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[Slashdot] - Google Wants To Save the Planet With Satellite Images


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Google Earth Engine has created a vast trove of open source satellite imagery and augmented it with data-analysis software that makes it relatively easy for skilled outsiders to draw up their own interactive maps. From a report: More important, its team of staff scientists (Google won't say how many) wrangles massive data sets to answer critical questions for a constellation of pro bono "clients" that includes conservation groups, city agencies, community advocates, and researchers. The 20,000 image files added to the Earth Engine team's collection each day are more than just static photos. Satellites gather, for example, detailed information on the soil composition more than a foot underground and the amount of water vapor rising from farmland. Staffers help clients distill relevant information and relay it to the field. Via radio, the nomads in Senegal learn where to find a drink for their cows; bright pink dots on interactive maps inform the indigenous Peruvians of the locations of logging activity; and a shared website targets the spots in LA where trees will likely do the most good. "The raw data is not enough. Government officials now tell us, "We're drowning in data, but we're thirsty for insights,'" says Rebecca Moore, who runs the team. "We invented Google Earth Engine to allow scientists to easily analyze data and ask questions about how the climate is changing and answer in seconds or minutes instead of years." Other companies, including Amazon.com and Microsoft, have technical services with capabilities comparable to Earth Engine, but experts in the field say the sheer number of work-hours Moore's staff dedicates to volunteer efforts sets it apart. "It's just a remarkable level of transparency and information that wasn't available before," says Mikaela Weisse, project manager for Global Forest Watch, an open source online tool that monitors deforestation. Joe Morrison, a vice president at satellite imaging company Umbra, who writes a newsletter about the industry, calls Earth Engine the most important contribution to climate science in 50 years.

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