COP15: Environmental Atlas of Europe Unveiled

It’s a new, online multimedia showcase of the possible effects of climate change, along with a worldwide Google Earth-style interactive portrait of the globe.
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It’s a new, online multimedia showcase of the possible effects of climate change, along with a worldwide Google Earth-style interactive portrait of the globe.

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This image from the Environmental Atlas of Europe shows the submersion of coastal areas in the Netherlands that would result from rising sea levels. But more than that, the “Environmental Atlas of Europe,” released by the European Environment Agency, the UN Environment Programme and the European Space Agency includes a series of short films, complete with dramatic music, showing the significance of environmental change depicted in comparisons of satellite images through the years, along with different ways people are responding.

The project was revealed Monday (Dec. 14) at the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (COP15) in Copenhagen.

As for the “Atlas” portion on the Website (, it seems to use the same raw images as Google Earth uses in the United States, but a fresh set in Europe—“up-to-date, captivating satellite images and products from various European satellites,” the groups said in a statement. Viewers can see shipping routes through the ice of the Baltic Sea and a gigantic plankton bloom off the Irish, among other phenomena.

"The advantages satellites offer are evident: only from space do we have a truly global view. Satellites fly over literally every corner of the surface of our planet. They measure diverse parameters, from sea surface temperatures to movements in the solid Earth, from gases in the atmosphere to land cover, and much more. They do this repeatedly, day and night, 24 hours a day, for years. The data we receive from space are a key contribution to the information we need to tackle climate change,” said Volker Liebig, ESA's director of Earth Observation. “When we were invited to contribute to the atlas project, we said yes immediately. I am convinced that this atlas will bring our common ambitions closer to the people. Earth Observation from space is a scientific imperative, but it has also become a crucial tool for policy assessment and political decision-taking."

Combining space-based measurements with in-situ measurements and other sources like historic weather records and maps will help understanding and awareness of climate change, the groups said.

As for the atlas function of the project: It runs on Microsoft Silverlights and leaves out many of the special overlay features of Google Earth. Also, it doesn’t allow the synthesized side-angle view available in Google Earth—only a direct overhead view. But is also provides a convenient wide-view mini-map that let’s you know where you’re looking, a feature useful to anyone who’s moved too quickly across the Google Earth landscape and been forced to zoom back out to regain orientation.

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