Our world faces unprecedented challenges, and only one technology is poised to collect, manage, and analyze the myriad of physical, biological, and cultural data describing the past, present, and future of Earth. That technology is geographic information systems (GIS), commonly used today to view and manage information about geographic places, analyze geographic relationships, and model geographic processes.
GIS technology has proven to be invaluable in driving intelligent decision making, and its application to climate science is a natural fit. In fact, extensive work has already been done over the last 40 years to apply GIS technology to address subjects such as land use inventory, data model development, climate model integration, carbon accounting, and climate change visualization.
We are at a point in the evolution of the technology and its broad application where the next logical step is development of a GIS-based framework for earth systems modeling and global design. Such a system would cross academic, scientific, and industrial domains and political boundaries to serve as a platform for a comprehensive climate monitoring, modeling, and management system.
There are several actions we can take now to establish a framework that leverages mature GIS technology to advance climate science.
- Create a Comprehensive Climate Information System. A GIS-based platform for modeling and managing earth systems will help us identify climate trends, understand the effects of climate change, design mitigation plans, predict possible outcomes, monitor results, and provide feedback for an adaptive response.
- Create a Climate Data Infrastructure. A global spatial data infrastructure for climate change studies—a loosely-coupled, decentralized directory of all types of climate and map data and imagery—will serve as the basis for earth systems modeling and global design projects conducted in the Climate Information System.
- Integrate Earth Systems Modeling. A thorough inventory of climate change related spatial data models and sharing of best practices on interoperability will be of tremendous value as we build a Climate Information System for analyzing impacts and alternative futures at a comprehensive, global scale.
- Develop a Global Climate Dashboard. A Global Climate Dashboard would summarize information from the Climate Information System, providing “executives” and citizens alike with real-time geographic visualization of various earth systems parameters, enabling a more responsive, iterative, and adaptive response to climate change.
- Move towards Global Design. A GIS-based geodesign framework will provide a robust set of tools for design professionals to support the design and evaluation of alternate futures for our earth and its systems.
We are only beginning to understand the complex issues posed by climate change. Only through careful observation of the data, application of scientific principals, and leveraging of modern technology can we hope to grasp the intricacies of the exceedingly complex systems that comprise our planet. A GIS-based framework for climate science offers the best chance at gaining a scientific understanding of earth systems at a truly global scale and for making thoughtful, informed design decisions that ultimately allow humans and nature to coexist more harmoniously.