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5/7/2013
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In-Q-Tel Invests In Weather Data Analysis

Venture investment firm strikes deal to give U.S. intelligence agencies access to extensive database of weather data.

10 Breakthrough DARPA Technologies
10 Breakthrough DARPA Technologies
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U.S. intelligence agencies apply advanced analytics to their assessment of terrorist activities, foreign adversaries and other kinds of national security threats. Now they have access to big data on global weather, too.

In-Q-Tel, the venture capital firm for the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies, said it has struck a deal with Weather Analytics, a company that specializes in climate and weather data, to develop new capacities for use in support of intelligence activities.

"For purposes of planning a vacation or if we need to carry an umbrella, weather information from free sources is good enough," said Bill Pardue, CEO of Weather Analytics, in an interview. "But if you're looking to make decisions that have great risk but offer great reward, you want data" that can help make those decisions.

[ Will there be enough money in the budget to do this right? Read Federal CIOs Identify Budget-Cut Risks. ]

Weather Analytics receives and processes more than 6 billion weather measurements daily, gathered from 45,000 sensors and other devices on satellites, aircraft, balloons, ships, buoys and ground stations. Some of the data is publicly available, while other sources private networks and modeled data from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration." We process that data and look for errors and problems in quality," Pardue said.

Weather Analytics tracks more than 580 variables, including air temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind speed and direction, soil temperature and moisture levels, and "evapotranspiration" -- a combination of water evaporation and plant respiration. The company puts data into a consistent format and then into a database of 60 trillion weather records that goes back 33 years.

Commercial applications for Weather Analytics services include validating insurance claims, forecasting energy consumption and mapping transportation routes. In-Q-Tel's investment will accelerate the company's work in providing historical data and "microclimate" forecasts for geographic areas as small as one-square kilometer, Pardue said. In topographies with wide variations in altitude, for instance, there can be sharp differences in weather conditions.

Why the interest in the weather for intelligence purposes? In the Defense Department's 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), climate change was identified as a key factor in potential security threats in the future. Assessments by the U.S. Intelligence Community concluded that climate change could have "significant geopolitical impacts" around the world, contributing to poverty, weakening fragile governments and potentially spurring mass migrations, the report stated.

"While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world," the report warned. Extreme weather can also lead to demand for defense support for humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

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