Author Archives: Alicia Cormie

Give it up for the woman who helps Googlers give back

Over the past month, Googlers around the world have virtually volunteered in their communities — from mentoring students to reviewing resumes for job seekers. It’s all a part of GoogleServe, our month-long campaign that encourages Googlers to lend their time and expertise to others. GoogleServe is just one of many opportunities employees have to give back, and one of the projects that Megan Colla Wheeler is responsible for running. 

As the lead for Google.org’s global employee giving and volunteering campaigns, Megan’s role is to create and run programs like GoogleServe and connect the nearly 150,000 Googlers around the world to them. Ultimately, her job is to help Googlers dedicate their time, money or expertise to their communities. How’s that for paying it forward?

With more than ten years of experience at Google, we wanted to hear more about how she ended up in this job, her advice to others and all the ways volunteering at Google has changed — particularly this past year. 


How do you explain your job to friends?

My goal is to create meaningful ways for Googlers to contribute to their communities — by offering their time, expertise or money — and help connect them to those opportunities. 


When did you realize you were interested in philanthropy and volunteering?

I was a Kinesiology major in college. Toward the end of my sophomore year, I took a course on social justice and it struck a chord in me. Though I loved sports, I realized I wanted my career to be about something bigger, something meaningful. I wanted to lend my skills for good. So even though I graduated with a kinesiology major, I focused my job search on the nonprofit sector and got a job working for a nonprofit legal organization.


How did you go from there to leading volunteer programs for Google.org?

I never knew that the job I have now was even possible. I left my nonprofit job to become a recruiting coordinator at Google. My plan was to do it for a year, diversify my skills, then go back to the nonprofit world. 

I remember going to my first GoogleServe event. We helped paint and organize a senior citizen community center — all during the workday! It blew me away that Google placed such an importance on volunteering. Coming from the nonprofit world, it felt meaningful seeing a company that cares deeply about these things and encourages employees to get involved. So I stayed at Google and kept finding ways to work on these programs. 


Fast forward 10 years and you’re one of the masterminds behind these events. How has employee volunteering and giving at Google changed over the years?

So many of the things that Google has created, like Gmail, came out of grassroots ideas that then grew as the company did. The same is true of our work to help Googlers get involved in their communities. 


Take GoogleServe for example. In 2008, a Googler came up with the idea to create a company day of service. Over a decade later that campaign has gone from a day-long event to a month of service that encourages over 25,000 employees to volunteer in over 90 offices around the world. And it all started with one Googler saying, "This would be a cool idea." Along the way, more Googlers have come up with ideas to get involved in the communities where we live and work through giving and volunteering. Although the programs have grown and evolved over the years, we’ve maintained the sentiment that inspired those campaigns in the first place.


We’ve also been focused on connecting Googlers to opportunities that use their distinct skills, like coding or data analysis. For example, a team of Googlers - including software engineers, program managers, and UX designers - are currently working with the City of Detroit to help build a mobile-friendly search tool to help people find affordable housing. 


How has it changed in the past year?

At the core, these programs are about giving back, but they’re also culturally iconic moments at Google. They’re a chance for teams to connect and do something together that’s more than just your average team-building activity. You’re building a shared experience and meeting people from completely different roles and departments. They’re also a chance for teams to learn and grow from people outside of Google and to bring that perspective back to their job. 


Over the past year, people have felt generally disconnected. So even though our volunteering has become virtual, it’s still a chance to interact and contribute. Virtual or not, it really does create a positive work culture. 


What advice would you give to people who have a day job in one area and a passion in another?

Be willing to work hard and get your core job done and carve out time to keep doing what you’re passionate about. When you are working on projects that you love, it keeps you engaged in a really special way. And you never know when those passion projects will intersect with your core work, or when they’ll turn into something bigger. 


A marine biologist uses Maps to explore under the sea

Just under the water lies one of the biggest mysteries of the Great Barrier Reef: blue holes. These underwater sinkholes give researchers a rare look at ocean life and how we can protect it. Until a few years ago, only two blue holes were documented in the entirety of the Great Barrier Reef — they are hard to find and even harder to get to. 

With the help of Google Maps, marine biologist Johnny Gaskell and a team of researchers are finding previously unknown blue holes. In 2017, after witnessing Cyclone Debbie destroy many of the reefs in its path, he set out to find more blue holes. Home to hundreds of species of coral and serving as a protective waters for larger marine life, these formations give scientists a view of history buried in undisturbed sediment layers and clues about  how to better protect coral reefs. 

Using Google Maps’ satellite view, Johnny followed the cyclone’s path to pinpoint areas along the reef that might have been spared from damage. That’s when he spotted perfect circles along the reef, indicating a potential blue hole. The formation he identified was south of the Whitsundays in the Hard Line Reefs, a difficult-to-reach area of the Great Barrier Reef that’s dangerous to navigate. Despite this, Johnny and a team of divers headed out into the unknown, unsure of what — if anything — awaited them.

