26 October, 2020

GEO-GEE Project: Combating land degradation with Trends.Earth

The United Nations (UN) has projected the global population will reach 7.3 billion people by 2030 and surpass 9 billion by 2050 - with this comes a number of social and ecological risks. 

Research shows that continued population growth and high levels of resource consumption by developed economies can drive unsustainable levels of agricultural expansion, while urbanisation and the extraction of natural resources and minerals results in greater levels of land degradation. Bearing this in mind, understanding how to restore and sustain the health of Earth’s land has never been more critical than it is today. 

One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals’ targets is to achieve "land-degradation neutrality" (LDN) - where the quality of land resources remains stable, or increases by 2030. The Trends.Earth tool, created by Conservation International and partners, has been used to support countries in achieving LDN;  with the platform monitoring land degradation to help decision makers improve land health. 

The project is one of the recently announced Group on Earth Observations (GEO) - Google Earth Engine (GEE) Program winners that was granted funding to tackle environmental and social challenges using open Earth data. 

We spoke with the Principal Investigator on the Trends.Earth project, Mariano Gonzalez-Roglich from Conservation International, to learn more about their project and how the team will be using Google Earth Engine (GEE) to work towards LDN to ensure a sustainable future. 

Mariano, can you please provide us with an overview of your project? 

Trends.Earth offers data and tools to inform land management decisions. The platform uses cloud computing to process massive volumes of satellite imagery that can be used to aid decision makers.

The project aims to establish a sustained collaboration among Conservation International, NASA, European Space Agency, CSIRO, GEE and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in support of the GEO LDN Initiative to develop and implement an online Cloud-based platform that is dedicated to mapping land degradation and potential land restoration opportunities.

The Trends.Earth team collaborated with its project partners and the GEO LDN Initiative to co-design a platform that will:

1. Compute Sustainable Development Goal indicator 15.3.1; proportion of land that is degraded over total land area, and its sub-indicators:  
  • Trends in land cover
  • Trends in land productivity
  • Trends in carbon stocks above and below ground

2. Harness the vast potential of the Landsat and Sentinel satellite imagery harmonised collections that are being developed by NASA and ESA to monitor sub-indicators globally at fine spatial resolutions (10-30 metres).

3. Provide exportable results in the form of geospatial datasets and tabular summaries to facilitate the reporting process and policy responses.

How is Trends.Earth helping communities? 

Restoring degraded lands can provide direct benefits to local communities in the form of improved food production and opportunities to increase income. At a global scale, the Trends.Earth project will provide indirect benefits by supporting land use decisions aimed at sequestration of carbon, protection of biodiversity and regulation of the climate.

How does Google Earth Engine help you achieve your project-related goals?

Google Earth Engine combines a huge repository of datasets with the power of Cloud computing, allowing for the development of high impact targeted tools. We do not have to direct resources towards the development of servers, databases, APIs, and a multitude of technological bottlenecks which, before, limited our capacity to support communities.

How will the GEO-GEE funding help your project?

The GEO-GEE funding will be key for developing a web-based version of Trends.Earth. Conservation International and its partners have the data and methodology developed to create the platform, but we need support in the development of the web graphic interface with the functionalities to run on-the-fly analysis and export outputs (tables and rasters).

The GEO-GEE Program offers the potential to leverage Cloud computing powers and the vast Earth Observation (EO) datasets archive within GEE to improve the availability and resolution of data analytics around LDN. Although the desktop version of the Trends.Earth tool has been successful in reaching a large number of users, we need to further maximise the availability of analytics through a more accessible Cloud-based platform. 

There is also a need to bring the latest in EO datasets to enhance the assessment of land degradation, by including fine spatial resolution data now available from the Landsat and Sentinel satellite imagery archives, to allow for the assessment and monitoring of projects at scale. 

What does success look like to you?

For our team, success would be measured in both five and 10 year intervals. In five years, to simply hear about projects being implemented that address land degradation would be considered a success. By 2030, success would be measured by seeing that most countries have achieved LDN thanks to the support of the Trends.Earth, the UNCCD, CSIRO, NASA, ESA, GEO, and GEE, among other partners.

EO Data Science’s role in the GEO - GEE Program

EO Data Science partnered with Google Earth Engine and the Group on Earth Observations to launch the GEO-GEE Program, which supports GEO member countries to operationalise their science as they strive to tackle the world’s biggest sustainable development challenges. 

In July 2020, 32 projects across 22 countries were selected into the program which offers $3 million USD towards product licenses and $1 million USD in technical support from EO Data Science. This funding and support will help these projects tackle global challenges using open Earth data. Read the announcement and list of winners here

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