The CIA is sharing data with climatologists:
The nation’s top scientists and spies are collaborating on an effort to use the federal government’s intelligence assets — including spy satellites and other classified sensors — to assess the hidden complexities of environmental change. They seek insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests.
The collaboration restarts an effort the Bush administration shut down and has the strong backing of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In the last year, as part of the effort, the collaborators have scrutinized images of Arctic sea ice from reconnaissance satellites in an effort to distinguish things like summer melts from climate trends, and they have had images of the ice pack declassified to speed the scientific analysis.
The trove of images is “really useful,” said Norbert Untersteiner, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes in polar ice and is a member of the team of spies and scientists behind the effort.
Of course, some people on both sides of the political spectrum are critical of the collaboration, but I’ve been involved in a couple projects or workshops that involved people from the intelligence community, and this doesn’t surprise me at all. There’s plenty of interest in the longer-term strategic implications of climate change (will the shrinking of the Himalayan ice-pack, which provides water to some two billion people, raise the odds of water conflict in South Asia?), and if for no other reason, having easy access to climate scientists would make the program worthwhile to the CIA.
Further, climate scientists are wrestling with some of the most interesting problems in forecasting and scenario work these days, and are asking some very sophisticated and difficult questions about how we use scenarios to think about the future. So both communities have plenty to learn from each other, and clear incentives to share.