This Puerto Rican software company is using satellite data to save beaches – The Hill

The Puerto Rican coast has been receding for many decades due to sea level rise. As the waters rose, causing severe erosion, many coastal Puerto Ricans were left watching their homes fall into the sea.

But a small Puerto Rican software company called Terra Firma, founded in 2019 by island native Alejandro Messis, uses satellite data to dynamically predict precise spots of erosion that might help Puerto Rican city planners better protect their island in their fight against climate change.

“The problem now with the EA is that the data is scattered across multiple federal data sets,” Mises said. There is no database intended to standardize them. So Terra Firma’s first job is to actually standardize that data in a way that it can be used.”

The company has created an easy-to-use software interface that allows environmentalists, construction professionals, and government agencies to create models to accurately predict environmental hazards such as erosion, landslides, floods, sun exposure, and wind related hazards.

Terra Firma is like Google Maps on steroids. Rather than simply providing the user with a snapshot of a specific geographic area, Terra Firma aggregates data from 1941 to the present day, tracking the environmental risks listed above.

With an almost video game-style interface, the software allows users to easily predict up to 30 years of potential wear and tear just by tweaking a few settings. These types of forecasts were previously available exclusively to projects with a budget large enough to hire a team of engineers to collect and assimilate data. Now that power is back in the hands of the people and communities concerned with protecting their lands.

Since the devastating fallout from Hurricane Maria in 2017, Puerto Rico has rushed to rebuild a stronger and more fortified island. By using data that can predict precise instances of flooding and erosion, city planners in Puerto Rico can better prepare for extreme weather events similar to Hurricane Maria.

One example of an organization that collaborated with Terra Firma in an effort to better protect the island from erosion and flooding is the Blue Tide Puerto Rico.

Blue Tide Puerto Rico is a non-governmental organization focused on oceanic research and research, as well as the promotion and preservation of Puerto Rico’s blue economy. After Hurricane Maria destroyed many of the reefs that act as a natural barrier protecting the coast from erosion and flooding, Blue Tide contracted with Terra Firma to design 3D-printed tiles to be installed and serve as a erosion mitigation strategy to fight future storm surges and protect the coast.

“We identified Terra Firma as an asset because it is a start-up with young people who are able to work with our demand with a new design and concept of keeping the environmental impacts of construction to a minimum,” said Wilbert de La Paz, CEO. Director of Blue Tide Puerto Rico.

Thousands of coral tiles are set to be 3D printed and installed along the coast of Puerto Rican cities that suffered the loss of coral reefs during Hurricane Maria. Coral tiles are made of clay and form a cylinder that acts as a nest for organic coral plugs. Mises believes that within 10 years, the mud drum will melt, leaving behind a fully-integrated organic reef.

It is hoped that this reef replacement is the first of many successful erosion mitigation strategies Terra Firma can help build to better protect the island from increasingly strong weather events.

“The way Terra Firma brings hope to hurricane-prone Puerto Rico offers insights to better prepare for future arrivals, to understand who is at risk, what part of our critical natural infrastructure and gray infrastructure is at risk and how to best protect it,” Mises said.

Terra Firma currently operates exclusively in Puerto Rico, but aims to expand to the southern United States in the coming years.

Posted on June 23, 2022

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