A Global, Real-Time, Disaster and Environmental Monitoring System (GRDEMS) (Making critical information available to anybody who needs it)

EarthzineArticles, Disasters, Earth Observation, Original, Sections, Technology

Terra launch (NASA animation)

Terra launch (NASA animation)

The need for a Global, Real-time Disaster and Environmental Monitoring System (GRDEMS) in these days when it seems that there is a new disaster or environmental catastrophe every other day, seems obvious. The primary goal of the system is to make geo-located information available to anybody who needs it, in a format that is easy to use, as quickly as possible. In addition to the real-time information, the system will also provide historical information so that changes can be assessed. The GRDEMS would provide information rather than data. This means that the users would get products, in the form of images, tables, charts, graphs, etc. The organizations acquiring the data would be responsible for producing the products.

It may seem, at first, that the development of such a system would be very complex and expensive. I am hoping to demonstrate that the system could be developed using currently available technologies and existing infrastructure. What is required is the capability to link the sources of information to the users via a user-friendly interface. The information (products) would remain with the acquiring or processing organization and only be accessed as needed.

Examples of similar systems are the various weather services. These services acquire information from distributed sites and make it available to users. While most of these services bring the information into their central location, this would not be necessary. The sites that acquire the information could just as well make it available on-demand. In addition to the real-time information, the sites could also store and make available archived weather information.

Another example is NASA’s Earth Observing System’s (EOS) Direct Broadcast/Receiving System (DB) (compare Leppelmeier et al. 2006). This system currently consists of more than 200 ground-stations receiving direct, real-time transmissions from the three EOS satellites. Now, these stations operate independently just serving the local scientific and research community. It would not be difficult to link these stations so that the information they acquire could be made available to any user via a common interface. Again, both real-time and archived information would be available.

Floods in Australia from Aqua (NASA)

Floods in Australia from Aqua (NASA)

The same approach could be used for any disaster or environmental information acquisition system. Examples of such systems range from the very sophisticated and expensive satellite system described above to, for example, images from cell (mobile) phones. Cell phones and their services are becoming much more sophisticated. Cell phones with cameras (both still and video) and with internal Global Positioning Systems (GPS) could be extraordinarily effective information acquisition devices. Information from data collection systems such as weather monitoring and laboratory blood analysis reports could be delivered using a cell phone interface. This is particularly useful in developing countries where the communication infrastructure is poorly developed.

Though the technology and infrastructure to build the GRDEMS is currently available, it will take an organization (the host) with enough influence, technological know-how, and possibly some financial support, to put the system together. GEO/GEOSS and one of the organizations providing on-line geospatial information services are potential candidates. The key to the system would be the development of collaboration between the organizations acquiring the information and the host organization. The information would be acquired, processed and stored at the acquisition site, or on the server of the acquisition system (cell phones, e.g.). The host would provide the links and the user-friendly interface to the information.

There are, no doubt, many technologies and services that I have not yet thought about that could contribute to the GRDEMS. My immediate goal is to find an organization willing to develop a pilot project to demonstrate the feasibility of the GRDEMS. Once this is done, I would guess that further development could proceed as more partners became interested in the project. Even though there are some disaster-monitoring systems currently in operation (the Disaster Monitoring Constellation for example, none of them have the global scope, real-time capability, and potential depth of coverage of the GRDEMS. It should be noted that GRDEMS can also be used for epidemiological monitoring (bird flu, SARS, etc.). The GRDEMS would not only be a source of information, but would also serve as a forum for the exchange of ideas and for collaboration. There is clearly a need for the GRDEMS.


John Bolton

Technology Development

Earth Science Projects Division (formerly the EOS Program Office)

Code 420 NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Greenbelt, MD 20771 U.S.A.

Telephone: (301) 286-8547

website: fullspectralimaging.net/


Leppelmeier, G.W., Aulamo, O., Hassinen, S., MÌ_ lkki, A., Riihisaari, T., Tajakka, R., Tamminen, J., and Tanskanen, A. (2006) OMI Very Fast Delivery and the SodankylÌ_ Satellite Data Centre. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, 44(5), 1283-1287.