25 November, 2020

GEO-GEE project, ‘Strata: UNEP’s Earth Stress monitor

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) along with Quosient Ltd. (trading as Earth Blox) and scientists from the University of Edinburgh are working to develop an early warning system to identify where climate change could impact areas already affected by natural disasters or conflict. 

The tool, known as Strata: Earth Stress monitor, is a platform that will use data captured through satellite imagery and cloud computing to improve the mapping of environmental and climate stresses globally and reveal where harmful climate change overlaps with other environmental stressors, such as war, temperature, noise and crowds.

The project is one of the 32 selected as part of the GEO - Google Earth Engine Program that provides funding to tackle environmental and social challenges using open Earth data.

We spoke with Sam Fleming from Earth Blox, to learn more about their project and how his team will be using Google Earth Engine (GEE) to provide a fast and accurate way of identifying environmental and climate hotspots. 

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

The Strata: Earth Stress monitor will present results from continuous Environmental and Climate Stress monitoring. This project is a collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the University of Edinburgh, and Earth Blox. By harnessing novel technologies and digital innovation, we will develop an easy-to-use platform.

The platform will assist UN country teams to improve how they use geospatial and Earth Observation (EO) data to assess, and ultimately reduce climate and environmental risks. Through code-free and effortless access to planetary datasets, Strata will become a crucial tool that promotes sustainable livelihoods and facilitates more informed decision making at both a policy and programme level.

The UNEP and their teams across the globe will be the end users, so Strata will be co-designed with them to ensure it is fit for purpose and can be tailored to meet specific situations in their countries, while operating alongside their existing methodologies and platforms.

What role does Earth Blox have in this project?

Strata will be powered by Earth Blox, a code-free platform for accessing, processing, and analysing EO data. This will be customised and tailored to facilitate the use of the environment and climate stress indicator algorithm being developed by the University of Edinburgh.

What is the challenge that you want to tackle with Strata? 

The partners are solidifying their commitment to tackling global challenges by identifying emerging environmental and climate threat hotspots. 

The in-country UN teams require a simple system that will allow them to rapidly determine where environmental and climate stresses are converging and the accuracy of those indicators. Hence, there is a need for easy access to advanced geospatial analytics and EO data that covers from sub-national to global.

How has this challenge impacted your community?

The challenge faced by the in-country UN teams is the ability to make informed decisions on a policy and programme level. This, in turn, impacts each team’s ability to provide environmental stewardship, improvements to human wellbeing and the protection of livelihoods of citizens within their countries.

We piloted this project in Somalia, a place where environmental and climate stresses are contributing to an increasing risk of maladaptation, fragility, forced displacement and conflict. Environmental challenges cannot be tackled without the data and analytics to monitor and understand them in the first place. 

How does GEE help you achieve your project-related goals?

GEE provides access to a vast range of environmental, climatic and wider geospatial datasets that contribute to hotspots of environmental and climate stresses. These data sets are global and, in many cases, cover a long time period. Such a repository of data will enable us to offer a solution that can be tailored by users to meet their specific requirements and scenarios. 

How will the GEO-GEE funding help your project?

The GEO-GEE funding will support Strata in various ways. The GEE license is a fantastic opportunity to experiment with high-quality resources and allow us to test various algorithms for environmental and climate risk assessments. Additionally, the access to EO experts and their community of practice, as well as the technical expertise provided by Google, the GEO Secretariat and EO Data Science is going to be of great benefit for our project particularly when transferring our scientific methodologies into practical algorithms to visualise stress hotspots in Strata.

What does success look like to you?

Success to us would come in three key areas. The first is that we will see an increased use of EO data and cloud computing within risk-assessments and decision making. 

The second is an enhancement of early warning and predictive analytics, which we hope to achieve through facilitating our end users to incorporate the outputs from Strata into their existing early warning systems. 

Finally, success will bring about improved programming for risk reduction and climate resilience, where we see Strata having a key role in providing the data and analytics required by the in-country teams to achieve this.

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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