A tool bringing together data from all accessible sources to support large and small initiatives for climate change amelioration.
The earth is in a substantial state of disrepair and in need of urgent action to improve its condition. There are many substantial projects in place attacking specific problems. However, there are also opportunities for individual people, communities, educational and scientific organisations, commercial enterprises and governments at all levels to become involved in many modest adaptive activities, operating at very local levels. For these to be effective, information, people, methods, money and resources must be shared. Successful projects may act as templates for future projects.
At the core of this proposal is a public domain database that is an audit of the entire land surface of the earth, divided into basic earth units (BEUs), varying in area from about 12 sq. km. to about 25 sq. km., defined by GPS co-ordinates. Its function is to aggregate and localise all available land data to support large and small projects for land improvement or repair. The initial physical information may be collected at a number of levels; satellite imagery, airborne vehicles and people or robots on the ground. Internal structures, such as rivers and lakes, will also be defined by GPS co-ordinates. Additional qualitative information may either be donated to the public database, or retained on the contributor's server, with appropriate links to the public database.
All of the information on the database relating to a specific BEU will be used to define optimal or acceptable suboptimal usages for the BEU or specified areas within it. Usages include (but are not limited to) settlements, agriculture, carbon sequestration, biodiversity protection, mining, power supply (including nuclear) and land recovery.
Projects for optimising the function of large or small areas of land may then be initiated by individuals, local residents or entities of all kinds ranging in size from modest activist groups through to national governments and international organisations.
Category of the action
Mitigation/Adaptation, Changing public attitudes about climate change
What actions do you propose?
At the core of my proposal is a public domain database that contains an audit of the entire surface of the earth, divided into a grid of basic earth units (BEUs), each approximately 12 to 25 sq. km. in area, bounded by lines of latitude and longitude and identified by the GPS co-ordinates of the SE and NW corners. The datum will be the intersection point of the Prime Meridian and the Equator. As no BEUs will cross these lines, all positional references will be positive, but BEUs must be identified as residing in the northern or southern hemisphere and to the east or the west of the Prime Meridian.
Looking at land below the equator, the latitudinal boundaries (parallel to the equator) should be a standard distance apart (3 min or 5.8 km is proposed), while the longitudinal boundaries start at 3 min. (also 5.8 km) but will, as one moves south, slowly converge to a point where 3 min. represents about half of the equatorial dimension, or 2.9 km. At this point the longitudinal boundary will change to 6 min. (back to 5.8 km), with two northerly BEUs matching one southerly BEU. This manoeuvre will be repeated each time the longitudinal boundary halves in length. The fact that all corners of one northerly BEU will either have exactly the same GPS co-ordinates as the corners of adjacent BEUs or will be exactly half-way between the corners of a southerly BEU will greatly simplify the computation of which BEU will be the home of any arbitrarily selected set of GPS co-ordinates. This pattern will result in about 9 million BEUs south of the equator and the same number north of the equator. This number will be reduced if BEUs over oceans are excluded.
The quoted size of the BEUs is not mandatory, but is suggested as being appropriate to oversight by one person or a small group of people. Other dimensions of 6 min or 12 min are possible, because they all fit exactly into the 360 degree, 60 minute,60 second structure. Adjacent BEUs can be assembled into extended earth units (XEUs) for convenience as required, identified simply by the co-ordinates of the BEUs at the SE and NW corners. Internal areas and structures, such as mountains, rivers and lakes, will be defined by points, chains or loops of GPS co-ordinates. Where these structures are larger than a BEU, they can be contained within an XEU, with the part within an individual BEU appearing as a smaller structure attached to the BEU boundary. This implies that the chain or loop must contain points on the BEU boundaries indicating where the crossover between BEUs takes place.
The choice of GPS co-ordinates was prompted by their universal nature and the ability to relate to similarly defined structures through very straightforward mathematical processing.
