Google adds a layer to climate modeling efforts

Earth Engine taps 25 years of satellite imagery in battle against deforestation

Google has added to the emerging effort toward global climate modeling with the Dec. 2 release of Google Earth Engine, which makes 25 years of satellite images available for studying changes and mapping trends in the Earth’s environment.

The images contain what Google says are trillions of measurements collected by Landsat satellites over the last quarter century, and the company is developing tools to help scientists interpret and analyze the data. A principle focus of the project is identifying areas of deforestation.

Google is offering the platform for free, and also will provide 20 million CPU hours to allow scientists and developing countries to use the tools, reports Juliet Eilperin in the Washington Post.

The release of Google Earth Engine, which the company has been working on for two years, coincides with the annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, being held in Cancun, Mexico. One of the convention’s goals is to agree on a way to compensate countries with rainforests for protecting them, Eilperin writes; the data from the platform’s applications could help validate successful efforts.

Advances in geospatial and mapping systems have helped fuel a number of efforts to make use of satellite, sensor and other data to more accurately map the Earth’s surface and environment, for purposes from supporting first responders in local emergencies to tracking global climate.

The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, for example, earlier this year launched a prototype Web portal for scientific climate data at In October, NOAA  announced plans to build a $27.6 million, state-of-the-art supercomputer at its Environmental Security Supercomputing Center in West Virginia. The new high-performance center is part of the agency’s expanding climate modeling efforts, which have been supported in part by $170 million in stimulus funds.

NOAA also this year opened a new supercomputer for climate research, nicknamed Gaea, or Mother Earth, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, and has plans to upgrade the 260-teraflop machine to petascale capability.

Meanwhile, NASA recently began testing a potentially ground-breaking, 40 gigabits/sec trial network at its Center for Climate Simulation at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., home to one of the world’s premier climate modeling groups.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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