Earth Observers Map Out Weather Early Warning System - InformationWeek

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Earth Observers Map Out Weather Early Warning System

GEOSS is expected to spur improvements in sensor, networking, and geographic imaging technology.

With the aftereffects of the December tsunami that devastated South Asia uppermost in their minds, an international group of government leaders and scientists will in mid-February converge on Brussels with a plan to integrate weather forecasting and atmospheric analysis networks over the next decade into a worldwide early-warning system.

The 2005 Earth Observation Summit marks the first time that the Group on Earth Observations will unveil its 10-year plan for the creation and oversight of a new Global Earth Observation System of Systems.

GEOSS is expected to link existing networks that gather regional meteorological information into a worldwide resource that's freely available. Fifty-five nations and 30 international organizations, including the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization already have expressed support for GEOSS, says Conrad Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administrator of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Last month's tsunami provides a vivid and tragic example of what happens when atmospheric data is not shared properly, says Lautenbacher, a former U.S. Navy vice admiral. "I'm hoping the good that comes out of this tragedy is that governments of the world sign up for cooperative agreements to move along a project like GEOSS."

The Global Seismographic Network, which on Dec. 26 recorded the huge undersea earthquake that touched off the tsunami, will participate in GEOSS. Coordination with other networks in a worldwide system of regional tsunami warning centers could in the future send an early warning to nations that might be affected by such an earthquake or by a potential tsunami.

Although GEOSS is expected to prompt sensor, networking, and geographic imaging improvements, the system's real challenges are political and financial. The technology part of GEOSS is "easily surmountable," Lautenbacher says.

For GEOSS to work properly, participating countries must transfer data freely across borders. This means reconciling the different business models that countries have adopted for atmospheric data. The U.S. provides raw weather data freely to media organizations and industry, for example. These recipients then have the option of packaging this data with other services to generate profits. Some other countries, however, charge for the raw atmospheric data they collect.

Geographic information systems and other scientific uses of technology have matured to the point where they reveal the earth as having a natural central nervous system, says Simon Evans, a project director for GIS vendor Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. who works closely with NOAA. "GEOSS is a great way to inventory and analyze the checks and balances that make up this system," he says.

The GEOSS document the Group on Earth Observations will present in Brussels provides a broad outline of how data will be shared, technology architectures can be made compatible, and a support technology structure can be shared among participants. Says Lautenbacher, "The strength of GEOSS is that no one is trying to take over anyone's existing systems."

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