Daily Planet

New Google Tool Turns You Into a Deforestation Analyst in Just Minutes

Photo: perspectivestock / Shutterstock

By downloading free open-source software, you could be using data from space to monitor global deforestation and land-use in general in just a matter of minutes.

Land use, forests and agriculture are at the core of the Paris Agreement on climate change, not least because they account for almost a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Preventing deforestation – forests absorb carbon dioxide – is a vital part of the commitment countries have made under the accord. Their ability to reliably measure, report and verify the state of deforestation within their borders is mission critical.

Collect Earth

With Collect Earth, anyone who has an internet connection can now evaluate the state of forests and land-use around the world using state of the art satellite imagery.

The tool relies on a collaboration between Google and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that was announced at the COP22 climate summit.

“Satellite images and products that used to take days to download and process can now be produced and visualised in a fraction of that time,” said Giulio Marchi, a forestry officer at the United Nations.

This type of data used to be collected by large government and business departments and required specialised equipment and training, making this type of monitoring more complicated for developing nations.

Satellite Images

The software provides easy access to archives with very high-resolution imagery including Google Earth and Bing Maps.

With Collect Earth, users can specify the type of information they want to track and search a vast set of satellite images of different resolutions, including an archive of images from the pioneering Landsat Earth observation programme dating back to 1972, the UN’s food and agriculture website explains.

“The FAO Collect Earth application brilliantly builds on top of Google Earth and Earth Engine to provide a simple but powerful global and national forest carbon monitoring tool,” explains Rebecca Moore, a director at Google

Users can zoom in on the images to mark small areas as, for example, forest, crop or grassland, and compare them to the same areas in the past, building up an exportable data set in the process.

“For FAO, this is not just a partnership. This is a strategic alliance,” said FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva, noting it combines FAO’s global effort to combat climate change with Google’s commitment to help on the climate data science and awareness fronts.

Forestry Data

Ruth Turia of the Papua New Guinea Forest Authority told the UN that the software has already allowed foresters in her country to gather their own data for national forest monitoring. “For us, Collect Earth has been really useful, and this time we want to do that monitoring work ourselves” Turia said.

Collect Earth is one of the open source tools developed by the Open Foris initiative, a UN project funded by the governments of Finland, Germany and Norway.

Forestry is also a major focus for Climate-KIC, the European Union’s climate innovation initiative. The Fully Optimized and Reliable EmissionS Tool (FOREST), a project supported by Climate-KIC, provides users with an integrated service that combines optical and radar data, measurements through ground stations and vegetation models.

Anyone can give the tool a try through the online demo on the website of the project partners, Airbus. The platform puts information about the size and structure of forested areas, including analysis of their evolution over time as well as carbon stock estimations, at your fingertips.

Learn more about how Climate-KIC is working to make land use more sustainable.