US Using CIA Spy Satellites to Study Ice Retreat in Arctic (Photos)


Photo via NY Times. A satellite image of East Siberian Sea

The US has revived a promising CIA data-sharing program that was shut down by the Bush administration. In it, the nation's top spies and best climate scientists are collaborating to study the effects of climate change on the environment, making use of some of the world's most cutting-edge intelligence gathering equipment. From spy satellites to state-of-the-art censors, the CIA has given the scientific community access to tools with which to uncover a veritable goldmine of climate and environmental data. More declassified satellite imagery after the jump.The quality of the satellite imagery, some of which has been assembled at the Global Fiducials Library, has been dulled to hide the satellites true capabilities.

According to the NY Times, the project's collaborators are seeking in particular, "insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests." So far, the photos of the retreating ice in the Arctic are the only ones to be made public. The project is helping break new ground and expand the body of climate research already available:

The collaboration restarts an effort the Bush administration shut down and has the strong backing of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In the last year, as part of the effort, the collaborators have scrutinized images of Arctic sea ice from reconnaissance satellites in an effort to distinguish things like summer melts from climate trends, and they have had images of the ice pack declassified to speed the scientific analysis.

Scientists involved have said that the "trove of images is really useful" and that the data could help them one day make ice forecasts. There are 60 spies and scientists working together in the program, and officials stress that it is in no way taking away from other intelligence gathering missions.

That's because the program essentially consists of giving some top tier scientists security clearance and access to the vast collection of images and data, and allowing them to pore over it. It means having the sensors and satellites continue to record as they drift over wilderness areas during its orbit. Most of images are already in effect there--the CIA is simply making it available to the scientists.

The program was in effect during the entirety of the Clinton administration, and it is still unclear why Bush decided to pull the plug. But the benefits of such a program, like the images from the satellites themselves, are crystal clear:

"There are no other data available that show the melting and freezing processes," a report from the National Research Council said, according to the NY Times. "Their release will have a major impact on understanding effects of climate change." And such research promises "to promote understanding of the fundamental forces at work in global climate change, including the endless whorls and gyres of polar ice."

This a truly encouraging program; a sign that the administration is serious about using its resources to study climate change.


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Arctic Sea Ice Melt 20 Years Ahead of Schedule
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Tags: Global Climate Change | Global Warming Solutions | United States