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Earth Day 2019: How NASA Data Helps US Deal with Disasters and Climate Change

Just in time for Earth Day: A new NASA website shows how the agency's Earth observation data helps communities across the United States deal with climate change, disasters and environmental challenges.

The initiative, called Space for U.S., lets users choose from a map to see state-by-state descriptions of programs that use NASA data; alternatively, visitors can choose to view program initiatives by topic instead. Clicking on "Oklahoma," for example, shows how NASA's Short-term Prediction Research and Transition (SPoRT) Center helped residents in and around the city Moore recover from a devastating tornado in May 2013.

"NASA's SPoRT Center analyzes the practical uses of Earth observations for meteorology, and transitions them to the weather community for real-world applications," NASA officials said on their page for Oklahoma. "For this storm, SPoRT tapped into a fleet of NASA satellites and sensors — as well as Earth-observing data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other partners — to determine the extent of the tornado's rampage."

Related: Earth Day 2019: These Amazing NASA Images Show Earth from Above

SPoRT identified issues of immediate concern, such as power outages — which show areas with heavy infrastructure damage. It also tracked lightning surges, which are a sign of intense local thunderstorm activity and can help lead to better warnings for future storms.

Other NASA Earth observation application projects listed on the website — there are 56 total — include helping pilots maneuver around Alaskan volcanic ash plumes and assisting conservationists in Hawaii with protecting delicate coral reefs from climate change.

"It's exciting and impressive how people are putting NASA data to work across the country," Lawrence Friedl, director of the applied sciences program in NASA's Earth Science Division in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.

NASA officials added that the organization "freely and openly" offers Earth observation data so that local communities can work through issues such as food security, human health or the availability of clean drinking water.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.