has not received much prominence in my country Uganda but such changes and its effects are painfully being felt. In 2025, Uganda is likely to experience water stress according to recent report on water resources. People are dying of starvation and hunger like the recent case in Teso Region, Eastern Uganda; there are changes in water ecosystems like the dwindling levels of Lake Victoria; unpredictable seasons, loss of soil fertility and loss of agricultural output and hence increased household poverty and its implications. What are we doing to avert this looming catastrophe?

From outer space to Google Earth

Observation from the field can be double-checked from high ground. Space is the lookout from which to observe and analyze earth as a whole. It's difficult to get a seat on a spaceship, but fortunately, it's easy to find online satellite images from above.

Satellite pictures of Aral Sea, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan 1973/2004 [5]Satellite pictures of Aral Sea, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan 1973/2004

Besides space agencies and companies offering their services to NGOs, scientists and common people, the United Nations Environment Programme created an online atlas [6] indexing the changes occurring in different parts of the world through decades. All the satellite pictures can be viewed on Google Earth's virtual globe [7], as their official blog reports [8]:

In collaboration with the Danish government and others, we are launching a series of Google Earth layers and tours [9] to allow you to explore the potential impacts of climate change on our planet and the solutions for managing it.

Many more resources can be found on blogs and websites of international organisations. Readers, feel free to add your own sources in the comment section.

Science for decision makers

Observation is a core issue for decision makers. Governments initiate surveys to understand the phenomenon and how to mitigate the impacts.

The European Commission and European Space Agency initiated a space program in 1998, called the Global Monitoring Environmental Security [10] (GMES), to sketch real-time changes from multi-source data. The project is due to report back in 2014, with an annexed security segment.

Developing countries impacted most directly by climate change, have taken a similar steps like the recent satellites launch by India [11] to study climate change. Such information can help countries plan for new environmental and economic policies.

In South Africa, a new economy-oriented tool has been created for exactly this purpose. AllAfrica reports [12] :

Now, an analytical tool based on a study, Mapping South African Farming Sector Vulnerability to Climate Change and Variability, has been developed to help policy-planners identify the communities most vulnerable to climate change and help them prepare for radically different farming conditions.