To see how the world is changing around you, sometimes it helps to lose yourself online.
The White House is plunging into a new geeky approach to climate adaptation. It has consolidated online climate tools into a new hub, climate.data.gov, intended to help Americans understand how weather and sea levels will continue to change in their states and even their neighborhoods.
OK, so it’s not the most awesome online thing to happen since Google mastered search. But The New York Times explains some of the laudable ambition behind the effort:
In theory, … climate.data.gov … would be a powerful tool, allowing local governments or home and business owners to type in an address — as they do on sites like Google Earth — to quickly see how the projected rise in sea levels might increase the chance that their house will be flooded in the coming years. But in practice, until climate science and mapping applications can live up to the site’s ambitions, it will remain very much in its testing phase.
At the beginning, the website will serve chiefly as a clearinghouse for climate science data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States Geological Survey, the Defense Department and NASA, according to [White House advisers John] Holdren and [John] Podesta. The first batch of data will focus on coastal flooding and the rise in sea levels.
Average users will not be able to do much yet on their own. Instead, NASA and the NOAA will call on researchers and private companies to create software simulations illustrating the impact of sea level rise.
Launch of the new website is coinciding with a day of meetings and presentations on Wednesday involving Obama administration officials, nonprofits, technology companies, and others trying to figure out how to help the U.S. adapt to changes in the climate. If we’re really lucky, a techie at the meetings will find the bug in the system that keeps us all so addicted to planet-wrecking fossil fuels.
UPDATE: Google, Microsoft, and Intel have all committed to help develop the climate.data.gov project. Microsoft will donate close to one terabyte of cloud storage space, as well as sponsor a competition for climate scientists to win a year of free access to cloud computing resources. Google, not to be outdone, will provide one petabyte (for those not caught up on their Greek: that’s one thousand terabytes) of cloud storage for climate change research data, and will help create a map of the Earth’s terrain in high resolution to illustrate the effects of climate change on the landscape. And Intel has planned hackathons that will bring together students in Chesapeake Bay, New Orleans, and San Jose to build apps to measure and track climate change using government data.