Is Google the Guardian Angel of Rainforests?

By Brett Israel | December 11, 2009 12:18 pm, the non-profit division of the search engine giant Google, wants to help scientists monitor deforestation by harnessing the power of its popular Google Earth and Maps applications. Its new “high-performance satellite imagery-processing engine” can process terabytes of information on thousands of Google servers while giving access to the results online. The platform, which was demonstrated on Thursday at the International Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, would allow anyone using the tool to monitor whether or not trees were being chopped down in a given forest. It analyzes satellite images to show forest changes over a given time period [CNET].

The announcement comes at a time when delegates from around the world are attempting to negotiate a treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Google debuted their new program at Copenhagen because they are hoping that their software could help countries conform to the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) program proposed by the United Nations, in which industrialized nations would pay developing nations to keep their forests standing.

Google’s program is based on recommendations included in reports such as the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, which found that keeping forests intact is one of the cheapest ways to reduce carbon emissions. Forests soak up and store carbon dioxide, but when they are cleared during deforestation all that C02 is released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Politicians can propose all the limits they want, however there must be tools to monitor their countries’ emissions to ensure they are keeping their word–for example, by not allowing their farmers to clear cut forests to plant lucrative crops.

But actually tracking the changes in forestation can be a significant challenge, since it generally takes place across vast tracks of remote land and satellite imagery may be beyond the financial reach of developing-world governments or the research organizations that work with them. Furthermore, it’s essential that nations use a standardized, validated method of measuring changes, or it will leave any emissions tracking system open to misinterpretation, and any credit system open to abuse. [Ars Technica]. Google’s software is still undergoing testing, but they expect to have it ready by next year, and it will be freely available to all through

Related Content:
80beats: Take a Virtual Tour of Pompeii on Google Street View
80beats: Could Google Book Search Be an All-Powerful, Privacy-Killing Monopoly?
80beats: Google Founder Tries to Crack Parkinson’s Genetic Code With Crowdsourcing
80beats: Googlefest Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: 3 New Ways Google Will Take Over Your Life

Image: USGS

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
  • bonsai king

    Why is it that developing countries are to blame? The 1st world countries have completely wiped out their forests to aid their development. The developing countries need their forests too. How can developing nations develop without this resource. Clear cutting gives way to efficient large scale agriculture, wood is a very important building material,it is fuel for heating poor people’s homes, and a lot more things. If there is going to be compensation for not using this very valuable resource, then it has to be very expensive. Can the 1st world nations provide that?

    One more thing, tropical countries with vast jungles harbor, rebels and terrorists. Simply because they can survive in that environment. Temperate countries with cold climates do not harbor rebels because they will die without proper shelter. Clear cutting jungles and replanting it with forest will solve the world terror problem.

    First world countries should set aside a big part of their land for replanting forest!

    Every country should give a big portion of their land for trees. It only takes 15 years to reforest a land with proper drip irrigation techniques.

    My message to the first world:
    Stop blaming the developing nations. You should plant yourselves to remedy the clear cutting you did decades ago. of course the developing nations will also do their part.

  • Matt

    Bonsai King,
    Though I agree with you that developing countries are not to blame, I disagree with your main premise. A lot of the clear cutting going on today is a result of demand from rich countries. I dont think the clear cutting would otherwise happen on such a scale.
    Take growing demand for biofuels in the USA and Europe for example. To make palm oil, a biofuel, Indonesia and Malaysia are clearcutting some of the most pristine rainforest on the planet.
    I agree that the forest is a very valuable resource for building materials, heat, etc, but what is currently happening is completely unsustainable and could be devestating for the planet you and I live on.
    I’m assuming your idea that clear cutting jungles will solve the world terror problem is intended to be a joke . First of all, there are terrorists in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and a number of other places where there is no jungle.
    I agree that rich nations should try to restore their own forests though.

  • Jim Clapp

    Leaving aside the contentious issue of who, or WHAT is to blame for deforestation and its concomitant climate change, focusing on technologies that would allow citizens of the globe to monitor changes in forests and other ecological disturbances can be quite useful. It’s the global political and economic “climates” that will determine how the technology will be used. At least the technology is becoming available. Whether or not we continue along the infantile practice of “dirtying our own nest” is up to us. We can now view the process in real time and in detail.

  • Mal

    This is nothing more than welfare on a grander scale … Keep the people dependent on the system …. As long as the status quo isn’t disrupted ….

  • Kash

    Mel, perhaps it needs to be disrupted. My friend Doctor Horrible said it best: “because the status is not.. quo.”

  • Iluminada Avansino

    Improve performance of Google chrome – Google chrome browser is already loved by many individuals plus they like it to perform better in any ways. Disabling dev tools, JavaScript, hang monitor, metrics, logging, images, phishing filter, popup blocking, etc. could raise the speed of Google chrome.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar