Conceiving a dashboard for Spaceship Earth

Imagine a Future-oriented Geographic Information System (FGIS) tied to a public web interface that would display the Earth's surface as a stack of maps, each map another dimension of geography. A user can look at any place on Earth in a display of selected FGIS layers overlying satellite photography with a Google-Earth-style user interface. The maps are future oriented with a range of 100 years, in 20 five-year steps.

The user can "play" the map in time, and see what would happen to the geography that we live in, over that time span. Each layer in the stack can respond to changes of fundamental inputs, "what-if"s. The user can change the premises, and the ecosystem inputs, and play the map again, observing improvements or degradations.

For example, agricultural production and soil health are "outputs" which respond to changes in soil structure and condition, water table levels, salinity, glaciers and snow pack, temperature, and rainfall, as well as changes in farming practices - irrigation, fertilizer types, organic approaches, interplanting, mechanized processes, availability of field labor, etc.

Here is an example of an existing map site which shows maps conditioned by a single input, in this case sea-level rise. This example site is not ours.

Each data layer, or geographic dimension, is generated and maintained by small teams of world class professionals and academics. They create the models that relate inputs to outputs.

Each layer links to others through defined interfaces, so that, for example, CO2 or methane output of civilization as a whole, of nations, of industries, can be changed by factors on other maps (e.g.. public policy) and this result will affect the climate, in turn, affecting the water cycle, affecting agriculture, affecting population movements, ....etc.

The data quality is maintained by having the teams in effect "sign" their work. That is, theresponsibility for that layer is controlled, and displayed to thepublic -- "This data layer created by the GIS team at NOAA, Seattle." or "This layer maintained by the Dept. of Oceanography at the University of Washington".

Note that the projections may well conflict. Ray Kurzweil’s "The Singularity Is Near" sings a very different tune from Lester Brown’s "Plan B 2.0". While they address different dimensions of the projected futures, there is no reason that they can not both be represented. They can be either separate layers, or separate models in the same layer type, or separate input premises in the whole system.

This can be a serious tool for public policy planning. Its explicit mission is to be an educational tool. It should have at least as much impact on planetary consciousness as the first picture of Earth from space. So it can be seen as a dashboard for spaceship Earth. (Where are we going? How are the "engines" running? Let's have a look.)

The data servers can be left in their sponsoring institutions, probably universities, or they might be collected in a server farm for higher speed processing and faster links. The web servers are best distributed around the planet.

Time on shared computers will be an issue for more complex data sets. A new resource for this may be the Interational Centre for Environmental Simulation (ICES) , in Geneva, founded and run by Dr. Robert Bishop, known for his work at Silicon Graphics Inc. They are committed to the future modeling problem, and to the challenge of building a supercomputer with performance ranked among the top ten on the planet, and keeping it there. If ICES decided to work with us, our community of modelers would have some access to the ICES machines, giving them unprecedented speed and accuracy. This may be a key attraction for scientists to cooperate in the EarthShip DashBoard community.

The resources needed are the appropriate venues to:
  • collect/maintain the data and models
  • situate and run the servers
  • and web-publish the tool.
There are technical hurdles, but no barriers, to do this; it is all a matter of resources and collaboration.

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