From: Rhett A. Butler, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published February 21, 2014 08:04 AM

New Tool Will Help Revolutionize Forest Monitoring

World Resources Institute (WRI) yesterday announced the release of a tool that promises to revolutionize forest monitoring.

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The platform, called Global Forest Watch and developed over several years with more than 40 partners, draws from a rich array of "big data" related to the word's forests and translates it into interactive maps and charts that reveal trends in deforestation, forest recovery, and industrial forestry expansion. Global Forest Watch is the first tool to monitors global forests on a monthly basis, allowing authorities and conservationists to potentially take action against deforestation as it is occurring.

"Businesses, governments and communities desperately want better information about forests. Now, they have it," said Andrew Steer, WRI President and CEO, in a statement. "Global Forest Watch is a near-real time monitoring platform that will fundamentally change the way people and businesses manage forests. From now on, the bad guys cannot hide and the good guys will be recognized for their stewardship."

Global Forest Watch leverages Google's computing cloud to make sense of staggering amounts of NASA satellite data, which in the past would have taken years to process, according to Rebecca Moore, Engineering Manager at Google Earth Outreach and Earth Engine, who worked with a team of researchers led by University of Maryland scientist Matt Hansen to develop the high resolution dataset of forest cover and change that underpins the system.

"[To produce that databaset] we analyzed... almost 700,000 Landsat images," Moore said. "It was a total of 20 terra-pixels of Landsat data and to do that we applied one million CPU hours on 10,000 computers in parallel in order to run Dr. Hansen's models to characterize forest cover and change. It would have taken a single computer 15 years to perform this analysis that we completed in a matter of days using the Google Earth Engine technology."

The result is a high resolution map that reveals annual change in forest cover since 2000. Global Forest Watch integrates data from other sources to generate near-real time alerts akin to the system Brazil has used to help reduce deforestation by nearly 80 percent since 2004. Users — whether they be government authorities, conservationists, members of traditional forest communities, activists, or armchair environmentalists — can set up personalized alerts to generate emails whenever there are signs of deforestation in an area, including municipalities, national parks, or zones defined by the user drawing shapes on a map.

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World image via Shutterstock.

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