Our species took its first steps in a world covered in trees. Today, forests offer us sustenance, shelter, and clean the air that we breathe.
A Google Earth for monitoring climate change. Free and accessible to all
With Open Foris, Google and FAO collaborate to create user-friendly apps that facilitate data collection, analysis and reporting: using Collect Earth technology for environmental monitoring.
The connection between digital technology and satellite imagery is revolutionising the way natural resources can be used, including monitoring deforestation and desertification. As countries strive to reduce their carbon footprint by limiting deforestation, it is important they have the right tools. These must be transparent, consistent over time and suitable. To help these countries, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has launched Open Foris, an initiative aimed at developing, sharing and supporting software tools that facilitate data collection, analysis and reporting.
A study that would take months 3 years ago
Collect Earth is a user-friendly app that can facilitate assessing deforestation and other forms of land use. This enables countries to quantify their environmental impact, including greenhouse gas emissions. It uses Google Earth‘s interface and the satellite imagery hosted within it to view plots of land. Google Earth uses current and historical high resolution images that are made available to everyone. Through these applications, anyone can access these databases and watch, monitor, compare, prevent and study all changes happening on the planet.
Google has opened its archives and put its algorithms to good use and FAO is deciphering these images in order to understand the effects of a changing climate on food security worldwide. Not only private sector or public companies can use these tools: even a small-scale farmer can monitor a piece of land no bigger than half a hectare (an acre) with their smartphone and prevent problems affecting their crops.
From forest monitoring to water control
Collect Earth has been used for forest monitoring and dry land assessment in Africa. The app is very flexible and can be customized to suit different environments and environmental guidelines. For example, FAO has been able to determine the health status of forests and crops. In Chile, Panama, Namibia, Papua New Guinea, Tunisia and Bhutan it has organised training to use this software for its staff. On its part, Google has created a division called GEO for good, aimed at helping the interaction between Google Earth Engine and FAO’s app.
As a result, FAO has been able to improve forecast and control of desert locust outbreaks in Africa, and reduce camp losses and analyze water trends in specific areas. Google is helping with the efficiency, quality, timeliness and efficacy of this data collection. Whilst satellites can’t “see” the insects, they can accelerate the detection of breeding areas and make ground interventions more effective.
Knowledge available to the public
Enormous quantities of data are readily available, and are growing every day. In the past their analysis was complex, conducted principally by universities, and the results weren’t accessible. Today, knowledge is available and free. Even though satellite imagery can’t replace local expertise, as a certain dose of ground verification will be always needed, the frontiers it offers are endless.
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