Visualizing water and energy solutions in a warming world

Monday, November 28, 2011 at 4:00 PM


Editor’s Note: Today’s guest author is Zachary Hurwitz from International Rivers, an environmental and human rights organization with staff in four continents, who has worked to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them for over 25 years. International Rivers was the recipient of a Google Earth Outreach Developer Grant, funded through the Google Inc. Charitable Giving Fund at the Tides Foundation. We are excited to showcase International River’s innovative use of Google Earth and KML tours.

Today, the COP17 climate meeting starts in Durban, South Africa. The climate meeting is themed “saving tomorrow today.” One hot topic currently being discussed is the construction of dozens of mega-dams for Africa’s major rivers. At International Rivers, we believe that this proposal could place tomorrow’s ecosystem sustainability at risk. In order to bring this issue to life, we worked with Friends of the Earth International and Nigerian activist Nnimmo Bassey (winner of the prestigious Right Livelihood Award) to create a Google Earth tour aimed at increasing awareness around the environmental impact of such widespread damming in Africa.

This new Google Earth tour takes viewers on a trip to the world's dam-building hotspots to visualize the effect that large dams have on the climate, river ecosystems, and the communities that depend on them. You can learn about topics such as reservoir emissions, dam safety, and adaptation while visiting real case studies in Africa, the Himalayas and the Amazon.

International Rivers’ Google Earth tour shows the effects of large dams on ecosystems around the world.

The tour also includes animations, which show how over time melting glaciers in the Himalayas – an effect of climate change – may lead to higher flood and safety risks for communities living downstream of dams. You’ll also plunge under water in one of Brazil's dirtiest reservoirs, the TucuruĂ­ Dam, to see in 3D how rotting organic material creates methane gas, which bubbles up from dam reservoirs to emit greenhouse gases in the tropics.

We also hope this tour makes it easier to visualize better water and energy solutions that already exist, including solar, wind, geothermal, energy efficiency, and decentralized grids to give energy access to the poorest of the poor in places like Africa, who are often far away from central grid connections.

The Google Earth tour shows many data layers, such as hydropower use across Africa.

Google Earth has enabled us to share this research in a more interactive way by making it possible to really show the broader impact of large scale damming. Download the interactive tour (KML file) or watch the tour video to learn more.