Google adds new tool to help prevent deforestation

Google unveils new tool to aid reforestation

Google Inc. today seized the occasion of the International Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen to demonstrate technology it’s developing to track changes in the earth’s forests.

As nature’s perfect carbon dioxide sponge, trees have featured prominently in the debate over the appropriate response to global warming underway in Denmark.

Deforestation is an enormous contributor to climate change, pumping some 1.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year. On the other hand, tree planting efforts are seen as a highly promising and cost-effective carbon offset strategy.

The United Nations‘ proposed REDD program — Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries — would provide financial incentives to nations that take steps to protect their forests. But the complicated formulas require accurate monitoring of forest growth over time.

Here’s where Google comes in. Its free Google Earth service already provides forest imagery over a given time period. What it lacked was the ability to accurately measure the changes.

Meanwhile, scientists Greg Asner of Carnegie Institution for Science and Carlos Souza of Imazon had created software that generates forest cover maps from satellite imagery. But they were wanting for that imagery and computational processing power.

The two have teamed up in one of those “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter” moments of aligned interests., the company’s non-profit arm, said in its blog today:

What if we could offer scientists and tropical nations access to a high-performance satellite imagery-processing engine running online, in the “Google cloud”? And what if we could gather together all of the earth’s raw satellite imagery data — petabytes of historical, present and future data — and make it easily available on this platform? We decided to find out, by working with Greg and Carlos to re-implement their software online, on top of a prototype platform we’ve built that gives them easy access to terabytes of satellite imagery and thousands of computers in our data centers.

This image shows deforestation during the last 30 days (marked in red) in Mato Grosso, Brazil, as tracked by the prototype tools.

The red marks deforestation

The red marks deforestation “hotspots.”

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One Comment on “Google adds new tool to help prevent deforestation”

  1. […] Google adds new tool to help prevent deforestation ( […]

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