From: Daniel Lovering, Associated Press
Published November 19, 2004 12:00 AM

NASA to Donate Satellite Data to Aid Endangered Species

BANGKOK, Thailand − While NASA is best known for putting a man on the moon, the U.S. space agency will now help keep plant and animal species on Earth.


NASA agreed Friday to provide satellite data to boost nature conservation efforts by monitoring endangered plants and animals and their habitats, a space agency official said. It will also help environmental groups build a globally accessible database of maps and ecological data.


"This opportunity for NASA to help advance conservation efforts globally reinforces our vision to use our unique vantage from space to improve life here on Earth," said Ghassem Asrar, NASA's deputy associate administrator for science.


The announcement came during the World Conservation Union's meeting in Bangkok attended by more than 6,000 government officials, scientists, business representatives and environmentalists.


The deal will give member organizations of the World Conservation Union -- an umbrella group known as IUCN -- greater access to NASA's mapping technology, said Stuart Salter, the IUCN's Species Information Service manager.


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"We want to begin to map out over time the relationship between different habitats and species," he said. "You can see land use changing, you can see species disappearing or moving. That's really fundamental stuff."


Salter said the maps will help scientists assess the impact of human development projects -- from roads to towns -- on species and their habitats.


The IUCN has warned that more than 15,500 animal and plant species face extinction, mainly because of exploitation and habitat destruction by humans.


The NASA project is expected "to help improve the quality and effectiveness of environmental decision-making, and ultimately to improve conservation," according to an IUCN statement.


The California-based software company Oracle is also planning to donate software for the project, Salter said.


"The potential for the beneficial use of this information in the area of the environment and conservation is enormous," said Achim Steiner, the IUCN's director general. "Yet until now, it has remained largely untapped, particularly in the developing world."


Scientists are presenting research on a variety of species and ecosystems, from tropical coral reefs to the Himalayan mountains, at the Bangkok talks, which end Nov. 25.


Source: Associated Press


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