Wellington gears up for Digital Earth summit

Summit to look at ways of digitally representing world-wide environmental issues

Technology has been blamed for much of the environmental degradation of Earth but it will play a large role in potential solutions to the problem, says Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown.

Wade-Brown was speaking at a prelaunch of the Digital Earth Summit – an international conference, scheduled for September, that will be coming to Wellington for the first time.

The Digital Earth initiative attempts to link databases into a multi-layer digital model of the planet with representations of its human-made infrastructure, buildings and facilities and links to appropriate digital repositories of knowledge about Earth.

This model is intended to be accessible to the wider population, via the internet, as well as to the scientific community and policymakers. Its use stretches all the way from guiding government policy affecting the environment to an individual’s decision to search for a property with all-day sun so as to minimise expense on heating, says Wade-Brown.

The Wellington event will be the fourth Digital Earth Summit. Wellington narrowly beat NASA in the US for the right to host the event. NASA put in a strong initial bid, said Digital Earth executive committee member Richard Simpson, but it seems to have lost its energy late in the bidding process owing to internal reorganisation.

Simpson is a former Auckland City councillor who, in the 1980s founded a 3D graphics company, Cadabra.

The first Digital Earth summit was held in Auckland. The summits have been interspersed with international symposia on Digital Earth (ISDE). The 2009 ISDE was held in Beijing and memories of that brought comments from participants about the difference between data openness in a democratic nation and one still emerging into that status, and about the danger of allowing impartial data to be contaminated by propaganda.

A sense of place is crucial to the Digital Earth project and hence a “natural fit” for Land Information New Zealand (Linz), which is very involved in the project and arrangements for the conference, says acting Linz chief executive Sue Gordon. “Events like the Digital Earth summit give us amazing opportunities to learn, and to be part of the global conversation,” she says.

Although there will be a wealth of international speakers, Gordon issued an appeal for papers from New Zealand researchers.

The 2012 conference will be based on three themes - the digital environment, resilient cities and growing up digital.

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