Climate Change

Published on December 22nd, 2009 | by Guest Contributor


Google Earth Engine Counts Trees in the World’s Forests

Brian McClen, VP of Engineering for Google Geo Group, unveiled a new program called Google Earth Engine during a Copenhagen event hosted by Avoided Deforestation Partners. Earth Engine, powered by Google, is “a computational platform for global-scale analysis of satellite imagery,”  creating a large-scale storage destination for satellite and other data that tracks the status of the world’s forests. Simply put, it will help the world know where forests are being preserved and where they are being cut down.

Photo Credit: Claire MédaiskoGoogle Earth Engine will track the world's forests

Google Earth Engine will track the world's forests

Google’s goal is to aid in the execution of the Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) by helping tropical countries better understand and analyze their ecosystems and, as McClen puts it in his blog post: “…to quantitatively monitor changes in forest coverage or other key indicators.” Earth Engine utilizes cloud computing to significantly cut down on the time and hard drive space required by more conventional forest monitoring methods.

“As a result, you can visualize forest change in fractions of a second over the web, instead of the minutes or hours that traditional offline systems require for such analysis.” – Brian McClen

Goolge’s contributions to the monitoring dilemma involved in addressing climate change will help match action with passion. As Melinda Kimball, senior VP of the U.N. Foundation puts it,

[The monitoring problem] “is a big one because we don’t know what we’re counting. It reminds me of arms control.”

In addressing climate change, greenhouse gas emission is the major issue facing industrialized nations; the biggest problem facing many developing nations is deforestation.

“The science is out there, but the ability to run it on large numbers of machines by countries in previous years who couldn’t afford it is now possible,” said McClen.

While this technology is not yet available to the public, Google plans to make it available to nations dealing with these issues and hopes for the information to be available for next year’s U.N. climate conference in Mexico.

“We want to ensure this technology is widely available when it’s ready, so today I formally announced’s commitment to provide our Earth Engine free to tropical countries to support their forest monitoring programs. I believe that this is just the first of many Earth Engine applications that will help enable scientists, policymakers, and the general public to better monitor and understand the Earth’s ecosystems.” — Brian McClen

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