21 April, 2021

GEO-GEE project: Mapping the status of ecosystems with Remap

In 2018, scientists from the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science in collaboration with the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems launched the online mapping platform, Remap (Remote Ecosystem Monitoring and Assessment Pipeline). The platform was developed for people with limited technical skills in data analysis and remote sensing to quickly map and report the status of ecosystems using the power of Google Earth Engine (GEE). 

The team at Remap are updating the platform to continue the global effort to monitor and reduce the extent of ecosystem loss and contribute to global conservation targets.

This project is one of the 32 selected as part of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) - Google Earth Engine (GEE) Program that provides funding to tackle environmental and social challenges using open Earth Observation (EO) data, modern EO advances, and openly available field-collected data.

We spoke with Project Lead, Dr. Nicholas Murray from UNSW, to learn more about the Remap update and how his team is using the power of GEE to refine the tool’s classification approach and improve the accuracy of analyses. 

Nick, can you give us a quick overview of your project?

Our project will yield a revised and advanced version of our successful app, Remap. Our approach is to offer the tools needed to map and monitor environmental change to help quantify the footprint of humans on the environment at locally relevant scales.

Remap aims to be a transformative step in growing the global awareness of the status of the Earth’s ecosystem. We are continuing to refine our open-access app to better enable volunteers, Non Governmental Organisations and scientists to independently monitor impacts on the Earth’s ecosystems.

What challenge does Remap address? 

Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation threaten ecosystems worldwide. A crucial global policy response to counteract these fundamental drivers of biodiversity loss was the adoption of global conservation goals and targets, such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. However, developing tools that can be applied to assess progress towards these targets remains a fundamental challenge. 

Existing methods suitable for mapping change within ecosystems rely on expert implementation. This ‘capacity gap’  has been a severe constraint in obtaining comprehensive information on the status of the world’s ecosystems. Hence, there is a critical need to empower the global conservation community to undertake transparent monitoring of targets by providing a suite of standardised, easy to use and robust geospatial tools.

How has this challenge impacted your community?

The ability to map ecosystems and land cover is critical for all environmental organisations to understand the distribution of ecosystem change and loss. By making remote sensing easier for this community, Remap has enabled thousands of users to unleash the power of remote sensing on conservation issues.

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

GEE allowed us to create an online, free and open-access app that has already been used by 20,000 people to make maps of ecosystems around the world. However, current outputs are tailored to single users and we only offer a single time-step of change due to computing and space limitations. To advance Remap we are refining our classification approach to boost its accuracy and updating the underlying data to account for a growing archive of more recent satellite imagery. 

How will the GEO-GEE program help your project?

The GEO-GEE program has allowed us access to new expertise, exposure and a range of GEE utilities not previously available. In particular, computing credit will allow us to increase the size of the maximum size of classifications that can be conducted in Remap, and an increase in Asset quota has allowed us to develop updated predictors for the classifier.

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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