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Monitoring Changes on the Earth's Surface

Mark Alonzo
Happy New Year! While sitting in the New York subway over the holiday waiting for my Queens-bound train to come in, I was reading an article about climate change and new ways to monitor changes on the Earth’s surface.  The primary article I read focused on how NASA’s GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) mission is able to measure gravity across Earth, ultimately tying it to additional analysis regarding glacier movements, sea level changes, flooding and drought.  I found it fascinating to learn about how they are studying the changes in Earth’s mean gravity field, which is usually the result of the movement of water.  The images and models developed from GRACE are stunning, showing changes across Earth’s surface and highlighting shifts such as changes in water tables.  You can visit the NASA page to read more about the GRACE mission and to see some of this unique gravity measurement data. One of their studies was able to determine that from 2002-2008, the water table was dropping in northwestern India, causing many agricultural problems as the aquifer was being depleted faster than it could be replenished.   With the ability to detect and monitor changes like this using gravity data, I started to think about how these different types of data and analysis will change the geospatial analysis landscape.  What if that data were combined with optical imagery? Or with any other data modality? Would we be able to locate the areas of the dropped water table and monitor vegetation and agricultural changes in that area over time? Perhaps we’d be able to detect vegetation health and vigor in relation to water table proximity, allowing farmers to monitor plant health and optimize crop management, while simultaneously working to replenish the aquifer. What else will we be able to uncover using the wealth of data available to us? There are many satellites scheduled to be launched in 2012, including GeoEye-2, KOMPSAT3/5, CARTOSAT-3, additional Earth observation satellites from Russia, Kazakhstan, and many more potential launches from countries around the world. What do you think 2012 is going to bring in terms of new imagery satellites, topics, and analysis breakthroughs?

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