There’s still so many spots out in the Great Barrier Reef that are unexplored. Johnny Gaskell
Marine Biologist

With the satellite view of Google Maps on their phones, they navigated their boats through narrow channels in unsurveyed waters until the blue dot on their map was directly over the blue hole. Johnny dove in and found healthy coral formations that have sat undisturbed, possibly for centuries. Along the edges were delicate birdsnest corals, vibrant giant clams and huge branching staghorn corals. In the stillness of the blue hole’s center, there were green sea turtles, giant trevally and sharks that all called the dark, cool water home. 

With the help of Google Maps, a discovery that would have taken years of underwater exploration on the seafloor is now allowing researchers to expand our understanding of the world’s largest ecosystem. Today, Johnny is still working to build a snapshot of coral reef conditions. Working with Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef and the Great Reef Census project, they are using geotagged images to give everyone — from scientists to students — a better idea of what’s going in depths of the water whether they dive in or not. 

In 2021 the Great Reef Census is expanding to reach more reefs, collect more data, and broaden its research goals. To join the efforts, sign up as a Citizen or contribute directly via the project’s fundraising page

When it comes to mental health, what are we searching for?

You know that exhaustion you’re feeling — the one that no amount of espresso shots or power naps can remedy? Well, it turns out you’re not alone. 

Last month in the U.S. we saw spikes in fatigue-related Google searches, and the question “why do I feel bad?” reached a record high. There’s a collective feeling of exhaustion, and we’re all looking for ways to cope with it. Over the past year, we’ve seen an increase in searches related to meditation, virtual therapy, walking and digital detoxes

Since this week marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S., we chatted with two of Google’s experts on the topic: Dr. David Feinberg, a psychiatrist by training and head of Google Health, and Dr. Jessica DiVento, a licensed clinical psychologist and the Chief Mental Health Advisor for YouTube. David and Jessica talk about why we’re feeling this way and what we can do about it. 


What’s going on with our collective wellbeing at this moment in time? 

Jessica: Our body’s threat detection system is working in overdrive. We’re constantly making sense of what’s happening so we know what’s causing us stress and can react to it. People don’t realize how much mental energy that takes. Even though you might not be doing much physically, it makes sense to feel fatigued. 

In the U.S., more people are getting vaccinated and guidelines are changing. Adjusting to this new routine takes a lot of cognitive processing. 

David:It's a hard transition. Our bodies are good at achieving homeostasis. I’ve become comfortable working from home, eating outside and socializing within my pod — these are abnormal things that I’ve incorporated as normal. In parts of the world, you’re telling me to go back to my old ways. Things that used to require minimal thinking — like meeting a friend for dinner — now require so much processing. 


How do you expect people’s emotions to change over the coming months? 

David:Fear is when you open the door and a bear is there. Anxiety is when there’s no bear and you don’t know why you’re feeling that way. We’ve been in a constant state of both with the pandemic. Already, I’ve felt a bit of these heavy feelings lift. When I got my first shot of the vaccine at CVS I felt some of the anxiety and fear I was carrying release — it was almost a spiritual experience. 

This is a dramatic life experience. It will be part of our narrative and change how we respond to things. When a vase falls and it breaks, you glue it back together. When it falls again it usually breaks in the same spot. When there are triggers — like seeing spikes in India — it brings back emotions from this collective trauma. 

Jessica:As a global society, there’s a long way to go. Some of us going through the reconstruction phase will ask, “Why am I not feeling better yet?” Transitioning out of this will take time. 


What have you both done to maintain your own mental health?

Jessica:We know all the things to do to minimize stress and anxiety: eat well, exercise, sleep and so on. We also know what doesn’t help. For me, that’s the overconsumption of technology. Digital wellbeing features, like Pixel’s Flip to Shhh and app timers, help me stop scrolling so I can be more present.

David:I’ve focused on my sleep. Dreams are a way to consolidate new information. I’ve measured my sleep with my Fitbit smartwatch and now with Sleep Sensing on my new Nest Hub, and have learned that eating or working out late at night negatively affects my sleep. So I’ve made adjustments.


As more people search for ways to cope, what are Google and YouTube doing to help?

David:Part of coping with anxiety is researching and taking action on the things you can control.  I love seeing Google connect people to actionable information through things like our mental health self-assessments, information on vaccination and testing locations, and authoritative data about things like symptoms and guidelines to stay safe.  

Jessica:The rise in searches for mental health content shows that it’s becoming okay to say that you’re not okay. The more conversations we spark and the more places we share content about mental health, the less stigma there will be. At YouTube, we work closely with experts in the mental health space to make sure there are credible and engaging videos out there. When someone searches specifically for anxiety or depression resources, we’ll show information about symptoms, treatment resources and self-assessments. And for searches that may indicate someone in crisis, we’re committed to connecting them with free 24/7 crisis support resources. Also, Fitbit recently teamed up with Deepak Chopra to create an exclusive wellness collection for its Premium members, making it easier for them to create a mindfulness practice. Things like that help make sure anyone can take care of their mental health and wellbeing. I hope that lives on past this moment. 


