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From Gee Whiz to Global Impact!

By Gary Hedden

From “Gee Whiz to Global Impact!” — that’s what Lindsay Hower with Nature Conservancy entitled a recent panel discussion. Held on the Google Campus, it featured the use of ‘big data’ to understand and help solve complicated real-world problems.

Panelist Rebecca Moore, Executive Director of Google Earth Engine, showed us the power of maps.

Rebecca Moore from Google, speaking on the panel, Oct. 10, 2018


For her, it started with a logging proposal near Lexington Reservoir, by Highway 17 on the road to Santa Cruz. The maps she created showed the true scope and impact of the project, and although it took years of effort by concerned citizens, the project was stopped and the land protected as a park.

Monitoring Marine Fisheries

Maps have also been put to work to protect our marine fisheries. Ships communicate to satellite for safety reasons, and this allows the tracking of fishing vessels. A recent proposal to set aside 4% of the Pacific Ocean fishing area off Costa Rica was met with an outcry from the fishing industry. Maps that showed where vessels actually fish made it possible to visualize the minimal impact of the restricted zone and this changed their opinion. Now fish in this protected zone are reproducing and adding to the fish stock along the entire coast.

Tracking fishing vessels, monitoring the catch in real-time and sharing that information allows fishing vessels to target appropriate fish and avoid ‘bycatch’ loss. The use of AI (artificial intelligence) to assist in this analysis is increasingly helpful. The goal is to fish at sustainable levels.

Animating our Landscapes

Another effort by Google Earth was downloading the data collected by surveillance satellites since 1972. The Landsat images contain so much data that it was impossible for earlier generations of computers to manage. Now, using 66,000 powerful computers, all of the images have been merged into a timeline that shows in dramatic animation the changes to our global landscape – melting glaciers, expanding cities, loss of the rain forest and more. It’s a real call to action.

Check out the work of the Nature Conservancy here.

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