Satellites, Open Data and Climate Change: The Citizen Science Approach


Presenting at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC), St. Louis, USA

The International Space Development Conference (ISDC) was held from 26-29 May 2017 in St. Louis, USA. The ISDC is the annual flagship event of the National Space Society (NSSS) and is  held in a different city every year.

This was my third ISDC event. I have presented previously at the ISDC 2016 (Puerto Rico)and in ISDC 2015 (Toronto) on topics relating to climate change, open data, and 3D printing.

ISDC has a friendly format with lots of plenary and parallel sessions on wide ranging space issues. It makes it possible to attend sessions of one’s interest, and learn about newer space initiatives.

This year I was invited to give 2 presentations and conduct a workshop for middle school students. The first presentation was under the track “Many Roads to Space” and was titled : Making Sense of Data from Space: The Citizen Science Approach. 

The presentation was based on my several years of experience of using satellite data from various NASA Satellites (LandSat, Terra Modis, Terra Aqua) as well as Canadian Satellites (RadarSat-2) for projects relating to climate change, disaster management, and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  It also built on my NASA Space Apps Toronto challenge winning project – Drop the Drought  which uses open data from satellites to predict climate change induced droughts and possible migration patterns.

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Space StartUp: Climate Change Monitoring Using Satellites

Vikas Nath. Launch Pad 2016. International Space Development Conference 2016, Puerto Rico. 18 -22 May 2016


ISDC Launch Pad 2016 : With NASA, Breakthrough Prize, Final Frontiers Design, Integrated Space Flight Service, Astronauts4Hire, and Messaging for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (METI)

The key to understanding and taking action on climate change is data. 30 years of satellite-based climate data has provided groundwork for various UN treaties on climate change. It led the Geneva-based Inter governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to conclude in 2007 that “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”

Interestingly the interest in using satellites for climate change came about with decline in inter-planetary funding of the NASA in the 70s due to economic stagnation in much of the Western world and spurred scientific interest in the Earth’s climate. Until then we had better remote sensing maps of our neighboring planets than Earth!

Today, NASA has more than a dozen Earth science spacecraft/instruments in orbit studying all aspects of the Earth system. EU, India, China and Japan too have their own space crafts collecting climate data. However more countries need to become space faring and launch their own satellites as more real-time observations and action is needed to tackle climate change. This requires opening up of the space sector and lowering the entry point to working on space related projects.

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Environment Monitoring using Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) Technologies

Case Study of the Odd-Even Rule for Pollution Control in Delhi. Vikas Nath and Artash Nath. World Information Technology Forum (WITFOR). Costa Rica. September 2016.

witfor-vikas195 countries gathered in Paris for UN Climate Conference 2015 to conclude the legally binding climate agreement to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Continuous environment monitoring is a prerequisite for designing policies which can reduce global climate emissions. Only a handful of countries have the capabilities to carry out advanced climate measurements. Countries that do not have the capabilities to comprehensively monitor their national emissions are often the ones more severely affected by carbon emissions and with least capacity to adapt to climate changes. Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) Technologies can lower the technological and financial barriers for developing countries to monitor climate emissions.

The authors made use of environmental commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies along with information and communication technologies (ICT) to assess the impact of pollution control initiatives rolled out by the Delhi government on experimental basis.


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Op-Ed: UN’s New Development Challenges – It is not about Aid but Policy Space

New World Summer 2014Op-Ed published in the Summer 2014 issue of New World published by the United Nations Association – UK (UNA-UK) .

Two factors work against the UN’s current approach to international development. First, most countries no longer look to the Organization for aid and technical assistance. National governments, civil society organisations and private sector have far greater resources and agility to deliver assistance. Second, as countries develop, their aspirations change. They want to safeguard and further their interests in agriculture, industrialisation, technology transfer, trade, environment and finance. Incidentally, in many of these areas, UN has lost policy space and struggles to have an influence.

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Development 2.0: We Need Hacker Mindset, Not Aid

New age calls for creating, coding, commercialising products

Hacker Mindset: Conceiving, Coding and Commercialising Ideas

For developing countries to break free from poverty, aid and dependence trap, they need to focus on development through technology, talent and innovations.

At present there is overemphasis on trade. Trade is meaningless if developing countries do not have anything to sell. And where it is not matched by transformation in domestic education system that prepares youths to innovate, create products of tomorrow and compete in global marketplaces, we are simply raising a new generation of consumers for products being sold by multinational companies. The benefits to developing countries remain minimal. Continue reading

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Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013): He sacrificed his freedom so others could be free

mandelaNelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the last of the giants who led South Africa’s struggle against colonialism, is no more. “White supremacy implies black inferiority.” His words were truth to the powers. It made him the most recognisable icon of struggle against oppression, injustice and discrimination all over the world.

