FAO, Google join hands to better manage world’s natural resources

The U.N. food agency and Google are working together to make high-resolution satellite data an everyday tool in managing the world’s natural resources in a joint effort that is changing the way the world goes about pursuing sustainable development.

The collaboration already allows resource managers and researchers in many countries to gauge changing land uses of individual field-sized plots seen by eye-in-the-sky satellites. The method offers a quantum leap towards improved abilities to assess a landscape’s carbon storage capacity or plan a nation’s approach to greenhouse gas emissions, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a statement.

For example, easily accessible and rapidly-updated remote sensing data enable a shift in forest management from inventory reports to taking the almost real-time pulse of forests, thus opening a host of new policy prospects and further opening the doors of scientific perception, it said.

The initial focus is the forestry sector, where national experts can, after a short training, use FAO software and Google’s accessible geospatial data archives to conduct – in a few hours – mapping and classification exercises that used to take weeks or months. Opportunities for future collaboration are vast, and may lead to innovation in a range of issues from dietary nutrition and pest control to water management and climate change.

The combination – in which Google makes data and processing power easily accessible while FAO devises ways to extract useful information – has already moved into innovative territory, notably with a Global Dryland Assessment, in which national experts, university researchers, partner institutions and FAO combined forces in an open-sourced exercise. Results will be published later this year.


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