NASA 'codeathon' challenge seeks apps for coastal flooding

The agency hopes to see a range of applications developed during its upcoming codeathon

NASA, with an eye toward Earth-based projects, is calling on software and hardware developers to create new technologies for addressing issues around coastal flooding.

The space agency on Wednesday launched its third global "codeathon," this time featuring a challenge focused on coastal flooding. The call to arms, in addition to three other climate-themed challenges, show NASA's interest in amassing knowledge and solving problems revolving not just around space exploration, but social needs as well.

The agency hopes participants will leverage federal data to create simulations and other technology that could help people understand their exposure to coastal-inundation hazards and other dangers, NASA said.

The initiative was announced alongside a new effort by the White House to make climate change data more accessible to the public and researchers alike, as part of President Obama's open data project. Other groups like Google and the World Bank will contribute data of their own to the project, the White House said, which is designed to help Americans plan for climate impacts.

NASA has some interesting ideas about what applications might come out of the two-day challenge, which will be hosted at nearly 100 locations across the world next month. New technologies could help coastal businesses understand their level of exposure to flooding risks, or the extent to which they might be affected by sea level rise and coastal erosion in the future.

"Solutions developed through this challenge could have many potential impacts," said NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan, in the agency's announcement.

NASA's coastal flooding challenge is one of four climate-related challenges using data provided by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. But beyond coastal flooding, the codeathon includes more than 40 new challenges related to other areas including robotics, human spaceflight and asteroids. Half of the challenges are focused here on Earth.

In total, NASA hopes participants will make use more than 200 data sources for the event to build their applications.

The codeathon could be seen as the agency's version of the obligatory hackathon now hosted by many Internet companies. The events usually have developers break from their usual routine and work feverishly to knock out code aimed at new applications or products.

NASA's effort seeks to capitalize on President Obama's "open government initiative," which aims to make data from U.S. government agencies, like from NASA, more easily accessible online. The codeathon will be held April 12-13.

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