April 22, 2015

MUSA Earth Day: “Global Mapping and Remote Sensing for Sustainable Urbanization”

past event


On April 22, Penn IUR partnered with the Master of Spatial Analytics (MUSA) program and the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) for a day of events to commemorate Earth Day, including an expert roundtable on the role of geospatial technology in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and public panel, “Global Mapping and Remote Sensing for Sustainable Urbanization.”

Susan Wachter, Co-director of Penn IUR, set the stage of the discussion saying, “sustainability is an earth-wise enterprise.” Genie Birch, Co-Director of Penn IUR, echoed her sentiment by discussing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, global indicators currently in development, and posed the question: How will the world choose indicators that are scientific, valid, and SMART? With 68% of the world expected to be living in urban areas by 2030, this question proves critical for sustainable development.

Dr. Richard Weller, Martin and Margy Meyerson Chair of Urbanism and Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed the importance of preserving “representative and connected” open space throughout the world. He called for the need for a one-stop shop, or ecological inventory, for the whole planet. “Maps are as important for what they leave out as for what they show,” he said, “but we can’t help but make maps”. View Dr. Weller’s full presentation here.

This motif reoccurred in many of the day’s presentations.  Dr. Budhendra Bhaduri, Corporate Research Fellow and the founding director of Urban Dynamics Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, talked about a brand-new technology called LandScanHD. This high resolution mapping tool can more precisely map population distribution, accurately extracting every building in California in less than five minutes. These mapping abilities can “map people who have never been mapped before…who have never existed to you and me”. The implications of monitoring the growth of such populations means that we can not only improve their growth and development but also better calculate their vulnerability to the world’s changing climate. View Dr. Bhaduri’s full presentation here.

In addition to population mapping, geospatial satellite data has allowed for the measurement of mapping sustainability on the planetary level. Marc Imhoff, Visiting Research Scientist at the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center of the University of Maryland, demonstrated the importance of sustainability as “urbanization increasing becomes the human enterprise.” With urban growth inevitable, we will be able to measure important sustainable methods of transportation, agriculture, energy use, and more, are to the survival of urban areas. View Dr. Imoff’s full presentation here.

Dr. Martino Pesaresi, Scientific Leader for the European Commission’s Institute for Protection and Security of the Citizen, Global Security and Crisis Management Unit, demonstrated the abilities of the Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL), which allows for “systematic collection using satellite data can create indicators for more effective measurement of human settlements.” View Dr. Pesaresi’s full presentation here.

Dr. Christopher Small, geophysicist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, demonstrated his latest project which seeks to quantify the spatiotemporal changes of the earth’s surface. Understanding the consequences of land and settlement changes using satellite imagery can help inform future planning efforts and better prepare vulnerable populations for climate and development-induced environmental changes.

Dr. Mark Montgomery, Professor of Economics at Stony Brook University and a Senior Associate in the Poverty, Gender and Youth Program at the Population Council in New York, described the ability of the database Desventar, another program created using geospatial technologies to record disaster records at a fine scale. “Spatial locations of disasters haven’t been specifically recorded in the past,” Montgomery said. World-wide there is next to no information on small scale disasters and their environmental, social, and economic impacts on countries. Such information could open up a whole new set of opportunities for emergency management and urban resilience. View Dr. Montgomery’s full presentation here.

With over 300 proposed indicators to contribute to the accomplishment of the UN’s SDGs, Penn IUR’s Earth Day panelists resoundingly agreed that geospatial technologies promise to play a critical role in monitoring, measuring, and achieving earth-wide sustainability. 

MUSA Earth Day 

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