Tracking Impacts of Climate Change. (Environment)

The Futurist, September-October 2002 | Go to article overview
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Tracking Impacts of Climate Change. (Environment)


Imaging technologies that see a wider range of the spectrum will greatly enhance scientists' ability to detect and track environmental changes before they become apparent to the naked eye, say ecologists at the University of California, Santa Cruz. By creating detailed pictures of the earth based on data collected over a wide band of the electromagnetic spectrum, they can study land features, measure various phenomena, and identify trends to track climate, geothermal activity, ecology, population, and other environmental characteristics and impacts.

Donald Potts, studying a large lagoon in Papua New Guinea meter by meter to determine the environmental impacts of a new tuna factory, turned to this hyperspectral imaging as a faster and more comprehensive way to complete his study. Potts now receives sweeping, detailed data without ever leaving his office, and he can detect changes in the environment before they became apparent to the human eye.

Hyperspectral imaging--typically done from aircraft high above the earth's surface--measures reflected light, which differs according to the object under observation. The reflected light from trees is distinct from that of soil or of water. Hyperspectral imaging can differentiate between types of rock, between species of vegetation, even between healthy and unhealthy individual trees, and it can collect this data instantaneously over large areas. "This is a very powerful tool for change analysis," Potts says.

California ecologists are using hyperspectral imaging to assess coastal marine ecosystems and land margins and to track changes from natural and man-made causes.

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