Climate science isn't exactly sexy, but the name of the U.S. space agency's latest project has some sizzle.
NASA and Cisco Systems Inc. are developing "Planetary Skin" -- a marriage of satellites, land sensors and the Internet -- to capture, analyze and interpret global environmental data. Under terms of an agreement announced during a Capitol Hill climate summit today, NASA and Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) will develop the online collaborative platform to process data from satellite, airborne and sea- and land-based sensors around the globe.
The goal is to translate the data into information that governments and businesses can use to mitigate and adapt to climate change and manage energy and natural resources more effectively, NASA and Cisco officials explained in interviews.
"There are a lot of data out there, but we have to turn that into information," explained S. Pete Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center. "What we are trying to do is use Cisco's expertise in data handling, put our data in there and explain what's really going on in the rainforests."
Indeed, the partners' first project, "Rainforest Skin," will focus on integrating a comprehensive sensor network in rainforests around the world. The project will examine how to capture, analyze and present information about the changes in the level of carbon dioxide -- the main heat-trapping gas -- in the Amazon and other areas. Information will be posted on the project's Web site.
Other projects during the next 18 months will look at changes in land use and water, Worden noted.
"This will begin to give us a sense of, if we pass cap and trade, is it working," he added.
Now about the project's name: "There are many layers of skin, of information, and this will help us understand all of the interconnected data," explained Worden, whose agency provides continuous global observations using satellites and other spacecraft.
Juan Carlos Castilla-Rubio, who directs Cisco's climate change practice, said the information should help companies manage environmental and financial risks in a carbon-constrained world.
"It's providing the support platforms for people to make decisions because today we fly blind," added Castilla-Rubio, whose San Jose, Calif.-based company specializes in Internet Protocol networking.
The Center for Global Development has developed a Web site of its own, called Carma (Carbon Monitoring for Action), which tracks emissions from 50,000 power plants around the world. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit research organization is also developing a way to monitor emissions savings from forest conservation.
"These investments in information now are absolutely critical," said Nancy Birdsall, the center's president, who participated in today's summit with Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers. "We have to create that information and track it over time if we're going to have any kind of system at a global level that people in this country and other countries can trust."
"We'll have to have ... something akin to independent monitoring," she added.