As part of his plan to help U.S. communities prepare for climate change, President Obama is unveiling initiatives Wednesday that include 3-dimensional mapping to better identify flood risks, landslide hazards and coastal erosion.
The U.S. Geological Survey is launching a $13 million 3-D Elevation Program to develop advanced mapping that it says could, among other things, make it quicker to update flood maps and easier to find ideal sites for wind turbines and solar panels. It's relying on lidar (light detection and ranging) technology that uses light from lasers to give the elevation of any spot — from the tree tops to the ground.
"It gives us a 3-D picture. That's what makes lidar a game-changing technology," says Vicki Lukas, USGS' chief of topographic data services team. She says USGS has contracted with private firms to develop lidar since the 1990s but now aims to collect consistent, higher-quality data from all 50 states. She says it will use a different technology for Alaska, because lidar data is limited there.
Lukas says 3-D mapping has numerous applications, including emerging ones such as helping agriculture pinpoint where to use fertilizers. She says it could also boost fuel economy by spurring the development of automated vehicle navigation or self-driving cars. To develop it fully, the USGS will work with other federal agencies as well as states, academia and businesses.
Another new Obama project aims to safeguard the nation's power supply during extreme weather events, which scientists say will happen more often with global warming and could strain utilities' ability to deliver power. The Department of Agriculture is awarding $236.3 million in grants to boost the rural electricity infrastructure in eight states.
Several reports, including one Tuesday by the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, say the U.S. electric grid is at risk not only from severe weather but also from physical and cyber attacks.
Obama, who announced a nearly $1 billion fund in June to make communities more resilient to natural disasters, plans to discuss these initiatives in a meeting today with his State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness, a group of 26 officials convened in November to develop such ideas.
His administration also announced two "preparedness pilot" programs in Houston and the state of Colorado, in which federal and local officials will work together to craft plans that could serve as models elsewhere. It said the Agriculture Department will announce new funds this week to help rural areas struggling with drought but didn't disclose the amount of money involved.
Other efforts include a new $10 million Bureau of Indian Affairs program to teach tribes how to develop climate adaptation plans and a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guide, "Assessing Health Vulnerability to Climate Change," to identify health hazards linked to rising temperatures.
Over the last year, the Obama administration has unveiled other efforts as well. In March, it launched its "data initiative" by tapping the expertise and reach of universities, private groups, the World Bank and more than a dozen U.S. companies including Microsoft and Intel. Google, for example, plans to create high-resolution drought mapping for the mainland United States.
In June, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed reducing the heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants. Its proposal, which gives varying reduction targets for each state, could mostly affect coal-fired plants, which are the nation's biggest emitters.