Eric van Praag
It is fair to say that geographic information and the myriad of services derived from it are rapidly changing the way we monitor the present and plan the future of our societies in many different ways.
Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) need timely and accurate spatial information that can help us manage and understandimportant societal issues and that can help us better manage and preserve our common environmental heritage, especially in a region rich in biodiversity and natural resources such as ours.
Floods, tsunamis, forest fires, deforestation, biodiversity loss, hurricanes, El Niño: the list of events that don´t respect national boundaries is long indeed. We can´t monitor, foresee or respond to this type of events by concentrating on the national level, we have to move beyond, we have to go regional.
GeoSUR stands out for its efforts to go beyond the national level, and it has been instrumental in making available regional geoinformation in geoservices that provide accurate and timely information for decision makers in this part of the World.
The deployment of GeoSUR has been a real challenge, given the size and diversity of the LAC region: 33 countries, 588MM inhabitants and a territory covering 7,8 MM sq. mi. There is no way in which the state of its forests, coral reefs, infrastructure, soils or agricultural resources can be monitored without the use of spatial information that is digital, available on line and open to the public. In a respond to this challenge, more than 100 national agencies have joined forces with a regional development bank and other regional entities in order to establish one of the first operational regional geospatial networks in the World.
GeoSUR has developed five main components: i) a Regional Geoportal, ii) a decentralized network of map services, iii) a LAC Regional Map Service, iv) a Topographic Processing Service, and v) regional geoprocessing tools for hydro power assessment and flood mapping. The Portal features more than 300 OGC-based services, 14,000 metadata records (harvested), 220,000 metadata records (searchable), and 110 map viewers. GeoSUR relies on a decentralized system architecture; one that keeps data close to its producers.
The GeoSUR Viewer maintains what is today the biggest collection of online supranational maps of LAC, with key holdings of GIS resources in topics such as coral reefs, urban expansion, mangroves, land use cover, land cover change, deforestation, habitat loss, forest biomass, climate, hydropower potential, mineral resources, floods, river flow estimations, infrastructure projects and many others. More than 700 regional datasets produced by 30 international agencies are now available in this mechanism, and some of this information can´t be found online elsewhere.
GeoSUR was set up by CAF – the Latin American Development Bank and the Pan American Institute of Geography and History (PAIGH) in 2007and it has grown and prospered ever since.A network of more than 100 spatial data providers from 26 countries participate in GeoSURand have managed to put on the Web tens of thousands of maps and other GIS resources in easy to use applications.
There are many examples of how this wealth of data is put to practical uses. A recent survey of GeoSUR users shows that 22% of them have used GeoSUR’s online tools for decision making. Reported use include river mapping, modeling of landslides and flooding events, mapping of slope for agricultural use, emergency relief, watershed analysis, road planning, ecological planning, analysis of school coverage, expansion of protected areas, impact of new infrastructure, vulnerability to climate change, environmental monitoring in the Andean Amazon region, land use scenarios, and viewshed analysis for cellular companies, among many others.
Courtesy of a recent collaboration with the Darmouth Flood Observatory (DFO) of the University of Colorado,GeoSUR has been mapping floods in Latin America in near-real-time since November of 2013. Some of the greatest floods in living memory in Bolivia and Paraguay this year were mapped in great detail. The Bolivian authorities were able to correctly assess the extent of the areas affected, evaluate the negative impacts to environmental and agricultural resources, and establish which towns needed immediate emergency support using these new online maps.Under normal circumstances flood maps are generated after the event and are not particularly useful for emergency response.
Other products out of this collaboration include yearly and historic flood maps and daily estimates of river flow (obtained by remote sensing techniques) for LAC. Not only devastating floods, but also drought conditions, the level of reservoirs, unusual river flow and otherwater-related conditions can be monitored with this new system.
GeoSUR continues to expand into new fields. These include GIS-based hydropower assessments that allow governments to identify the best locations for building small and medium hydropower plants using hydrological and climate data in combination with the SRTM 30-meter DEM(edited and improved by the USGS for GeoSUR). Studies have been completed – or are under way – in Sao Paulo State (Brazil), Peru, Argentina and Bolivia.The Sao Paulo Energy Secretariat is using the data to promote the incorporation of small and medium hydropower producers into the energy grid, while in Peru the authorities seek to identify key watersheds that have potential to develop big hydropower plants to fulfill the country´s growing energy needs.
GeoSUR also supports efforts to harmonize and integrate regional datasets. In collaboration with the USGS, PAIGH and the geographic institutes of Central America, GeoSURassisted in the development of the first Regional Central American Map, at 1:250,000 scale, now available in the GeoSUR Viewer. The project developed methodologies that could be applied for the development of an integrated Latin American map.
The above examples show how a regional SDI, such as GeoSUR, can build geoservices and applications with real social benefits. To prosper, national SDIs need to builduseful applications with tangible benefits and clear outcomes, lest they remain intellectual exercises and end up losing political support or fall out of favor with the public.
For more information on GeoSUR contact Eric van Praag at 58-212-209.6554 (Venezuela), email:[email protected]and visit www.geosur.info.