The building of the database should take place in four phases:
The first phase is to enter the primary record keys and any other initial data (such as land area for example). Each primary key will consist of the quartile code (N, S, E, W) followed by the degrees, minutes and seconds for the SE and NW corners. This information is very systemic and can almost certainly be generated by coding in a convenient language. Using characters and short integers, a record of 1 kilobyte should be able to hold about 60 keys. As there will be about 19,000,000 BEUs (including those over water), the space required would be approximately 320 Mbytes. Note that this is simply a register of BEUs and all data will be stored in appended tables linked through these primary keys.
The second phase is to collect information relating to the natural structures within BEUs, defined by using points, chains and loops as appropriate. This information may be collected in a number of ways; satellite imagery, airborne vehicles or people on the ground, for example. Maps showing natural structures can be overlaid with a grid of GPS points and key features (e.g. peaks of mountains, bends in rivers, etc.) can be assigned an estimated GPS value.
The third phase is to establish sets of codes to identify (a) all usage types such as (but not limited to) carbon capture, afforestation, agriculture, water storage, biodiversity protection, settlements, mining and unused (e.g. desert, icecap, etc.), and (b) qualitative features such as surface materials, vegetation, resident animal species and so forth which will be found in the BEUs or in more limited areas within them.
The fourth phase is to collect as much information as possible relating to the BEUs, the various codes and possible combinations of them. In the vast majority of cases, the database will act as an aggregator and will merely store links to information held on major databases owned by governments, educational and research institutions and private companies. However, there is an important opportunity for communities, activist groups and individuals to donate any information they may have which is relevant to the function of the database. Donors may prefer to keep the information on their own servers, in which case they will become part of the aggregation process. However, others may prefer to have their information installed on the home database and this will undoubtedly require an ongoing process to create and maintain the appropriate data structures to receive the information.
Management of the database.
It is important that the database is created under the control of a single independent organisation, so that the information accessed is not manipulated for political or commercial interests. My original concept was limited to Australia and I thought that I might be able to engage the Australian Computer Society (of which I am a member) in the project. Expanding it to a worldwide concept suggests that a management committee drawn from an international consortium of similar organisations might be an appropriate arrangement, free of any overriding national concerns.
Given the amount of information to be stored and the potential complexity of the analytical processes, it would seem economical to have multiple servers located in different countries (which would give local IT professionals and volunteers very useful experience) and to store the data in the Cloud, which should give fairly uniform ease of access. Staff managing these servers, students and volunteers could form teams to design the low-level database structures and corresponding access coding as information is received.
All donated information must conform to structural and operational standards laid down by the management committee, so that consistent data may be drawn from the core database and the network of contributing databases. It will thereafter be deemed to be in the public domain. Information in the database may be used in private and commercial activities (with attribution and possibly payments towards the operation of the database) but no attempt may be made to claim copyright over any of the data. The only work to be done by contributors is to add the appropriate BLEU id or a set of GPS co-ordinates within the BLEU to the various items of data being donated or made accessible.
All of the available data for a specific BEU must first be examined to determine its relevance to the various usages and thereafter to identify every current usage of the land. Usages may apply to the whole area of the BEU or to specified areas within it (defined by GPS co-ordinates as described above). The overall value of each BEU with regard to a particular type of operation may be determined from the codes and assigned values of all its usages or only those usages relevant to that type. Optimal BEUs are those which already contribute efficiently to climate change amelioration (including the capability of donating plant or animal life to other less fortunate BEUs) or which are so important that they should not be modified in the immediate future. Sub-optimal usages are those which could be modified so as to improve their contribution, or which could be abandoned in favour of other, more positive, usages.
The next step is to create a number of rankings for the BEU values, relating usages and usage combinations to various criteria of interest. These can be used in searches for areas which require urgent action (e.g. protection of rare animals and plants as a bio-diversity exercise), which have valuable properties (e.g. extensive growth of C4 carbon plants) to assist in the ability of nearby BEUs to capture carbon, or which may be useful components in the assessment of large-scale developments such as settlements, industrial areas or mines.
Using The Database.
There are many different ways in which the database could be used.
