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Google Technology to Help Prevent Deforestation

Google, in partnership with the University of Maryland and the UN Environment Programme, has developed a tool to help prevent deforestation.

Global Forest Watch 2.0, which will launch later this year, is an interactive, real-time, forest monitoring system. It uses satellite technology, data sharing and human networks around the world to provide information to better managing forests.

The World Resources Institute’s Nigel Sizer, director of the global forests initiative, says real-time forest monitoring systems have helped countries’ enforcement efforts. In the Brazilian Amazon, for example, deforestation rates have dropped 80 percent since 2004, Sizer says. And Gabon is investing millions of dollars to improve access to satellite imagery and remote sensing for a new forest management program.

But, Sizer says, those responsible for forests in many countries still lack access to timely information on what is happening to their forests. Information is not up to date, it is expensive to gather, and the information-gathering process is very technical. This is a problem in both developing and developed countries, he says.

Global Forest Watch 2.0, using satellite and remote sensing technology combined with human networks, aims to address these barriers to sustainable forest management, the groups involved say.

Google Earth Engine’s team provides access to cloud computing-based forest cover information. Meanwhile, high-speed internet connectivity enables sending data and forest maps processed in North America, Europe or Singapore to laptops and mobile phones in Jakarta, Kinshasa, Lima, Vladivostok and around the globe. Also, smartphones can be used by anyone in the field to download maps and satellite images, as well as upload GPS coordinates and photographs from the ground.

In addition, crowdsourcing using simple web interfaces allows large numbers of people to gather and share information, participate in forest monitoring, and hold decision-makers accountable. Social media outlets can spread information quickly, help communities organize and mobilize people to act.

Global Forest Watch 2.0 isn’t the first environmental monitoring tool to partner with Google. Last summer, the California Air Resources Board launched a tool using Google’s mapping technology that allows users to locate major sources of greenhouse gases and examine the emissions of each facility.

Photo Credit: UN Forum on Forests/Fendi Aspara

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story said Global Forest Watch 2.0 will launch next month, due to a UN error.


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