UNEP Global Environmental Alert: Satellite Imagery to Identify Environmental Hotspots and “Hopespots”
The United Nations Environment Programme’s Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) has published a bulletin for July 2013 titled “From Hotspots to Hopespots: Connecting local changes to global audiences.” The bulletin details the use of satellite imagery to measure and communicate environmental changes.
The bulletin describes the importance of environmental “hotspots”–areas that are susceptible to environmental change–as well as “hopespots”–areas where concerted action has led to positive changes in environmental conditions. Satellite imagery can give clear, simple, yet powerful narratives that can give time-series perspectives to local and regional environmental issues.
To date, UNEP has identified over 200 hotspots where sets of satellite images can be used to demonstrate environmental changes. UNEP classifies these hotspots into four themes–climate change and atmosphere, disasters and conflicts, ecosystems, and resource extraction–and uses the imagery for both scientific analysis and policymaker awareness. In this vein, UNEP and Bella Gaia have produced a short film, Hotspots to Hopespots, which presents satellite images of environmental changes.
Satellite imagery and remote sensing are dependent on a network of Earth-sensing satellites, many of which are operated by the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In particular, NASA’s LandSat program is able to provide open-access satellite imagery since 1972, providing an exceptional data set for time series analysis. Also, NASA’s current satellite network is capable of conducting other critical measurements, including chlorophyll concentrations, sea surface temperature, and aerosol content.
Ultimately, remote sensing–as well as the identification of hotspots and “hopespots”–can provide insights, decision support, compliance monitoring, and vast datasets for scientists and policymakers. Given its low cost and wide scope of coverage, remote sensing is a powerful tool that can help scientists and policymakers to circumvent long-standing issues of information access and economic feasibility in evaluating environmental issues.
The Global Environmental Alert Service “is a mechanism for identifying, selecting, and communicating early warning information on emerging issues” related to the environment. The bulletins are intended to inform policymakers and the public of cutting-edge developments in the environmental sciences. You can receive the GEAS by an email subscription or browse current and past editions of the GEAS online.