Google & FAO launch new Big Data tool for all
Earth Map empowers FAO’s Hand-in-Hand geospatial platform & allows anyone with basic Internet access to tap critical climate, environmental & agricultural information
16 September 2020, Rome –Anyone anywhere can access multidimensional maps & statistics showing key climate & environmental trends wherever they are, thanks to a new tool developed by Google & the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
Earth Map is an innovative & free-to-use Web-based tool to provide efficient, rapid, inexpensive & analytically cogent insights, drawn from satellites as well as FAO’s considerable wealth of agriculturally relevant data, with a few clicks on a computer. Earth Map has also been designed to empower & provide integrative synergies with the federated FAO’s Hand-in-Hand geospatial platform, a more comprehensive tool to provide Members, their partners & donors with the means to identify & execute highly-targeted rural development initiatives with multiple goals ranging from climate adaptation & mitigation to socio-economic resilience.
Its development followsthe successful Collect Earth platform jointly developed with Google under FAO’s OpenForis suite of tools, which has already proven useful for forest assessments; land cover assessments & project design & implementation.
“I am convinced that transforming our food systems to feed the world will be achieved with a digital agriculture” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. “We need to make digital technologies accessible to everyone.”
Earth Map makes available multi-temporal & quasi real-time satellite imagery & geospatial data sets that drive Google Earth Engine & complements them with more planetary-scale analytical capabilities, allowing for detection, quantification & monitoring of changes & trends on the Earth’s surface. It does so in a way that does not require users to master sophisticate coding techniques, thereby mitigating bottlenecks in terms of technical capacities of developing states & ultimately paving the way for smallholders to contribute to as well as access critical knowledge to sustain their livelihoods.
“At a time when environmental & societal challenges are paramount, we strive for Google’s products to enable all countries with equal access to the latest technology in support of global climate action & sustainable development,” said Rebecca Moore, Director, Google Earth. “FAO knows what information is needed, we specialize in information accessibility, & both of us are committed to boosting the resilience of people & communities worldwide.”
Google & FAO began their partnership in 2015, signing an agreement on the sidelinesof the Paris Agreement. Initial efforts focused on forest & crop cover mapping techniques, & they are now rapidly extending to areas such as biodiversity conservation, pest control & water management.
Outputs from Earth Map are tailored to users’ needs, & serve as “dashboards” as well as maps, Moore notes. More than 50 countries have already benefited from the FAO-Google tools & FAO already leverages the technology to prepare & monitor projects & help Members apply for grants from entities such as the Green Climate Fund & the World Bank, including projects in Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines & Uzbekistan.
Buoyed by funding from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation & Nuclear Safety’s International Climate Initiative, Earth Map offers among else data ranging from temperature to precipitation, population, vegetation, evapotranspiration, elevation & soil.
The real-time capacities & constant updating make them particularly useful for those engaged with Hand-in-Hand, FAO’s evidence-based, country-led & country-owned initiative to accelerate agricultural transformation & sustainable rural development.
The new tool also underscores how FAO is transforming its ownership role regarding data into a custodial sharing function to maximize beneficial use. “That’s what makes big data big, & why partnerships will have an increasingly central role in pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals,” said FAO Chief Economist Maximo Torero.
Using Earth Map
The power of the tool was highlighted recently when, with a few clicks, programme leaders working on a Green Climate Fund project pitch in Kyrgyzstan were able to appreciate how actual precipitation patterns varied notably on a district-by-district basis from the broader average measures, thus enabling a more refined project design.
“The breakthrough here is that Earth Map brings the unparalleled power of Google Earth Engine to everyone’s fingertips in a matter of seconds, so that basic Internet access enables even those without a background in coding or remote sensing to analyze big data,” says Danilo Mollicone, lead technical officer of the FAO’s technical team that supports the new tool as well as Collect Earth.
FAO will train & assist users &, while the broad focus is on ease of use – including drop-down menus & aggregated charts- & narrowing the digital divide, the Organization can also help develop more bespoke & specialized Earth Map assessments when needed.