GIS applied to climate change

(written by Intro to GIS student, N. G.)

These days, many people in the world have at least some knowledge about the process of climate change and the potential consequences we and the planet face if we continue to put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. One of the many tasks scientists have been working on is the process of predicting changes that could occur to the earth’s surface should the polar ice continue to melt at its present rate. GIS can become a very important tool in many of these climatologists’ efforts to track how rises in sea level will impact specific land masses, and its larger impact on the population in these areas.

The GIS Initiative Program run by the National Center for Atmospheric Research offers various climate change scenarios shown through GIS to registered users. In creating various climate change scenarios for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for use in research and conferences, such as the climate change meeting taking place in Bali this week, NCAR has decided to make their datasets available for public download. These models, showing various potential future scenarios of the impact of climate change, help to generate interest in the public and GIS community on the importance of climate change with the easy availability of datasets to manipulate.

The Arctic Institute of North America, located at the University of Calgary calls attention to the Beaufort Sea Project for Climate Change, a project that is using GIS to track various impacts of climate change in the northern Arctic. These activities include tracking the impact of climate change on fish and mammals in the Beaufort Sea as they pertain to the survival of the native groups there, changes in hydrology due to the breakup of ice in the Mackenzie River and the spread of water-bone contaminants due to the melting of the sea ice pack. The transformation of this data into GIS makes the relationships between the variables easy to present and communicate across wide audiences, helping to illustrate the impact of climate change in the Arctic.

Although projects such as these help to provide insight into the impact of climate change on the earth, one must keep in mind that these are only models meant to give predictions to what might happen due to shifts in our climate. Much more study and analysis will need to be done before more accurate statements can be made.

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