“My Planet from Space: Fragility and Beauty,” is an exhibition of spectacular satellite images and videos on view this summer at the United Nations General Assembly building in New York. Coordinated by the European Space Agency (ESA) in close partnership with United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), the exhibition takes visitors “on a journey to some of the most beautiful and remote places on Earth to show the fragility of our planet and the challenges posed by climate change.”
As visitors enter the exhibition, satellite eyes provide images of an ever-changing planet:
- glaciers melting
- sea levels rising
- rainforests threatened by deforestation
- growing desertification affecting croplands
- uncontrolled urban sprawl
The collection of images demonstrates the fragility of our planet and the challenges posed by climate change. They also highlight the importance of satellites in managing and protecting natural resources and the global environment. The exhibit aims to achieve several goals, including
- increasing awareness toward a more environmentally responsible lifestyle
- promoting the sustainable exploitation of natural resources
- highlighting the great potential of innovative space technology.
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The public display is divided into six main areas:
- Ice: Polar regions are the most sensitive to climate change and considered the best indicators of our planet’s health. The melting of sea ice and the ice sheets injects large amounts of fresh water into the oceans. This influx not only contributes to sea level rise, but also changes the salinity and temperature of the water, influencing the global ocean circulation pattern that regulates Earth’s climate. Satellite images and other data show recent developments in ice cover in the Arctic and Antarctic.
- Water: Water covers nearly two thirds of Earth’s surface and is vital for all forms of life. But less than three percent of water is fresh — and most of that is stored in glaciers or underground, leaving a very small fraction accessible to humans. Because of its scarcity, especially in arid areas, water can be the source of conflict as people struggle to control this precious resource. These satellite images emphasize phenomena like rising sea levels and threats to aquatic ecosystems. The exhibit also addresses the risks posed to major rivers and lakes worldwide by the intense exploitation of their waters.
- Atmosphere: Earth’s atmosphere is a layer of gases around the planet that regulates temperature, protects us from solar radiation and is fundamental for weather and our understanding of climate change. Satellites can map the impact that CO2 emissions have on the global environment. They acquire data on air pollution, water vapor concentration in the atmosphere, ozone and other trace gases.
- Forests and Agriculture: Part of the exhibition reminds us of the importance of forests for the global ecosystem. Forests are essential to biodiversity and act as a natural laboratory for the absorption of CO2, but are under threat by deforestation. Agriculture is essential for feeding the world, but can only support the growing population if it is sustainable. Satellite images document the conversion of forests to agricultural landscapes such as rice paddies, olive groves and farming with center pivot irrigation. They highlight how satellites can support crop cultivation and forecast crop yield.
- Deserts: About one third of Earth’s land surface is categorized as arid or semi-arid, with a severe lack of water and vegetation. Dryland ecosystems are extremely vulnerable to over-exploitation and inappropriate land use such as overgrazing and badly planned irrigation systems. This area introduces images of the planet’s major deserts like the Sahara, Rub al-Khali, Taklamakan, Atacama and other areas threatened by desertification.
- Cities: A global map of city distribution indicates the impact that urban areas have on our environment. A night-time image of Earth, showing the concentration of lights, gives the viewer the immediate understanding of the degree of overcrowding on our planet. Today, there are over 30 metropolitan areas with more than 10 million people each. As more people move from rural areas to cities, this growth needs to be monitored to ensure it proceeds on a sustainable basis and does not affect the quality of life or safety of urban dwellers.
“My Planet from Space: Fragility and Beauty” is open to the public through September 9, 2015, in the UN Headquarters Visitors’ Lobby, 1st Avenue at 46th St, New York, NY 10017.
Opening hours: Monday through Friday from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm
Note that government-issued photo identification is required.