The Impact of Climate Change on National Security
[ Back ]   [ More News ]   [ Home ]
The Impact of Climate Change on National Security

Welcome to GISWeekly!

GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Top News of the Week, Acquisitions, Agreements, Alliances, Announcements, New Products, Around the Web and Events Calendar.

GISWeekly welcomes letters and feedback from readers, so let us know what you think. Send your comments to me at Email Contact

Best wishes,
Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News
The Impact of Climate Change on National Security
By Susan Smith

By now, the world is knowledgeable about climate change, and recognizes that it is something to take serious note of. But governments are beginning to look at climate change from another viewpoint: the perspective that there is evidence to suggest the rate of climate change poses grave implications to national security. In a panel discussion at GEOINT 2008, a gathering of experts comprised of Maj. Gen. Richard L. Engel, U.S. Air Force (Ret.). National Intelligence Council; Kevin W. Billings, U.S. Air Force; Kea Duckenfield, NGA; John A. Kelmelis, Penn State University; Sean C. Tytler, DIA; Allan Falcon of the U.S. Army Environmental Program Office discussed what makes climate change a national security issue and why.

According to experts, climate change puts pressure on human societies and exacerbates the causes of instability in already volatile regions of the world. Climate change causes drought, famine and other climatic events that in turn may trigger greater violence, mass migrations, border disputes or the collapse of entire governments.

An Acknowledged National Security Issue

click to enlarge [ Click to Enlarge ]
Tropical Cyclone Billy continued traveling westward along the coast of Western Australia on December 24, 2008. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image the same day, at 11:40 a.m. local time.
Anything that degrades U.S. power is considered a national security issue, according to Maj. Gen. Richard L. Engel, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), National Intelligence Council (NIC). Looking forward to the year 2030, Engel said there are three paths to address: Engel said that after they finished the analysis they provided a view of what it would look like superficially around the world. There are some areas they would like more research in, and in understanding how climate change may impact these countries.

In the intelligence community, Engel said, there are no scientists that look at climate. “We had to rely on outside science expertise and we used social scientists to understand what that meant to people. We find ourselves frustrated looking at the state of science didn’t see enough geographical details to see how it affects the state’s stability. To summarize a 1 degree temperature in a country the size of China doesn’t give much information as to how that would affect people.”

click to enlarge [ Click to Enlarge ]
Variations in CO2, temperature and dust from the Vostok ice core over the last 450,000 years
They also looked at tipping points, as it would be good to know if the globe is approaching one of them.

Engel said they have asked the science and social science communities to help with modeling human behavior. “When you’re looking at state stability, you’re looking at stuff that will cause fractures in society,” Engel said. “We are all fallible carbon units, and we’re more complicated than airplanes.”

One of the NIC’s big concerns is crop failures and understanding where water scarcity issues are going to build up. They are working with the National Academy of Science to look at historical information to understand accumulations of ice. “This brings the science community in conversation with the geospatial intelligence community, which will also help the science community,” said Engel.

Kea Duckenfield, NGA worked as a program manager in the Climate Research System before coming to the NGA, where she saw how climate science is funded and how it fares. Duckenfield stated that in that program, climate change has become “a generally acknowledged national security issue.”

In talking about NGA’s role and GEOINT as it supports research, Duckenfield said there are some challenges to looking at climate change in this way, as it doesn’t respect state boundaries. “It’s not a single factor that will contribute to things happening, the climate signal is very small compared to the amount of noise there is when you’re in the system,” she pointed out. “So you have to be watching it over a period of time. The science questions we have are also the ones the community has. Climate changes and national security will be a gradual process, it won’t be a top priority in the intelligence community, but if you don’t watch it, it will bite. It’s a classic geographic information problem.”

Duckenfield noted that NGA has terrific strengths, and is used to bring in data from a number of different sources. The NGA can use geospatial science to work with geophysical processes and social processes. Already the NGA has produced some great products such as imagery of the Arctic and other locations. “When there’s a disaster, people look for imagery,” said Duckenfield. “If it happens somewhere where citizens are unprepared, they will need immediate response.”

Allan Falcon of the U.S. Army Environmental Program Office puts together environmental monitoring. “If you want to change the local environment, send in the army,” said Falcon. “If you really want it dramatic, send in the Air Force. The human terrain changes too.”

Falcon pointed to a study done at George Mason University in the Department of Climate Dynamics where they have been looking at all the models on climate change and determining whether or not these models are a good guide to what has happened.