At the lowest level, a group of activists or citizens might be looking for advice and assistance to restore a small area of degraded arable land to a productive state or to convert it to a carbon capture zone, using C3 or C4 fixation. The choices of plants and maintenance procedures might depend upon the location, the services available and the history of agriculture and wild plant growth in the area.
At the other extreme, a world-wide strategy may be required to destroy a pest which threatens the existence of certain plants of high value in the adaptation campaign. This would require the marshalling of a large number of people, pesticides and perhaps other chemicals to counter the adverse effects of the pesticides.
In between these extremes lie an endless range of possibilities for projects which actively change the features of the BLEU to perform a role in ameliorating climate change. The available data may also be used to verify that infrastructure, housing and other projects minimise any negative consequences or may even contribute to an improved outcome.
An important process is the monitoring of the state of a BEU, or any activities taking place within it. Here are some examples:
Activities such as urban development, mining, industrial area operations and even military actions could be checked periodically to determine what damage (if any) might be done to the environment and to ensure that remedial or improvement operations are included in the operation. For example, mining for metallic ores (necessary for communications and renewable energy) results in the removal of topsoils and excavation to sometimes extraordinary levels, but a substantial environmental recovery (even an improvement) may be effected by terracing the excavation for agriculture and constructing a water storage facility at the lowest point.
The effects on BEUs of extreme weather, geological events and other events (e.g. sea level rising, forest fires) believed to be due to climate change pressures can be monitored as they arise.
There are, of course, procedures already in place for much of this kind of activity but as has been stated elsewhere in this proposal, one of its major intentions is to localise the information for the benefit and involvement of local people, governments of relatively impoverished nations who need to voice their concerns promptly and people with ideas for climate change amelioration who are looking for sites to implement them (to name but a few).
To end on a personal note, I live in a semi-rural area with a wide variety of landscapes which is also a substantial holiday destination. In such places, there are always conflicts between developments (necessary though they may be) and preservation of the various landscapes with their resident plant and animal varieties. One recurring problem is identifying conflicting information and accessing other information which would help resolve conflicts. The ability of everyone concerned to act upon a reliable body of knowledge could be invaluable in producing the best possible outcomes. This is the driver for this proposal.
Who will take these actions?
Operations will be tiered to optimise the quality of data as presented to the public and the processes used to facilitate public access and understanding. Below the management level, there will be several tiers of technical expertise, organised into teams with expertise in specific areas. They will include employees, persons on secondment from commercial, consultative and governmental organisations wishing to add to their employers’ body of knowledge, and volunteers training to enter the various IT professions.
The management tier will look after the business, legal, security and other aspects, as well as the day-to-day operation of the database.
The first technical tier will review material being made available from external sources and will design and manage the interfaces which will receive or read incoming data and present the outgoing data to the public.
The second tier will analyse the data and create the functions which will populate the usage and material codes and use this information to generate usages for specified BEUs and XEUs.
The third tier will develop functions which will utilise the usage information to develop formulae and processes to define optimal and suboptimal rankings for BEUs and XEUs as required for different kinds of operation. This section will also be customer-facing, offering advice to and dealing with approaches from the public. They may also be involved in training those involved in remedial works or in future maintenance. For instance, local people may need to be trained in sustainable methods for the production of food, plants or timber or in proper techniques for the conservation of soil, alternation of C4 and C3 plants usage (to capture and release carbon) and so forth.
Note that the word tier in this sense does not imply any ranking of skills or experience. Rather it reflects the structure of the database and its appended information and the specialist skills required at different levels.
Where will these actions be taken?
Because of the very large volume of data which will accumulate over time, several copies of the database should be maintained on servers in different parts of the world. This will reduce the vulnerability due to cyber attacks or physical conflicts in various places. It will also offer opportunities for local people gain experience. Where data is entered on one server, an automatic process should automatically update the others.
Amelioration projects will obviously take place all over the globe. However, where clusters of the same kind of work can be identified, it would be useful to establish depots for the local manufacture and storage of equipment and materials. They could also be used to manage facilities for the training of volunteers and long-term workers.
