Google mapping and Google Earth training sessions.

Google mapping and Google Earth training sessions.
Photo: © FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Collaboration between Google and FAO

Geospatial forestry information is a first step in almost real-time natural resources management revolution, according to FAO and Google.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Google are working together to make high-resolution satellite data an everyday tool in managing the world's natural resources in a joint effort that is changing the way the world goes about pursuing sustainable development. This was reported by FAO in April 2016.

The collaboration already allows resource managers and researchers in many countries to gauge changing land uses of individual field-sized plots seen by eye-in-the-sky satellites. The method leads towards improved abilities to assess a landscape's carbon storage capacity or plan a nation's approach to greenhouse gas emissions.

The initial focus is the forestry sector, where national experts can, after a short training, use FAO software and Google's accessible geospatial data archives to conduct - in a few hours - mapping and classification exercises that used to take weeks or months. Opportunities for future collaboration are vast, and may lead to innovation in a range of issues from dietary nutrition and pest control to water management and climate change.

Google makes data and processing power easily accessible, while FAO devises ways to extract useful information

The combination - in which Google makes data and processing power easily accessible while FAO devises ways to extract useful information - has already moved into innovative territory, notably with a Global Dryland Assessment, in which national experts, university researchers, partner institutions and FAO combined forces in an open-sourced exercise. Results will be published later this year.

FAO's Locust Control Unit has used Earth Engine to improve forecasts and control of desert locust outbreaks. Satellites cannot detect the dreaded insects themselves but can accelerate identification of potential breeding areas and make ground interventions more effective.  Other prospective applications for the technology may reduce crop losses yields and enhance plant health. Forest cover monitoring has proven useful in Costa Rica, as trees provide habitat for birds that predate on the coffee berry borer beetle, which can ravage up to 75 percent of a coffee farmer's crop.

Google has put a huge archive of Landsat satellite images dating back to 1972 on the cloud, and recently added data delivered from Copernicus, the European system for monitoring the Earth, which are particularly useful for fast-moving real-time studies as they will cover the same plot of land every five days. 
Besides the land-use focus, Google is making a parallel effort to allow data from remote sensors to track global water trends, including availability and reserves. Further innovative uses will emerge as more people learn how to use FAO's Open Foris and CollectEarth tools.



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