How are geospatial technologies being applied to achieve resilience?

by Matt Ball on July 29, 2011

With increasing global change comes a need to return ecosystems to their strongest natural health, and to ensure that our built environment can adapt rather than crumble from natural forces. Stepped-up ecological change is forcing new levels of land and infrastructure management, and geospatial technology is well-poised to analyze impacts, improve designs, and monitor outcomes.

With today’s geovisualization capabilities and digital data stores, improved modeling is raising awareness of the significant impacts of climate change to both the natural and built environments. From this initial phase of heightened awareness will come policy and management objectives to combat the risks and repercussions of these changes, and to ensure that we bounce back quickly from any challenges that we face. With continued feedback, and more real-time inputs, the monitoring function of geospatial technology will provide the means to most easily adapt and confront change.

Infrastructure Efficiency

New tools are now in use, and in development, to factor in the often competing inputs involved in sustainable design. Designers will soon have the ability to see their structures in greater context within the city, and to see how siting and design impact energy needs and environmental impacts. Greater use of visualization as a design tool fosters increased collaboration among the design disciplines so that they may optimize these inputs with confidence.

Increasingly, planning will focus on efficiency and the combating of natural forces to minimize economic interruptions. New thinking about the metabolism of cities provides greater understanding of the infrastructure needed to optimize social interactions and economic vitality. This new level of design informs our understanding of existing built environment in order to determine missing elements and prioritize infrastructure investments.

The aim to limit catastrophic impacts will also increasingly involve input and interaction with citizens for a greater understanding of on-the-ground conditions so that economic disruptions and public health impacts are minimized. The embrace of this new level of input during emergencies will spill over into other areas of city management, with more participatory governance and planning for more holistic decision making.

Landscape-Level Coordination

While past scientific and policy approaches have focused on the restoration of ecosystems to achieve a pristine state that is then cordoned off, the heightened pace of ecological change is leading to far more active approaches. The number of environmental stressors have compounded to include reduced biodiversity, exploited natural resources, land-use change, and climate change. In order to combat these multiple factors, we’re analyzing resilience more closely, developing adaptive resource management plans, and taking transdisciplinary governance approaches.

In many cases, the conservation groups that have made such great impacts on restoring ecosystems are now faced with whole new levels of activity at scales much greater than the point-source pollution that they have previously combated. The broader challenge of system-level climate change requires a whole new landscape-scale approach and much broader coordination of stakeholders and actors to avert ecological catastrophes. The ability of geospatial tools to coordinate and integrate different data and disciplines makes it ideal for this new approach. As in collaborative design, transdisciplinary management benefits from the visualization and analysis capabilities that allow diverse work teams to share the same picture.

Economic Balance

Our economic vitality and prosperity have benefited greatly from the stability that we have experienced over the past half century with a stable climate, heightened global economic participation, and cheap energy. The disruptions that have begun in our climate have magnified the problems with reliance on fossil fuels, and have had destabilizing effects as food and energy price increases have caused crises.

In order to ensure resilience not only do we need to manage aging infrastructure and avoid environmental collapse, we also need to balance the socio-ecological issues such as productivity of agriculture, avoiding resource conflicts, managing population displacement, combating pandemics, and maintaining peace and security. In each of these areas, the geospatial toolset is vital and well established to assess the many factors, figure out a baseline, and monitor for trigger points so that well-aimed intervention allows us to avoid catastrophes and collapse.

There is a heightened understanding that more coordination needs to take place in order to benefit fully from the power of geospatial information. Just this week the United Nations has worked to set up a committee on global information management to help countries gather, validate, compile and disseminate geospatial data with stability in mind. This groundwork is critical for the ongoing monitoring and analysis that will ensure resilience, providing a heightened awareness of the world around us, and better stewardship for our planet.


Three Global Disaster Events You Don’t Want to Happen Today, by Gregory Bren Garcia, Urban Times, July 21, 2011

Resilience Capacity Index, Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California, Berkeley

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