March 13 - Boston University scientists are building a system of visual timelines to show how climate change is affecting the Earth's ecosystems. Using historical satellite data, the researchers have been able to build a compelling picture of the planet's response to global warming. Ben Gruber reports.
This is an animated map illustrating the effects of climate change over time. The model was built using LandTrendr, a statistical algorithm that combines decades worth of satellite data with corresponding ground observations, like droughts and wildfires. According to its creator, Professor Robert Kennedy of Boston University, the algorithm provides climate researchers with a powerful tool to track physical changes brought about by warmer temperatures. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ROBERT KENNEDY, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, BOSTON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "These satellites literally are time machines. We can ask questions about 1986, questions that we didn't even know to ask back in 1986, but we still have the imagery and we can still tie it together with these streams of other stories and images, before and after. And that whole context of time lets you tell a much richer story of the landscape than you could just looking at one time and if you only had a very small view. Put together the big landscape over a long period and you can really start seeing what the landscape is doing." Kennedy says that colors on map show how different factors affect forests over time. Green and blue representing healthy trees. Yellow indicates an infestation of insects and red representing a forest dying. He says timelines like these allows scientists to better understand the effects of climate change as well as map its evolution. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ROBERT KENNEDY, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, BOSTON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "The last 30 years on this planet we have actually been very busy as humans, both on what is happening on the ground and also forcing the climate to do things that it is maybe not use to. So we have given ourselves a lot of actual examples of extreme events and places and years that may look what the future will look like on a more normal basis sometime down the road." Kennedy says these maps are like books, with each year representing a new chapter. He says having a better understanding of the past gives a much clearer view of the future.