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Can access to climate data affect the political discussion about global climate change? The White House intends to find out, with the launch today of a new website, data.gov/climate, that includes government data as well as an initial batch of tools.

This pilot phase of the new site, which is a subset of the U.S. government’s open-data publishing website Data.gov, is focused on coastal flooding, sea level rise, and their consequences. Over 80 datasets for weather, census, flood hazards, and other areas are available from the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

The site promises that it will add more tools and data later, which will be oriented toward “risks to human health, the food supply, and energy infrastructure.”

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Initially, the targeted user is a state or local governmental agency, a software developer, a researcher, or a company. These people will probably use the data in presentations, existing climate-modeling tools, or new tools that can show the consequences of a rise in sea levels.

With the emphasis on data and data-related tools in this one area, there’s not a whole lot yet to interest the average, non-data analyst user:

  • To assist with planning for risks from coastal flooding, for instance, the site offers non-sensitive datasets with mapping information on infrastructure units and geographical features, likes bridge and river gauges.
  • Governmental agency maps can be used to help assess sea level rise, storm surges, and sinking lands. The site also offers listings for software tools from governments and non-governmental organizations.
  • There are also pointers to external sites with interactive features that utilize governmental data to show the impact of flooding from sea level rises on specific coastal locations, like New York City and Florida.
  • An open challenge from NASA and NOAA invites the use of data to create tools and information “so communities can prepare for coastal inundation.”

Data.gov has become a central clearinghouse for the Obama administration’s Transparency and Open Government Initiative over the past several years. It has been making government datasets available in many fields for use by agencies, entrepreneurs, and innovative companies in new and existing applications for health, public safety, farming, weather forecasting, housing, and more.

This new climate component extends that open data initiative, and moves forward the executive branch’s new effort against climate change.

Last summer, the President said he would use executive directives to help combat climate change, since the Republican opposition in the House of Representatives to new anti-pollution efforts made congressional action all but impossible.

As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency is now in the process of instituting new rules, notably ones affecting coal-based power plants. Last month, the administration announced seven regional “climate hubs” to assist farmers and rural communities in dealing with the effects of climate change, such as drought, floods and fires.

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