Falcon said that the conclusion is, yes, there is change, the models show varying rates, the end result is he believes climate change is going to happen faster than the public realizes. “We have set up a new center at the university for climate change communication,” said Falcon. “It is a social science unit focused on getting climate change information to people, and to see how they’ll cope with it and how worried they will be with it.” The goal is to impress upon the public how important climate change is and teach them what they can do now to impact it.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) conducted an extinction study in which they have catalogued 5,487 wild mammals, according to Falcon. Of those, 1,441 are endangered primarily because of habitat changes, many attributable directly to expected climate change.

In terms of national intelligence, Falcon pointed out that at with the end of the Cold War, the enemy was no longer defined. “The core group of the stable world where people make a profit is going to be the group who wants to maintain the status quo. The unstable world where connections are much less well developed, those are the people who are going to be most resentful of those living in the stable world,” explained Falcon. In the analysis he referenced, the disconnected included South America, Balkans, independent states of central Asia, Middle East (most) and Indonesia. The large populations of China and India are considered connected because they are increasingly connected to the U.S. Falcon said that the disconnected world is where the terrorist threat will come from.

Continents such as Africa, which is very disconnected, is ripe for unrest, as it has a rapid rise in population, less food and already a great deal of climate change. Another factor impacted by climate change are disease vectors which change with the climate and impact agriculture and livestock. By monitoring the disconnected core for change and availability of water and food, the connected world can have a better idea when to step in with humanitarian aid in order to maintain peace.

John A. Kelmelis, Penn State University, moved from the USGS to the Department of State, where he said they had no longer a core of science capabilities other than science and technologies. Kelmelis addressed this weakness in the department by pulling together policymakers to conduct a study to look at earth science findings and climate change. Arctic warming was so huge that it was pulled out separately, said Kelmelis. They also looked at monitoring systems. Since that time the NOAA global earth observing system has been established. Improved analytical systems and communication of scientific information to policymakers in a way they can understand it were of critical importance, he said.

According to Kelmelis, three major issues are drivers: Kelmelis said that traditionally, national defense takes an offense defense position with a high degree of agility, but deterrence is the next step. “More prevention will be in the future, as this will become a critical issue, particularly with climate change.” It will be necessary to help create an environment for people to find it unnecessary to make threats which move into the developed world. “Prevention cannot be accomplished by continuing the current type of operations we have, we must add prevention to it, and this is not something the intelligence communities do well.” Kelmelis suggested that intelligence communities seek “non-traditional” approaches and partners to address the situation.

Sean C. Tytler, DIA said that the problems are “at least two-fold,” and that “We do a pretty good job of understanding current indications and where hotspots are going to flare up. The challenge in terms of climate change is to understand the impact of events five or ten years away. How can we understand the level of stability of governments, with water shortage, demographic shifts as a result of loss of food and water, what’s the potential of conflict?”

Tytler said they have begun a dialog with the science community to find out what they need to give better models and predictions. The NGA can use satellite imagery with NOAA data and other free data and then put the commercial imagery on top of it. The imagery can zero in on fields, then use USDA sampling to find out crop production possibilities.

The green movement momentum is definitely something Tytler believes the NGA should take advantage of. NGA topics include environmental resources which translate to environmental security. This is tied to energy security, and then to economics. “If we write analysis combining three of them, we must not isolate these three items because the policy decisions they make will impact all three.”

Tytler pointed out that there is a disconnect between the policy making and the scientific communities. “Policy making tends to be inward looking, uses established tenets, while the scientific community looks at established tenets and tries to tear them down. What drives the policy community is the policies and what drives the scientific community is the reliability of scientific information.”


The GEOINT Symposium is not the first venue to shine the spotlight on the problem of climate change and national security. In a colloquium conducted by the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College on “Global Climate Change National Security Implications,” edited by Dr. Carolyn Pumphrey, in March 2007, the threat of climate change on societies and the possibility of ensuing conflict was discussed. A range of potential solutions were addressed, ranging from international diplomacy to the development of effective technologies. The report focused on the role of security in the U.S. and the U.S. Armed Forces, and what that role might be. A need for greater planning and coordination, and further research as well as “the utility of engagement – military to military and state to state – on environmental issues” was stressed.

