Earth Engine, powered by Google

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 3:09 PM

(Cross-posted from the Official Google.org Blog)

I'm here in Copenhagen this week, at the COP15 International Climate Change Conference. Whether you're attending in-person, or reading news headlines from home, you can't miss the fact that addressing climate change requires the world to solve a mind-boggling mix of science, policy and political issues. These are formidable challenges, but new technologies can help provide solutions for these complex problems. For example, one of the most promising areas of compromise has been an accord to compensate countries for preserving forests and other natural landscapes that play a crucial role in reducing emissions. Implementation of the agreement, known as Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD, will require the ability to accurately track deforestation at a regional and global level.

Despite the widespread availability of global satellite imagery through products like Google Earth and Google Maps, it hasn't been easy for tropical nations to understand the state of their ecosystem, and to quantitatively monitor changes in forest coverage or other key indicators. That's why I'm proud to announce a new computational platform for global-scale analysis of satellite imagery: Earth Engine, powered by Google.

At an event today hosted by Avoided Deforestation Partners, global leaders from the President of Guyana to the Prime Minister of Norway expressed their support for REDD. Earlier today, the U.S, Australia, France, Japan, Norway and Britain pledged $3.5 billion over the next three years to protect rainforests. At the event, I demonstrated a prototype forest monitoring application built on top of Earth Engine that we developed together with the Carnegie Institution for Science, IMAZON and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Traditional forest monitoring is complex and expensive, requiring access to large amounts of satellite data, lots of hard drives to hold the data, lots of computers to process the data, and lots of time while you wait for various computations to finish. Our prototype demonstrates how Earth Engine makes all of this easier, by moving everything into the cloud. Google supplies data, storage, and computing muscle. 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. The prototype applications running on Earth Engine aren't yet available to the public, but you can see screen shots in our earlier blog post.

We want to ensure this technology is widely available when it's ready, so today I formally announced Google.org'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.