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Google Earth Engine tech makes sense of Bandipur forest fires

Rasheed Kappan, DH News Service, Bengaluru, Feb 14 2018, 0:24 IST
Bandipur forest fire visualised through Google Earth Engine tools

Bandipur forest fire visualised through Google Earth Engine tools

Did ground images fail to tell us the full extent of the devastating fire that engulfed Bandipur Tiger Reserve last year? Satellites did that job with finesse, capturing arresting visuals of the forest cover loss. Google's Earth Engine stitched them together, removed the cloud cover and had the big picture tell a different story.

The Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) had used the Earth Engine to track the changes in forest cover near the critical tiger reserve over time.

Specifically, NCF used cloud-removal techniques to map the exact damage caused by the 2017 summer fire.

Namma Sangha, a non-government organisation working to halt forest loss, had used similar large-scale analyses to measure the impact of a conservation programme.

The NGO's strategy has been to provide cooking gas to villagers who previously harvested fuel-wood from the Bandipur tiger reserve.

But armed with several petabytes (1 petabyte = 1 million gigabytes) of satellite imagery, Google Earth Engine (GEE) platform could do much more. After the Landsat image series were made freely available in 2008, Google had consolidated this humongous data set and linked it to its cloud computing resources. The scientific community could now access this huge dataset to study the earth's resources.

Google India on Tuesday announced that the dataset could now be accessed by NGOs across India to raise awareness about environment, climate change and other issues that affect the masses.

This is part of the Google Earth Outreach programme that would help the organisations leverage its mapping tools to visualise messages better. Multi-city trainings are now on to popularise the tools.

Besides mapping forest cover, GEE applications could also be used to detect deforestation, classify land cover, estimate forest biomass and carbon, map urban area expansion, map population, changes in agricultural production and forecasting.

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