Google Demonstrates Technology For Monitoring Deforestation

Google engineers demonstrated the prototype, based on cloud computing technology, at the International Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen Thursday.

The system combines satellite imagery from Google Earth, which identifies areas where deforestation is taking place, with data analysis technology that compares images over time and measures deforestation rates.

"With this technology, it's now possible for scientists to analyze raw satellite imagery data and extract meaningful information about the world's forests, such as locations and measurements of deforestation or even regeneration of a forest," said a blog post on Google's Web site by Rebecca Moore, engineering manager for, and Dr. Amy Luers, environment manager for is the charitable arm of the search engine giant.

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The United Nations has proposed a framework called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries that would offer financial incentives to nations such as Brazil to protect their rainforests.

But the Google blog said implementing such a program requires that countries monitor and accurately report on the state of their forests in an independently verifiable way.

The Goopgle blog said the company worked with Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institute for Science and Carlos Souza of Imazon, leaders in the area of forest science who have developed software that creates forest cover and deforestation maps from satellite images. Google worked with the scientists to re-implement their software on the prototype platform that gives the application access to terabytes of Google Earth satellite images and the computation power of Google's data centers.

Google said the cloud computing-based prototype system is fast, low cost and secure. Speed is particularly important in that detecting illegal logging more quickly helps local law enforcement put a stop to the activity.

Google said it intends to provide the technology as a not-for-profit service. It's available to a small set of organizations for testing and is not yet generally available. The company plans to make it more widely available during the next year.