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Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

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Prophetic Words From the Earthquake’s Epicenter

3/17/2011 11:39:49 AM

Tags: earthquake, tsunami, Sendai, Japan, remote sensing, geoscience, nuclear, environment, Keith Goetzman

Coastline near Sendai, Japan 

Sendai, the city nearest the epicenter of Japan’s devastating earthquake, was slated to host an international high-tech conference in August. The event, advertised in a recent issue of the tech magazine IEEE Spectrum, was to be a global gathering for geoscientists and remote sensing experts—people who basically develop new ways of looking deeply at our world, such as satellite imagery, with applications ranging from military to environmental.

Known in the trade by the ungainly acronym IGARRS (International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium), the conference would have been host to more than 2,000 research papers and would have coincided with the city’s annual Tanabata or “star festival,” featuring a massive fireworks show and a celebration of the stars Vega and Altair.

It seems unlikely that Sendai will be able to host the event, given the devastation in and around the city from the earthquake and tsunami. The event’s organizers have just announced that the conference may be moved to an alternate venue “inside or outside of Japan.”

Considering the scope of the environmental destruction in Japan, and the ongoing drama with multiple nuclear meltdown crises, it’s striking to hear the poetic, prophetic phrasing that Motoyuki Sato, the general chair of the conference, used in previewing the event:

“It is our task to observe the earth’s environment, and it is the work of geoscience and remote sensing technology to aid us in this task,” he said. “To enjoy glittering stars in the sky, we most keep the atmosphere and the earth clean.”

Interestingly, remote sensing technology is now playing a role in the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant. IEEE Spectrum reports that the U.S. Air Force is flying a remote-sensing Global Hawk drone over the damaged reactors “in order to provide a more complete picture of what’s going on inside the facility.” 

Sources: IEEE Spectrum, IGARRS2011 

Image by Kossy@FINEDAYS, licensed under Creative Commons. 

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