Google Earth Engine Launches as Cloud Climate Platform

Google Earth Engine will provide satellite images to help scientists see how forests are changing over time. The idea is to stunt deforestation in developing countries.

Google Dec. 2 rolled out a new cloud-based computing platform that puts past and present satellite imagery online to gauge changes in Earth's environment.

Introduced at the International Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, Google Earth Engine is intended to help scientists detect how forests are changing over time using trillions of images collected by U.S. and French satellites over the last 25 years.

With the data, scientists may build applications for detecting deforestation and mapping land use trends in developing nations such as Brazil, central Africa and the Amazon.

In turn, the data could help these nations better allocate resources for disaster response or water resource mapping, Google Earth Engine Engineering Manager Rebecca Moore said in a blog post.

Google Earth Engine leverages Google's parallel cloud of servers "to cope with the massive scale of satellite imagery archives, and the computational resources required for their analysis."

The company's philanthropic division will donate 10 million CPU hours a year over the next two years on the Google Earth Engine platform to help world nations track the state of their forests.

This, Google believes, will help nations prepare for the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries framework proposed by the United Nations to provide financial incentives for protecting forests all over the world.

Protecting forests, whose trees provide the oxygen support system humans rely on, is crucial. Deforestation accounts for 12 to 18 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, and the world loses 32 million acres of tropical forests every year.

Google is encouraging scientists to use Google's Earth Engine API to bring their applications online for deforestation, disease mitigation, disaster response and water resource mapping, among other climate-related tasks.

The Earth Engine API is currently available to a small group of partners but will be available more broadly later.