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(Administration making public 1960s spy photos)  (   )

By Jerry Stilkind

USIA Staff Writer

Washington -- Scientists are hoping that there is a treasure of

environmental data in the satellite photos of the world taken in the 1960s

that U.S. spy agencies will be making public over the next 18 months.

"Scientists will be looking for the photos to fill in such historical

records as how the land has been used, how extensive was the cover of snow

and what the temperature of the ocean was," Kenneth Keller, senior fellow

for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a

recent interview.  The council is a nongovernmental research organization.

The photos could help expand the understanding of rates and patterns of

erosion, deforestation and desertification and whether there have been

shifts in rainfall levels and changes in shorelines.

At first, much attention would be devoted to data that would help scientists

study whether so-called greenhouse gases, produced as a byproduct of

industrial processes, are warming Earth and might drastically alter the

climate, Keller said.

The satellite photos from 1960 to 1972 may provide the kind of data that

could be plugged into the computer models that have been projecting a

substantial warming of Earth if emissions of greenhouse gases are not

curbed.  Computer models use past and present data to make projections of

the climate into the future and the measurements from the 1960s will extend

backward their base of information.  This might help make the models more

accurate or show that they are faulty, Keller said.

There is a sense of urgency to improving the computer models because an

intergovernmental panel of scientists has been warning since 1990 of a

possible rise in temperature large enough to raise sea levels and change

rainfall patterns and the distribution of plants and animals around the

globe during the next century.  But it would be expensive to curb such

greenhouse gases as carbon dioxide, which is produced by the burning of

coal and oil -- the major sources of energy in industrialized and many

developing countries.

Vice President Al Gore, in announcing at the headquarters of the Central

Intelligence Agency in February the decision to make the photos public,

said they contained "a gold mine of hitherto unavailable data."

He said that the pictures of volcanoes and the areas with active fault lines

that produce earthquakes would help scientists trying to "predict and

mitigate natural disasters."


In the background were four satellite images being released that day.  One

is of a volcano on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula taken in November 1962.

Another photo was of Russia's Aral Sea taken in August 1962, showing it to

be considerably larger than it is today.

"These kinds of photographs are what make today's event so exciting to those

who study the process of change on our Earth," he said.

As a member of the Senate, Gore was instrumental in the early 1990s of

starting the process that wound up with the declassification decision.

The photos were collected by U.S. spy agencies during the height of the Cold

War with the former Soviet Union.  But in addition to photographing defense

sites in the former Soviet Union, the agencies wanted pictures of much of

the rest of the world in order to make accurate maps and charts.

About 860,000 pictures of various parts of the globe that were produced by

the first generation of spy satellites will be made public.  In 1972,

civilian satellites were sent aloft to record land, sea and air data for

public use by those studying the weather or the environment.

The images will be sold in photographic form by the National Archives and

the U.S. Geological Survey.  They will be available free through the

Internet at http: //  Computer users

can browse an index as well as the early images at that address, and also

pictures from the later civilian satellites, and then place orders for

photograph copies.