Mapping US Coastlines May ‘Drive More Equality’ in Climate Adaptation Policy

Mapping US Coastlines May ‘Drive More Equality’ in Climate Adaptation Policy

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A Canadian technology company is using aerial imagery to build high-precision maps of US shorelines that will be used to help coastal communities adapt to climate change.

By cataloguing which neighborhoods have more impervious surfaces like sidewalks and driveways compared to permeable ground with vegetation and trees, policymakers can better predict where heat waves or storm surges are likely to wreak the most havoc, Toronto-based Ecopia AI said. The firm is making the maps for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as part of a project to support US coastal communities vulnerable to extreme weather.

“The rapidly changing environment is driving the need for more precise decision making,” Jon Lipinski, Ecopia AI’s co-founder and president, said in an interview. “If you can better understand which communities are at risk for climate-related impacts such as flooding or urban heat islands, then you can drive more equality surrounding policy and funding decisions.”

From record heat waves in India to floods in Pakistan, many of the world’s more vulnerable populations and economies are already bearing the brunt of global warming. But even in wealthier parts of the world like North America and Western Europe, more extreme weather often has an outsized impact on the poorest and most disenfranchised in society.

Some activists and environmental justice groups expressed disappointment that the sweeping US Inflation Reduction Act signed into law this month by President Joe Biden’s administration didn’t allocate more money for climate adaptation in low-income and minority communities.

The detailed maps made by Ecopia AI will be used to improve storm preparedness and recovery, and make it easier to assess which infrastructure and populations are most at risk, Nicholas Schmidt, NOAA’s science and geospatial services division chief, said in a statement announcing the partnership. Ecopia AI’s data will be used in the agency’s Coastal Change Analysis Program and is expected to be available through its Digital Coast site next year.

Local and federal government agencies from Canada to Australia are already using Ecopia AI’s technology to do everything from helping them identify where they should build more sidewalks to keeping tabs on tree canopy. The firm’s high-precision maps are used by insurers such as Farmers Insurance and Tokio Marine.

In July, the Collier County Sheriff’s office in Florida said it would use Ecopia AI’s technology to map property driveways and connected pavements across the county to help first responders arrive more quickly during emergencies.


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