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Night space images show development

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1:50pm, March 30, 2004

From Philadelphia, at a meeting of the Association of American Geographers

For many emergency-management officials, monitoring the rapid pace of development in fire-prone regions of the western United States is a daunting task. Now, scientists may have come up with a means to estimate population growth in these areas by using satellite images taken at night.

To assess the fire risk to people in a region, analysts need to determine where houses are being built and how close they are to each other. However, by the time enough data are compiled by current methods, the information is often already outdated, says Thomas J. Cova, a geographer at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. For example, census data in most sparsely populated areas of the United States are updated only once every 10 years. Acquiring and assembling data for broad regions can be difficult if not impossible, says Cova.

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