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Environmental uses of data outlined

The World Bank is using data to eradicate extreme poverty through a better understanding of the world and local environments, said Nagaraja Harshadeep, senior environmental specialist with the World Bank, at the Esri User Conference.

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker spoke earlier on the importance of data to the world economy. Other speakers highlighted the benefits of using data and data interfaces for environmental preservation and environmental planning.

The World Bank’s most recent project is the new Spatial Agent iPad App. Noting that the challenges and solutions World Bank clients face are typically spatial in nature, Harshadeep said this interface compiles data from the World Bank as well as the United Nations, NASA and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network.

The app allows clients to see geographic and temporal information such as population, rainfall and temperature patterns and GDP.

“Where we’re going with this in the future is we’re trying to see if we can get more data and more functionality … to help our clients ... build such apps … and infuse the wealth of information that’s there to solve issues of poverty,” Harshadeep said Monday at the conference at the San Diego Convention Center.

In a video produced for the conference, primatologist Jane Goodall spoke about the ways data and mapping are being used to preserve wildlife habitat, and Ken Gorton of Esri demonstrated the Geoplanner app in ArcGIS, which allows planners to create different zones — for business, preservation and residential, say — and then see alternative ways to achieve similar zoning percentages to create an ideal layout.

Kathryn Sullivan, former space shuttle astronaut and current administrator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, highlighted the ways her organization uses data – specifically data integrated into useable and accessible platforms — to predict storms, map out areas needing relief aid and keep people safe.

“I’m here to tell you that my agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, we’re America’s environmental intelligence agency,” Sullivan said.

“Our whole purpose, our core purpose is to keep the pulse of the planet, take measurements and collect data that characterize this Earth we live on, but more importantly, through scientific analysis, assessment and modeling, to transform those data into information and then into knowledge that can become insight that can connect to the decisions that we are facing every single day.”

NOAA will start this year to integrate storm surge information into its hurricane and storm-tracking maps to disseminate as much information as possible and keep people away from harm, Sullivan said.

In a larger context, she said, the power of mapping data is that it can now inform the future, rather than simply reflect the present and past.

“Maps have always been storytelling tools, combining the stories of people, places, prospects, challenges, regrets and opportunities,” Sullivan said. “In our modern GIS era, maps have also become story-making tools.”

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