Google’s Earth Engine Officially Launched at COP-16 in Cancun

Google has worked with Surui Chief Almir to use its Earth Engine to help the Amazonia tribe to measure its forest carbon.

By Angel Hsu, PhD candidate, YCEI Fellow

While climate negotiators were busy discussing the role of forests in the Cancun climate negotiations, Google was launching its Earth Engine –  a practical tool to help countries obtain information about their forests, which are critical carbon sinks, easily and freely.

I originally wrote about the advantages of a tool like Earth Engine back in March. To briefly recap, the benefits of Google making remote sensing and satellite imagery accessible to the ‘everyman’ as I see it are: 1) the demystification of remote sensing; 2) the transition of extensive computer processing to the cloud, which will save time, money, and resources; 3) bridging the digital divide between developed countries – which have historically had access to expensive satellite imagery – and developing countries – which often lack the know-how and resources for complex satellite analysis; and 4) bringing remote sensing and satellite data one step closer to the policy world.

I still firmly believe that Earth Engine will do all of this, and Google.org is going to help developing countries get there faster.  One application the engineers at Google have geared the tool for is in the development of forest carbon stocks and baselines that are crucial if developing countries are going to apply for credits under the REDD mechanism.

So Google decided to sweeten the deal by providing not only a free, easy-to-use tool, but also something much more valuable – their time. “Because these next two years are particularly important for REDD discussions, Google.org is announcing today the donation of 10 million CPU hours per year to developing countries for Earth Engine support,” announced Rebecca Moore, Google Earth Engine’s manager.

Some of the impressive features of Earth Engine include:

  • Fusion tables that allow for data integration and visualization;
  • Open Data Kit (ODK) that allows for in-situ data collection via devices using an Android platform.
  • Millions of satellite images, stored on Google’s servers so analysis can be done via cloud computing.
  • Google engineer support if you want to add your own algorithms.

Check out this Youtube video of one practical application of the Earth Engine.  Members of the Surui tribe in the Brazilian Amazon have used Earth Engine to gather information about their own forests.