Earth Day 2016

At the risk of seeming to be yet another company jumping on the Earth Day bandwagon gratuitously, I just thought to mention that every idea we have about ‘protecting’ our planet stems from observations of our planet — how can we can we actively protect what we dont know exists?  I developed fodar for exactly that purpose — to capture the state of the earth’s surface at an instant in time so that we can compare it to other instants in time for the purpose of detecting change between those instants.  It is only through observations of change like these that we can begin to develop theories about the causes of such change with any hope of predicting trajectories of future change accurately.  Whether it’s coastal erosion, permafrost thaw, glacier melt, snow fall, ice jams, mudslides, or a hundred other processes that change the shape of the earth, without a clear and accurate picture of Before and After, we really dont have enough enough information to even figure out what we should be guessing about.  The traditional method to detecting change was to lay out transects to measure on the ground in areas where you thought something might change over time, then extrapolate globally from there.  This means that if nothing happens along your transect, you would predict that nothing would happen globally, and of course you only put the transect there because you had some reason to think that some sort of change would happen there in the first place.  As scientists, no one is more painfully aware of the flaws in this approach than we are, but we are constrained by budget like everyone else and so just muddle through as best we can.  Techniques like airborne lidar have the technical potential to provide the needed observations and eliminate such extrapolations, but the units are prohibitively expensive and thus not affordable for use by most scientists.  That was the position I was in and that’s why I developed a technique that was just as good but a lot cheaper.  I’ve shared the technical details of how to build and operate my system in the scientific literature (and on this website) because it is my hope that others will begin to implement it globally for the purposes I just described — improving the scientific understanding of our planet to improve predictions of its future state through modeling.  So at the risk of seeming even more gratuitous, it seems to me that now that we have an affordable method for detecting topographic change over enormous areas with ridiculous accuracy, the real challenge for future Earth Days will be to develop a means to convince people that the scientific method, rightly understood, is the only method of interpreting the Earth’s dynamics that doesn’t have an agenda other than disproving what’s not true.

 

 

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