In June, 2008, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) of which presenter Maj. Engel is part, completed a classified assessment of how climate change could impact U.S. security in the next 20 years, citing several of the same concerns: causing political instability, mass movements of refugees, terrorism and/or conflicts over water and other natural resources. Raw material used included a series of studies conducted by Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), which ranked countries from the perspective of three climate risks: sea-level rise, increased water scarcity and vulnerability measured by projected temperature change balanced with nations’ ability to adapt to change.

"We can pinpoint areas of high projected climate change that are also in historically unstable regions. This suggests that climate change is likely to heighten political risks,' said CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy, a coauthor of the CIESIN studies. Levy said that the impact of climate change on countries depends largely upon those countries’ economies and governments. For example, the Netherlands are exposed to sea level rise, but it is not considered a high risk country because their economy and government are both stable. Nations in economically depressed regions that pop up on CIESIN’s list include South Africa, Nepal, Morocco, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Paraguay, Yemen, Sudan and Côte d'Ivoire.

Countries where the greatest number of people are exposed to sea-level rise are China, the Philippines, Egypt and Indonesia. According to the colloquium, China and the Philippines alone have 64 million people in the lowest elevation zones (1 meter above sea level). 37% of Egypt’s people live within 10 meters of sea level in the fertile Nile delta. Crop failures and other disasters caused by lack or overabundance of rainfall are prevalent in the countries of Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Congo, Ethiopia and Jordan, according to CIESIN research.

Also noted in an NIC briefing document quoted by the newsletter, which first reported on the assessment, was that climate-related security impacts could be significant when they cause "a noticeable—even if temporary—degradation in one of the elements of national power (geopolitical, military, economic, or social cohesion) because it indirectly influences the U.S. homeland, indirectly influences the United States through a major military ally or a major economic partner, or because the global impact is so large, that [it] indirectly consumes U.S. resources. The additional stress on resources and infrastructure will exacerbate internal state pressures, and generate interstate friction through competition for resources or disagreement over responses and responsibility for migration."

According to the report, the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act mandates the Pentagon to "examine the capabilities of the U.S. military to respond to consequences of climate change," particularly preparedness for national disasters due to extreme weather. According to, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has approved a yet-unreleased National Defense Strategy that includes planning for environmental and climate problems.

Along with CIESIN, other sources whose data contributed to the assessment include the U.S. Climate Change Program; Center for Naval Analysis; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; the Rand Corp.; and Arizona State University.

"There is clearly great interest among policy makers in knowing whether climate change will make crises such as the conflict in Darfur more prevalent, and whether other violent scenarios might be likely to unfold," said Levy. "The science of climate impacts does not yet give us a definitive answer to this question, but at least now we're looking at it seriously."

Top News of the Week

OSI Geospatial Inc. announced that its International Systems Operations has signed a contract valued at approximately $400,000. Under the terms of this contract, the company will provide software and hardware that will be installed on the UK Royal Navy P2000 class patrol vessels.

1Spatial is exhibiting at a workshop being organized by the Association for Geographic Information (AGI) in London on 8th January 2009. The event will provide an opportunity for all parties with an interest in INSPIRE* to learn more about the Data Specifications for Annex 1 (Reference Datasets**). These have now been published by the European Commission for comment by registered organizations (such as AGI).

ESDIN is a 30-month project that runs from September 2008 until March 2011. During the same period the INSPIRE process will produce a series of data specifications for a series of thematic areas, such as cadastral parcels, hydrography and transport networks. ESDIN will enable NMCAs at different levels of national Spatial Data Infrastructure development to share knowledge and information relating to good practice for aggregating and sharing data across borders throughout the Europe. As well as addressing technical issues, ESDIN will also cover business model development including pricing, licensing, intellectual property and digital rights management. The ESDIN website is now live

Acquisitions, Agreements, Alliances

One of the UK’s foremost names in GIS, Dotted Eyes, has become a reseller of design software from the giant CAD vendor, Autodesk Inc.

The partnership includes AutoCAD Map 3D and promises to benefit business analysts and managers in both the public and private sectors who manage spatial data using CAD-based drawing and editing tools.

The agreement adds a further world-leading name to Dotted Eyes’ partner list of GIS and data vendors. The company is already the biggest Pitney Bowes MapInfo partner in the UK and a premier partner of Ordnance Survey.