Mandela, or Madiba as he was popularly known to fellow Africans, was a qualified lawyer who later became the first black president of South Africa. More than just a politician, he was a  political activist. Mandela truly believed in the cause of freedom, democracy and justice. He experienced first-hand how apartheid had stripped black South Africans of their dignity and was holding them back, and took up the cause for equal political rights for blacks. Continue reading

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Warsaw Climate Talks Outcome: Lowering Commitments, Not Emissions

UNFCCC-logos11Everyone agreed on the need to act, but the willingness to take action was absent in Warsaw. Talks verged on lowering commitments and ambitions to reduce emissions. Developed countries that have consumed more than their share of climate space, refused to commit to higher emission reduction targets commensurate to their responsibilities and levels recommended by the UN scientific panel on climate change, unless developing countries accept binding commitments.

Developing countries – especially emerging economies – refused to agree on a framework binding them to strict commitments to cut carbon emissions. They insisted that only developed countries should have firm commitments while emerging economies are expected to “enhance action” supported by finance and technology. They want industrialized countries to act first and meet their commitments and provide assistance to developing countries in making a transition to low carbon economies. Continue reading

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United Nations: New Issues, New Ideas, Not Enough Financing

unDespite the ever-increasing demands and mandate given to the UN to be the key global driver for development, resources available to implement the development agenda have become more constrained and unpredictable. While the UN is getting better at tackling more and more development issues within the multilateral framework, there is no link between multilateralism, agreed goals and the availability of funding. This means many of the goals and strategies agreed upon at the multilateral level, fail to operationalize and deliver results in absence of funding. But this was not always so. Continue reading

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Warsaw UN Climate Talks: What is there to negotiate?

WarsawWeak link between multilateral negotiations, agreed goals and financing is stalling the talks.

The persistence of climate change negotiators huddled together in Warsaw from over 190 countries is laudable. Even when countries are failing to reign in their greenhouse emissions that is causing a rise in global temperatures, the negotiations keep going. This is their 19th attempt under the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which meets every year to get member countries to take action on climate change. But ‘action’ seems to be an elusive and a constantly receding goal as the link between multilateral negotiations, agreed goals and financing is weak.

The Warsaw gathering is not expected to lead to immediate actions that everyone is hoping for, namely collective and concrete measures, and financing to bring deep reductions in the global emissions. Instead it is expected to lay foundation for a global pact to deal with climate change beyond 2020. Continue reading

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What comes first: E-Governance or Good Governance? (Reflection from Economic Times E-Governance Forum)

e-Governance-logoA bigger question remains. Can e-governance improve the lives of common people? And the answer is not as easy as it may seem. While making government services available online certainly saves time, drudgery and costs incurred by people in accessing them, it may not necessarily improve lives of the majority. E-governance makes it easier to pay electricity and water bills online but can it provide assured electricity and water supplies to everyone? Providing assured water and electric supply, basic health, education and other infrastructure facilities assume precedence. They have to be provided as pre – requisite of e-governance and not as outcomes. Continue reading

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Cleaner Politics, Power to the People, Political Start-Ups Or None of the Above (NOTA)

notaWhen it comes to democratic societies, where voting is an affirmation of one’s freedom and equality, and is the cornerstone of democracy, the freedom to abstain from making a choice is often missing. Citizens are given the freedom to vote for any candidate standing for elections, but few democracies give voters the explicit right to reject all the candidates, if they find no one suitable. In effect, citizens are given the freedom to choose but not to withhold making a choice. Continue reading

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e-Governance Forum: The Economic Times, 24 October, Delhi

e-Governance-logoVikas Nath, Founder of will give the Special Guest Address on Sharing ICT Experiences Across the World. See more at:

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Interview at the Sankalp Unconvention Summit 2013

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Made in Bangladesh: Profiting from poverty

BangladeshMap“The disastrous garment industry in Bangladesh is a perfect example of capitalist expansion to the Global South where labour is cheap and abundant. But such foreign investments, now highly sought by governments of poor countries, often mean deplorable conditions of work and high profits for the companies.”

Some terms in our vocabulary are all powerful. When used they have a numbing effect and can overpower any argument. ‘Win-Win’ is one of them. Make any scenario a win-win and what is there not to like about it?

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Reaching the Unreached – Ideas matter but vision even more

not-free-01In mid-April 2013 over a thousand people gathered in Mumbai for the annual Sankalp Forum organised by Intellecap. Refreshingly none of the social entrepreneurs present talked about providing products and services for free, and for the right reasons – to engage with the unreached and the poor in a relationship which is equal and business-like. They did not find it incongruous to talk about creating business solutions which work for the poor and creating profits in the same sentence. They are focused as much on creating income inflows from year one of their enterprises as they are on reaching the unreached.

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