Hard Science Data Is Fine, But Let Communities Generate Data, Too

I spoke recently about adaption with some of the smartest thinkers in the climate change space, thanks to the Association of Climate Change Officers’ Leadership Series.  One session, in particular, rekindled my impatience with the significant distance between scientists working on these matters and the eventual users of their conclusions – public and private sector leaders.

The session dealt with types of scientific data needed to help advance climate-change adaptation and dialogue. We generally agreed that a need exists for more detailed historic weather data online.  But while I realize adaption relies on excellent hard science, it’s also inspiring when technology lets communities generate the data.  And that data inspires us to act.

Consider SHAVE, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Severe Hazards Analysis and Verification Experiment, a unique project that blends high-resolution radar data with geographic information.  It uses the awesome Google Earth to input phone location-specific storm data – when a storm started, how big a storm’s hailstones are, when a river crested over its bank – gathered from voluntary reports by citizens.  The map’s foundation is heavy science: high-resolution radar and satellite data fed into algorithms used for storm warnings and forecasts.  But the output is usable community-level maps that illuminate where a pinch point might be in a river or what part of town might be more vulnerable to damaging hail.

Also, myriad examples exist of information relayed via mobile devices that provide timely data. My current favorite involves the use of cell phones by Vietnamese farmers in the Mekong Delta. They relay when flood waters are rising, and to what level.  By sending early warnings upstream, farmers are better able to shore up their rice paddies and adjust their water-diversion structures to prevent damage.

What sorts of community-generated data might help your company be more resilient to extreme weather events?


SHAVE and National Weather Service reports for a storm in Lac qui Parle County, MN on 27 July 2006