Small utilities will soon have greater access to geographic information system (GIS) technology as ESRI rolls out the Small Utilities Enterprise License Agreement (SU-ELA) program. For an affordable, fixed cost, the SU-ELA program provides IT, business, and supply-chain benefits to utilities in the United States with 100,000 customers or fewer. The program offers select unlimited deployments to desktop, server, Web, and mobile solutions of ESRI's ArcGIS platform; maintenance and support for products; staff training; passes to ESRI's International User Conference; and ESRI's data models. For more information, visit ESRI SU-ELA

On February 5th, George Mason University’s School of Management will be hosting an Executive Training Seminar that explains how to apply an end-to-end, ROI-driven methodology for large, complex GIS-enabled programs. The day-long seminar will be led by Ross Smith, author of the book Business Benefits of GIS: An ROI Approach and Dr. Sergei Andronikov, PhD, MBA, professor at George Mason University

URISA and the National Center for Transit Research (NCTR) are pleased to announce a new partnership to present the Fifth National GIS in Transit Conference, taking place in St. Petersburg, Florida, November 10-12, 2009. This biennial conference will focus on the growing role of GIS in supporting planning, service delivery, and decision making in public transit. For further information contact URISA

New Products

NAVTEQ, a provider of digital map data for location-based solutions and vehicle navigation, has completed its previously announced acquisition of T-Systems Traffic, GmbH (T-Traffic), a leading provider of traffic services in Germany. The acquisition marks a significant step in NAVTEQ's program to expand its traffic offering in Europe.

Pitney Bowes MapInfo, the leading global provider of location intelligence, announced that AnySite is now shipping with GroundView demographic data. By combining the sophisticated predictive analytics capabilities of AnySite with GroundView’s quarterly-updated household and population data, organizations can perform more comprehensive trade area and market analysis. This enables retail, restaurant, real estate and financial services industries to pinpoint where the most profitable customers are located and determine how to effectively market to them with a higher level of accuracy and success.

Graphic Technologies, Inc. (GTI) announced a new product called the GT/Metadata Explorer. This product is a companion application for Intergraph’s G/Technology GIS System and provides a cache of tools for navigating, reporting, validating, and editing the G/Technology metadata as well as querying, tracing, and reporting the G/Technology GIS data. The GT/Metadata Explorer is ideal for getting a grip on the complexities of the G/Technology metadata, identifying metadata problems, traversing feature connectivity and ownership, and making metadata modifications.

Around the Web

Greenville eyes cost savings in new technology, GPS unit helps record position, create inventory, by Ed Lowe, Post-Crescent - Town leaders (in Greenville) are hopeful an investment in geographic information system technology will reduce its operating costs down the road.



MapInfo Professional Training
Date: January 12 - 15, 2009
Place: Jakarta, Indonesia

PT McElhanney Indonesia (PTMI) will be offering a 2-day Introduction to  MapInfo Professional course, and a 2-day Intermediate MapInfo Professional course in Jakarta, Indonesia. With the "Introduction to MapInfo Professional" course you will learn how to navigate, label and query maps, create thematic maps, use images, geocode address and use basic GIS analysis techniques.

DGI Europe 2009
Date: January 19 - 22, 2009
Place: QEII Conference Centre
London, United Kingdom

DGI 2009 is Europe’s largest annual gathering dedicated to high-level discussion addressing the major challenges of the defence and government geospatial intelligence community. Bringing together Heads of Geospatial Intelligence, GIS, Remote Sensing, Operations, and Imagery and Analysis, the conference provides a unique forum to discuss and debate the development of geospatial intelligence capabilities across the globe.

Cartography and Geoinformatics for Early Warning and Emergency Management: Towards Better Solutions
Date: January 19 - 22, 2009
Place: Prague, Czech Republic

The Symposium will be held in Prague under the auspices of His Magnificence Prof. Dr. Petr FIALA, Ph.D., Rector of the Masaryk University, Brno and under the auspices of the Czech Presidency of the European Union with participation of three ministries of the Czech government - Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and Ministry of Industry and Trade - Fire rescue Service of the Czech republic, general directorate, Czech Hydrometeorological Institute and in close cooperation with the Joint Research Centrum in Ispra, Italy and EC DG’s.

MAPPS 2009 Winter Conference
Date: January 20 - 24, 2009
Place: St. Thomas, VI USA

The program will include sessions on sensors, a remote sensing market forecast, parcel mapping and a discussion on the current economic environment. The keynote address by Michael Jones, Chief Technologist of Google Earth, will focus on the future trends in the geospatial market and the direction the community is currently headed.

GeoBase Technology Summit 2009
Date: January 25 - 27, 2009
Place: The Island Hotel, 690 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660 USA

GeoBase Technology Summit 2009 is the most complete forum for GeoBase customers and developers to learn more about the GeoBase platform, collaborate and interact with peers and the Telogis development staff. Sessions, client and technology panels, and training courses designed to maximize your GeoBase knowledge.

