The day has come where big data is part of environmental activism fighting deforestation. Powered by Google Earth Engine, Global Forest Watch was launched in February by the World Resources Institute to facilitate a global fight against deforestation.  Users can look back at trends starting in 2000 and with parts of the map being updated close to every two weeks, hot spots in Indonesia and Brazil can be tracked.

“They log on, access all the data, and run their own algorithms,” David Thau, senior developer advocate for Google Earth Engine, says of the project.  With data drawn from a number of satellites, this program enables scientists to direct access information.  Having grown out of a variety of other projects, the researchers’ algorithms are what generates the extraordinary map following the deforestation, and have now scaled up to do this globally on an unprecedented scale.

According to Thau, Google Earth Engine eases and aids this big-data research.  With normal cloud computing researchers distribute computing tasks across the network.  Working with this program, researchers use a programming interface to enter  queries, which get ‘parallelized’ automatically.

The World Resources Institute is also giving the public access to this information and may be particularly useful in Indonesia.  With the pubic’s support, agribusiness campaigner Gemma Tillack is asking a number of large companies to only grow new plantations that are sustainable and not perpetuating forest loss.  What larger changes can be pushed forward when the public is given free access to the information remains to be seen.

(Image Credit:  Wagner T. Cassimiro)

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