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US Satellite Providing Critical Images for South America

A U.S. satellite has been repositioned to generate images of South America as part of a multinational effort to lessen the effects of natural disasters, allow for better agricultural planning and resource management, and provide a host of other benefits. The latest phase of the initiative was unveiled in Washington Tuesday. VOA's Michael Bowman has details.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, maintains a network of satellites that, along with corresponding agencies in Europe and elsewhere, monitor vast stretches of the planet from high above. One of the satellites, the GOES-10, which had focused on the Caribbean region, is now positioned further south, providing an unparalleled view of South America.

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher:

"South America can now receive further coverage to the south, with imaging all the way to the South Pole every 15 minutes," said Conrad Lautenbacher. "And our friends in Argentina and Brazil have agreed to provide the information to help all of the nations of South America, to limit the effects of natural disasters, including severe storms, floods, drought, volcanic ash clouds, forest fires."

Lautenbacher was speaking at a news conference hosted by the Brazilian Embassy in Washington.

Also attending the event was the director of Argentina's National Commission of Space Activities, CONAE, Conrado Varotto, who said, just last week, newly available GOES-10 images helped authorities in his country prepare for and respond more effectively to torrential rains.

"We have already some very relevant results," said Conrado Varotto. "An example is the recent flooding in the northeastern [region] of Argentina, where GOES-10 images helped in the early warning stage in determining the extent of the disaster and the ongoing mitigation process."

Such early warnings will be even more critical in the future if predictions of climate change and more severe weather patterns prove correct, according to the head of Brazil's National Space Research Institute, Gilberto Camara.

"It used to be the case that Brazil had no hurricanes," said Gilberto Camara. "[But] we just had a hurricane two years ago. And we expect that such extreme phenomena will be, unfortunately, more common as the warming of the oceans continues over the next decades."

In all, eight countries in the Americas have partnered with the United States to form the Global Earth Observation System of Systems in the Western Hemisphere. It is hoped that more countries will join the initiative in the future. While satellite imaging is an important component, the project also encompasses ocean buoys and other sensors to constantly monitor land and sea conditions. Officials say the information generated is treated as a public good - something to be shared openly and freely to benefit as many people in as many nations as possible.