GIS Ostrava 2009
Date: January 25 - 28, 2009
Place: VSB – TU
Ostrava, Czech Republic

The metropolis of the Moravian-Silesian region is the second largest city in the Czech Republic and has the third largest population. It has got a very advantageous strategic position - it is located about 10 kilometres south of the Polish border and 50 kilometres west of the Slovak border.

ILMF 2009
Date: January 26 - 28, 2009
Place: New Orleans, LA USA

The ILMF is the premier event for the LIDAR industry attracting professionals from all over the world with the next event scheduled for January 26 – 28, 2009 in New Orleans, USA. The last event saw record growth in attendance from both delegates and visitors.

GIS 2.0 - Technical and Programming Developments for Electric and Gas Utilities
Date: January 26 - 28, 2009
Place: San Antonio, TX USA

Geographic Information Systems for utilities are advancing with new mobile, server, and network capabilities. The functionality of new application programming interfaces (APIs) for use with mobile GIS along with the integration of revere proxy servers, web-based portals, increased asset inventory, and lowering costs all mean GIS is ready for the next generation.

INTERGEO East 2009
Date: January 27 - 29, 2009
Place: Istanbul Convention & Exhibition Centre (ICEC)
Istanbul , Turkey

In its location of Istanbul, the world's only city on two continents, INTERGEO East will extend over both the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorous. Some fourteen million people live in and around Istanbul. Turkey has given top priority to boosting the region and creating standardized structures. It has also been in accession negotiations with the European Union since 3 October 2005.

Municipalika'2009 Internatioanal Conference & Exhibition
Date: January 29 - 31, 2009
Place: M.M.R.D.A Grounds,Bandra-Kurla Complex
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

With the rapid pace of urbanization, the percentage of India’s population living in cities and urban areas has almost doubled to 27.8% from 14% at the time of Independence. This is expected to accelerate even further, and by 2021 over 40% of Indians will be living in urban areas. Indian cities provide settings as engines of growth, and at the same time face enormous challenges.

6TH Annual GIS
Date: February 2 - 3, 2009
Place: Melbourne, Australia

GIS technology can be integrated into any enterprise information system framework.  The usage of industrial, agricultural and settlement areas causes various geological events.  Morphology, geology, land cover, slope inclination, elevation of any region is important area to be considered for the 21st century standard of preserving our land, culture, society and business growth.

2009 CA/HI/NV Regional User Group (CAHINVRUG) Conference
Date: February 3 - 5, 2009
Place: Doubletree Hotel Sacramento
Sacramento, CA USA

Professionals from California, Hawaii, Nevada, and the Pacific Islands are invited to the CA/HI/NV RUG Conference. Whatever your industry, position, or level of experience with GIS, you’re encouraged to attend and explore GIS in action with ESRI staff and your fellow professionals.

Date: February 4 - 6, 2009
Place: Uttarakhand, India

There will be an exhibition from the vendors/manufacturers of software and hardware related to remote sensing, GIS, Photogrammetry, cartography etc. The NGOs and agencies working in Geomatics related fields can display their products and services and use the opportunity to provide on the spot consultancy to potential users. Exhibition will be open to both the delegates and the general public for creating wider awareness.

13th Annual GIS/CAMA Technologies Conference
Date: February 8 - 11, 2009
Place: Charleston, SC USA
The International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) and the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) are pleased to announce the 13th GIS/CAMA Technologies Conference, to be held February 8-11, 2009 in Charleston. This conference is designed to foster collaboration and integration of data, technology, and functionality.
Map World Forum
Date: February 10 - 13, 2009
Place: Hyderabad International Convention Centre
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

Map World Forum will not just be a conference. It will be a forum that will simply aim to “Converge Ideas and Expand Horizons for Sustainable Planet Earth”. It will aim beyond speeches and discussions to find practical ways to protect the earth and improve people's lives.

Location Summit 2.0
Date: February 12 - 13, 2009
Place: Hyderabad International Convention Centre
Hyderabad, India

Location Summit 2.0, the first Global Summit on Positioning and Navigation with the theme "Towards Collaborative Model", brings together the pioneers, industry leaders and developers who are setting the direction for the future of location technologies and markets, guiding the development of new applications and shaping the way to meet the challenge of making location enabled services ubiquitous.