Posts Tagged ‘Netherlands’

Captain Hudson’s journey: Fair to foul and back again (Economist)

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

2709us5[Editor's note: The Economist notes the 400th anniversary of the Netherlands' discovery of the Hudson River, which passes thru New York City, once New Amsterdam. To celebrate, the city moved the annual 4th of July fireworks display to west of Manhattan island.]

Republished from the Economist.
July 2nd 2009 | NEW YORK. Image by Corbis.

The Hudson River, 400 years on

AS AMERICA celebrates its birthday on July 4th, New York is celebrating the discovery of its Hudson river. The Dutch East India Company hired Henry Hudson, an English explorer, to find a north-west passage to Asia. He failed: the route defied all explorers until Roald Amundsen in 1906. But Hudson’s journey of 1609 up the river that would later bear his name led to a valuable trade in furs and eventually to settlement by the Dutch. His shipmate recorded abundant fish and that the surrounding lands “were as pleasant with Grasse and Flowers, and goodly Trees, as euer they had seene, and very sweet smells came from them.” The smells unfortunately, have not always been so sweet.

The Hudson has been exploited and abused. Factories used the river as a dumping-ground. At one time a 20-mile stretch of the Hudson had little or no aquatic life. “You could tell what colour the GM plant in Sleepy Hollow was painting its cars by the colour of the water,” recalls Alex Matthiessen, president of Riverkeeper, an environmental watchdog. Since the 1960s, groups like Riverkeeper and advocates such as Pete Seeger, a folk singer, have fought to restore the river’s ecosystem. The 1972 Clean Water Act helped deter polluters. And in 1984 the federal Environmental Protection Agency classified 200 miles of the river as a Superfund site, eligible for special attention. As a result of all this the river has begun to look like its old self. Water quality has improved. Some fish populations look healthier. The Bald Eagle once again nests nearby.

There are still concerns. Indian Point, a nuclear power plant in Westchester, uses up to 2.5 billion gallons (9.5 billion litres) of river water a day. The water is then discharged back into the Hudson. According to Riverkeeper, the hotter discharged water kills large numbers of fish, larvae and eggs. Indian Point says there have been no temperature-related deaths. There is also considerable contamination by PCBs, toxic chemicals with carcinogenic effects. After years of delays General Electric has now begun a process of dredging to clean up the contaminants. But it was already safe to swim with the fishes, except after heavy rain. Antiquated sewage systems in New York City and in towns and cities further up river cannot handle storm surges.

The Netherlands still retains an interest in its former New Amsterdam. The country is America’s fourth largest investor. It is participating in many of the festivities, including a big flotilla last month. New York’s July 4th fireworks display is taking place on the Hudson. In September a replica of Hudson’s ship, the Half Moon, will re-enact the captain’s journey. But he wasn’t the first to discover the river, of course. Native tribes lived along the “Mahicantuck” for thousands of years.

Google Earth helps yet worries government (USA Today)

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

[Editor's note: I was able to attend the reception for GeoEye-1 at the fabulous Newseum last week in Washington, DC. The imagery from this new satellite is truly awesome. Look for it soon in The Washington Post, and in Google Earth.]

Republished from USA Today, Nov. 6, 2008. By Peter Eisler.

WASHINGTON — The secretive National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is rushing to get the latest, high-definition satellite photos of Afghanistan into the hands of U.S. ground troops as they ramp up operations in the country’s tangled terrain.

The NGA analysts aren’t tapping the government’s huge network of highly classified spy satellites; they’re getting the pictures from commercial vendors. That’s the same stuff pretty much anyone can get, either through free, online programs, such as Google Earth, or by buying it from the same companies supplying Uncle Sam.

It’s a remarkable turn, given the warnings that security experts in the USA and worldwide raised a few years ago about giving the entire planet — terrorists and rogue states included — access to high-resolution satellite photos once available only to superpowers.

Last month, the most powerful commercial satellite in history sent its first pictures back to Earth, and another with similar capabilities is set for launch in mid-2009. The imagery provided by those and other commercial satellites has transformed global security in fundamental ways, forcing even the most powerful nations to hide facilities and activities that are visible not only to rival nations, but even to their own citizens.

Although no one disputes that commercial imagery poses threats, it has been embraced in ways few predicted.

“It’s created a lot of opportunities to do things we couldn’t do with (classified) imagery,” says Jack Hild, a deputy director at NGA, which provides imagery and mapping for defense and homeland security operations.

Pictures from government satellites are better than commercial photos, but how much better is a secret. Only people with security clearances generally are allowed to see them. Using commercial products, intelligence agencies can provide imagery for combat troops, which wasn’t possible before because of the risk of it reaching enemy hands and even international coalition partners.

Federal agencies use commercial imagery to guide emergency response and inform the public during natural disasters, such as this year’s Hurricane Ike. It’s also used by government scientists to monitor glacial melting and drought effects in the Farm Belt.

When commercial satellite photos first hit the market, “the gut reaction was, ‘We can’t allow this imagery to be out there because someone might do us harm with it,’ ” Hild says. “Are there still bad things that people can do with commercial imagery? Absolutely … but we think the benefits far outweigh the risks.”

Other nations share the sentiment. U.S. and foreign government contracts provide critical income for commercial imagery companies, such as Digital Globe and GeoEye — both of which supply photos for Google Earth.

“Most of our revenue (is) from governments,” says Mark Brender, vice president of GeoEye, which got half its 2007 revenue from the U.S. government and 35% from foreign governments. “They have a core competency in understanding how to use this technology — and a national security imperative to do so.”

In August 2006, the Islamic Army in Iraq circulated an instructional video on how to aim rockets at U.S. military sites using Google Earth.

Posted on a jihadist website, the video showed a computer using the program to zoom in for close-up views of buildings at Iraq’s Rasheed Airport, according to an unclassified U.S. intelligence report obtained by USA TODAY. The segment ended with the caption, “Islamic Army in Iraq/The Military Engineering Unit — Preparations for Rocket Attack.”

The video appeared to fulfill the dire predictions raised by security experts in the USA and across the globe when Google began offering free Internet access to worldwide satellite imagery in 2005. Officials in countries as diverse as Australia, India, Israel and the Netherlands complained publicly that it would be a boon to terrorists and hostile states, especially since the pictures often provide a site’s map coordinates.

Indeed, some terrorist attacks have been planned with the help of Google Earth, including an event in 2006 in which terrorists used car bombs in an unsuccessful effort to destroy oil facilities in Yemen, according to Yemeni press reports. Images from Google Earth and other commercial sources have been found in safe houses used by al-Qaeda and other terror groups, according to the Pentagon.

Many security experts say commercial imagery does little to enhance the capabilities of such organizations.

“You can get the same (scouting) information just by walking around” with a map and a GPS device, says John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a research organization specializing in defense and intelligence policy. The imagery “may give someone precise coordinates (for a target), but they need precise weapons … and their ability to target discrete parts of a particular site is pretty limited. People who think this gives you magical powers watch too many Tom Clancy movies.”

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