White House Unveils Climate Data Initiative

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Publication date: 
1 April 2014

The Administration announced plans for a Climate Data Initiative on March 19 as a part of a series of actions which began with President Obama’s June launch of a Climate Action Plan.  The announcement comes as the Administration seeks to leverage climate data resources to support preparedness for climate events.  The Initiative is intended to strengthen resilience to climate change while increasing the accessibility of government climate data.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) jointly introduced an Innovation Challenge on coastal vulnerability and preparedness to coincide with the Climate Data Initiative.  The Geological Survey (USGS), Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency released a collection of datasets relating to national infrastructure and geographical features. The announcement also comes with commitments from the private sector from companies including Esri, Intel, Google, and Microsoft. 

During the Climate Data Initiative roll out event held at the White House John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy emphasized the need for preparation and the development of resilience methods to handle climate events.  He described climate.data.gov as a resource for companies, communities and the public to prepare for and mitigate the effects of climate change.  Initially in the pilot phase the data will be related to coastal flooding and sea level rise.  

Michael Boots, Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality spoke about the tools that will need to be considered as the U.S. tackles climate challenges.  “Climate change and preparing for its impact is one of the greatest challenges this nation faces,” he stated.    John Podesta, Counselor to the President spoke about the climate community and the NASA-NOAA coastal flooding innovation challenge.  The initiative’s focus on the coastal community will bring together many government partnerships. The urban planning community will also play a role in this initiative.  Industry partners will assist in the development of software tools that will serve the planning and emergency management sectors. 

Jack Dangermond, Founder and CEO of Esri described the capabilities of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and promoted the use of GIS as a framework for providing climate information to the community of users including to first responders.  Kathryn Sullivan, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere of the Department of Commerce promoted NOAA’s ability to transform data into actionable-oriented information.  She highlighted that while NOAA produces 20 terabytes of data daily, only approximately 2 terabytes are actually used.  Under this new initiative, she hopes that more of NOAA’s data can provide information to the broad community and can lead to subsequent actions to combat climate change. 

Communities in the Chesapeake Bay area, San Jose California and New Orleans hope to work together in a pilot effort on climate resilience.  Joel Dunn, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Conservancy spoke about strengthening the awareness of the fragile ecosystem of the region while Denice Ross, Director of Enterprise Information in the city of New Orleans spoke about the difficulty that local governments have in accessing adequate data particularly during disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

Ellen Stofan, Chief Scientist at NASA spoke about NASA’s data sets and noted how they have been used by first responders during climate events.  The World Bank works with communities around the globe to combine mapping data with disaster data in order to build resilient communities noted Rachel Kyte, Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change at the World Bank.  The last speaker, Rebecca Moore Founder of Google Earth Engine closed the program by noting Google’s work in promoting a new era of geoliteracy.

It is likely that the President will take future actions on climate issues in the coming months, either through executive orders or future rollouts of other climate-related initiatives.

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