A specific type of situation is that of research in the field, where uploading of data may depend on factors such as satellite coverage. Where this does not exist or is unreliable, connections to local networks may become a necessity.
What are other key benefits?
In many places, damage has been systematic and either intended or due to careless or unethical behaviour. The small scale of the BEUs offers opportunities to analyse these areas in detail and to support the abandonment of such processes or the payment of penalties to assist in the later repair of the damage. This may promote less harmful practices and persuade vandal companies to use them.
It is important to note that the database is an abstract construct to which physical and qualitative information has been appended. In addition to its role modifying land usage to act against damaging climate change processes, it could be used for activities where climate change aspects do not exist or are marginal. For instance, it could track the spread of diseases such as Ebola or deteriorations in plant and animal health. It could also be used to analyse consequences of natural disasters such as flooding or forest fires and assist in the prioritisation of relief efforts.
What are the proposal’s costs?
In operational terms, this proposal describes a service, where the costs can be divided between management, accommodation, equipment and staffing. Setting up the database is a fairly mechanical operation and can be costed reasonably accurately. However, as interest grows and the model expands, staffing and equipment costs will grow exponentially as the range of services to clients increases.
The first phase in setting up the database is to generate the details of all of the BEUs and store them in database tables. This is a purely mathematical exercise and should be completed in a few weeks at most. Expenses will be the purchase of a quite modest computer and the time spent by technicians in writing and executing the computer programs.
The second phase is to identify all physical features of interest and represent them as points, chains or loops of GPS co-ordinates. This can be done by laying a grid over a map which shows the feature and reading off the significant sets of GPS co-ordinates. In most cases, chains and loops may be fairly simply defined with a minimal number of points (more detail can be added at any time in the future). Large-scale features, such as long rivers, could be defined within an XEU and computer software used to calculate the intermediate points where BEU boundaries are crossed. This is continuing work which may be carried out over an extended period. The results can be published progressively, giving potential contributors the opportunity to add identification details of BEUs and XEUs to their databases.
Beyond this point, specialists in land characteristics will take over from the mathematicians. Other specialists will join the teams as a widening area of data is donated or identified on aggregation client computers.
Success will depend upon adequate funding, the amount of pro bono and volunteer support offered, plus any returns from projects.
As indicated above, the lifetime of the proposal could be several decades. However, the setting up of the organisation and its various IT components could probably be effected in a few months. The population of the BEU records would depend on the availability and format of the satellite imagery and other sources and this will dictate how soon the system may be made available for public viewing and contribution.
As soon as this point is reached, the development of analytics for the identification of usages and BEU profiles may begin. As much of the incoming data may be provided by organisations and people with an interest in promoting on-the-ground projects, the procedures for requesting and allocating resources for these projects will need to be set up. Thereafter, the various activities will proceed in parallel with one another.
In the end, the rate of development will depend on the speed with which interest grows within the user community.
This proposal describes a tool which hopefully will find a very wide range of uses. The only action at this time is to set up the database and populate it with physical data relating to the surface of the earth. Thereafter, its success will depend upon more detailed data being made available from other sources and upon its contribution to the success of other projects.
A couple of recent initiatives have broadened the scope of the current sets of contests. The first was to offer opportunities for the regionalisation or globalisation of proposals. The second was to estimate GHG reductions arising from proposals. This proposal is already global and its GHG reductions will presumably be the sum of all proposals which are able to use this tool to maximise their reductions..
Here is a quote from a local expert I consulted:
"Small CO2 sinks in full carbon accounting auditing verification certification terms are not financially viable. Sinks also must be insured for UNFCCC 100 year cross referenced to insurance company."
This refers to forest reclamation and in particular to schemes whereby countries are rewarded for their efforts in this area. This proposal extends far beyond this topic of course, but it does offer opportunities for countries to aggregate many small forested areas to qualify for funds, and for UN authorities to monitor them.
The topic is covered in detail at this site:
An extensive review of the REDD process can be found at this site. A search for the word "sceptic" brings out some interesting views.