are key global management tools and they are currently under utilised
for managing global resources. Their effectiveness and benefits for
managing the resources of our planet can be more fully realised through
understanding planetary issues, processes and their dynamics, massive
increases in entrepreneurial support and the level to which governments
realize the connection between geotechnology and managing global
Progress is being made. But there are significant differences in how
geotechnologies are being used and applied around the world. For
example, I have recently been working with information from the U.S
Foreign Agricultural Service. That service is taking up-to-date
satellite imagery, analysing it and deriving monthly crop forecast
projections – internationally. One can find monthly reports that detail
agricultural outlooks by month for major agricultural areas around the
globe. This includes summaries of soil, soil moisture, crop types,
areas cropped and relative health of those crops.
I cannot find similar information emanating from Europe. I suspect
India, China and even Russia will soon be offering international
agricultural outlooks. It disturbs me that I can find many types of
data in the research institutions of Europe, but that much of it is
labelled ‘not for use for commercial purposes.’ At the present time
with fuel costs rising and food costs rising, land monitoring should be
very high on the agenda. All solutions to meet that challenge will not
flow solely from governments. Water is in short supply and a great need
exists to understand what areas of Europe are being cropped, the health
of those crops and the connected climate data that is supporting those
crops and trans-boundary food supply.
There is a
striking difference between the use and application of geotechnology at
national and trans-boundary levels between Europe and almost every
other place on the planet. Much of the data needed to build spatial
capacity across Europe in terms of awareness and the creation of new
small businesses is stratified and held closely within research
communities. This is preventing young students from starting businesses
in the geospatial field at a more optimal rate, thereby solving the
problems of food supply, transboundary water management issues and
further building out Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) beyond
government agencies and institutions alone. Has ‘research’ itself
become the private industry of Europe?
and business people need to understand global spatial processes better.
There is a need to build capacity and to support initiatives that young
entrepreneurs wish to engage in and attempt to solve – on terms they
choose. All plans do not have to follow a government, researcher
trajectory or design. There is a need to empower young minds with new
tools and to help them to see, understand and develop solutions for
managing planetary resources on terms they perceive, conceptualize and
geotechnologies are now more accessible through service oriented
architectures. While European agencies will undoubtedly participate in
delivering data through these interfaces, the building blocks and
foundations for understanding trans-boundary environmental issues, for
example, are still lacking in scope, planning, awareness and
willingness. How can we change this situation? Consider the U.S.
Foreign Agricultural Service. Could a Euro counterpart exist?
governments within Europe truly committed (really committed) to solving
the trans-boundary environmental issues of Europe and secondly, the
wider planet – keeping in mind that not solving them is going to be far
more expensive later, with much more social unrest?
Let’s dream for a minute. One example.
Is it such a
foreign idea that the EU would find a way to purchase, lease or somehow
acquire use of a complete high resolution European digital elevation
model (DEM)? Such models are the foundation for all management related
to land processes, yet, are we closer? No. Do you realize how many
businesses would suddenly start generating new solutions for Europe, if
such data were available? Such data exists.
All is not
negative. One only has to read press releases for a few weeks to see
that many people are working on solving many of the world’s problems
using geotechnologies. In most cases these projects are local in nature
and often surround independent issues. But on a planetary scale we have
not yet evolved sufficently to see the problems globally, let alone to
apply geotechnologies on them. This is the direction, however.
I’m not so
sure that spatial data infrastructure (SDI) will evolve as one or a few
grandiose plans by design. Instead, I think SDI will consist of many
processes and events happening independently and dynamically, across
regions that will ‘gel’ at some point in the future – providing we keep
building capacity in bright young minds, remain positive in outlook and
has extremely powerful tools at the present time. These tools are built
for such problems of a planetary nature and capable of integrating the
So the short
answer is: the tools are there but are currently operating
sub-optimally. This needs to change. We need to build more capacity,
widen the user base to more entreneurialship and commit to managing our
planet more creatively and proactively. I am confident our role is
going to grow as geotechnology takes on a more integral position in
addressing these important issues.
Geotechnologies have come a long way toward enabling the better
stewardship of our planet, but there’s considerably more that can be
done. The public profile of sustainability issues is creating political
will for better monitoring and management of resources and our
environment. How geotechnology companies respond to these growing green
opportunities will largely shape the future of the technology as a
There will be an increasing number of projects where geotechnology
companies can make an impact while growing their bottom line. The
problems related to sustainability require fieldwork, analysis and
ongoing monitoring at regional scales. This requirement will present
challenges to develop new data collection technologies, rigorous
analysis methodologies and presentation tools.
To date, geotechnology is a useful tool to quantify global change,
but it requires multi-disciplinary inputs and more concerted
application in wider areas in order to truly live up to its promise.
Monitoring Global Change
The global challenges that we face provide opportunities to monitor
and analyze broad-scale change over time. Remote sensing is an
extremely valuable component to analyze and assess such changes. The
current space-based platforms are hardly adequate to provide global
coverage, even though there’s an accelerating number of earth
observation satellites being deployed by a growing number of countries.
There will be an increasing need for more platforms and better
sensors. The data will have to be pulled together more quickly and
efficiently, with more and faster automation tools that deliver
information in addition to visual proof. Machine analysis will become
of greater importance as the data loads that these sensors delivers is
set to grow exponentially.
The Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) is an
impressive effort to deploy worldwide sensors and monitoring tools that
interact and form a seamless network across our globe. The
international funding and cross-border collaboration is commendable,
and many innovations will come from this effort. The fact that GEOSS
has been made an international priority means that a great deal of
information will come online regarding the current health of our
oceans, waterways, landcover and atmosphere. New tools will be needed
to make sense of this data, and sophisticated models will need to be
developed to better predict our path.
Emphasis on Efficiency
What motivates business goes well beyond what’s best for our planet.
The crucial element for widescale adoption of green practices is to
illustrate efficiency gains and cost savings for a better bottom line.
Issues such as peak oil and carbon taxing will push businesses into
this mode of thinking sooner rather than later. Geospatial tools have a
great deal to offer to streamline businesses and ease fuel costs
through better route planning and logistics.
The emphasis on efficiency for business requires a number of
enterprise-level tools at varying levels of operation, from in-vehicle
devices, to management tools, to executive dashboards. The platforms
and interoperability are in place to deliver such technologies today,
and business opportunities will increase the availability of
off-the-shelf solutions that can easily be deployed and integrated.
What’s required for the short term is helping businesses understand the
value of squeezing out efficiencies, saving money while cutting carbon
Perhaps the greatest area of impact to decrease humankind’s effects
on the planet is in our built environment. Our cities are places where
we can make profound changes in how efficiently we live, and in how
much carbon goes into the atmosphere. Geospatial technologies have a
great deal to offer for broad regional planning and monitoring, but
there’s very little integration of geospatial technologies with
building-level inputs and the disciplines that deal with design and
The ability to create intelligent city models, where Earth processes
are modeled and monitored for our inputs into these complex systems,
will greatly enhance understanding of our planet. With greater
understanding of our impacts, we can counter the effects and help
strike a balance for greater longevity of a livable environment.
When it comes to stewardship of our planet, geotechnology has many
roles to play and quite a bit of room for advancement. Our Earth is a resilient place, but there are many pressing issues that
need to be addressed rapidly and diligently if humanity is to have a
long run on this planet.