What questions do you hope the world is searching for in the next six months?  

Jessica: I think we’ll see people searching for ways they can help others — looking at careers in counseling and epidemiology — and how they can keep leaning into wellbeing. 

David:I hope people are searching “Am I in love?” and “Why do I feel great?”


Mountaineering to Maps: Rebecca Moore’s fight for the planet

Rebecca Moore lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a series of peaks in Northern California where the ocean and redwoods collide. Living there, amongst the trees, she turned to mapping as a way to protect the planet.

When a logging project was proposed in her community, she used Google Earth to show everyone how the plans would affect their daily lives and, more importantly, endanger the precious ecosystem surrounding them.  The logging plan was denied and that redwood forest is now being considered for permanent protection as public open space.

“In a way, technology and digital mapping can give nature a voice — it puts it on the map and helps it defend itself,” Rebecca says. “Seeing facts on a map quickly squashes debate and dispels misconceptions.”

For the past 15 years, Rebecca has led the Google Earth, Earth Engine and Outreach team. Their goal is to create a digital replica of the planet and put it into hands everywhere. They’ve mapped everything from endangered animal populations and fisheries to CO2 emissions and wildfires. We talked with Rebecca about why she thinks maps are so powerful and how she finds it in herself to tackle hard problems, like climate change. 


What does your team at Google do? 

Our goal is to organize all of the planet’s information and make it accessible, understandable and actionable. For example, Google Earth Engine helps us take the flood of environmental information from things like satellite imagery and weather data, and turn it into something that anyone can understand and take action on. And our Google Earth Outreach program helps nonprofits, communities and indigenous peoples around the world use our mapping tools to solve whatever problems they’re tackling. 


What makes maps so powerful when it comes to protecting the planet? 

The world is changing, but it’s hard to visualize it. If we can create a dynamic, digital replica of the real world and extract meaningful insights from it, then we can put it into the hands of people who can help protect and conserve the planet for generations to come. 

For example, we’ve seen how putting this information into the hands of indigenous communities can help protect land that’s under threat. We worked with the Suruí, a tribe in the Amazon, to use Google Earth‘s mapping tools to stop illegal logging in their region. 

Now, with Timelapse in Google Earth, anybody can fly over any region in the world and see decades of planetary change. When you see these changes with your own eyes, there’s what I call the digital overview effect — you become more emotional and more engaged. 


How do you identify areas where Google can have the biggest impact?

I look for the hard problems that Google can make a dent in. Climate change is at the top of that list. It’s an existential threat, and we’re all experiencing the effects of rising temperatures: from droughts to wildfires to islands disappearing. There’s a sense of urgency that we have to act now. 

Then I look for patterns. I've read voraciously over the past few years to understand what the world's best thinkers have identified as potential pathways to solving climate change. I look at how Google can uniquely contribute to those solutions. 


When taking on big challenges, how do you stay motivated? 

I was a rock climber and mountaineer for years — I even climbed in the Himalayas. When you climb a mountain, you don't actually see the summit from where you start. But you know if you head in a positive direction, eventually you’ll see it, and get there. And along the way, the little breakthroughs will motivate you. Same goes for making meaningful change to protect the planet. 

Sometimes the best thing is to make a choice, commit and go forward. Stay attentive and mindful to what's happening along the way, and be prepared to make mid-course corrections. And stay patient, taking on big challenges — whether it’s climbing or climate change — is hard work and it takes time. Even when the summit (or your goal) feels far away, don’t forget to turn around and look back to appreciate how far you have come. That can be super-motivating, and applies to my work today.

You didn’t always work at the intersection of environment and technology. What put you on this path? 

I studied computer science, and after school I just wanted a job that was intellectually challenging. It didn’t matter so much what it was for and what I worked on. That changed after my father, who was an attorney and argued a landmark civil rights case, and my brother, who was an artist and an activist, died within five months of each other. It hit me that we don’t live forever. It seems cliche, but I didn’t want to look back and think I frittered away with stuff that didn’t matter.  

I needed that sense of urgency to stop what I was doing, leave my job and reinvent myself. I didn’t know what my next move was, and it took me three years to figure it out, but I was determined to find a way to bring my own talents to bear and work on things I cared about. I started small, helping protect the nature that surrounds my community in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and went from there.

A recipe for productivity

Dr. Kapil Parakh is a Medical Lead for Google Fit and a practicing cardiologist at the VA in Washington, D.C. During the week he splits his time between seeing patients, developing technology that improves wellbeing and staying active with his family. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s even picked up a new hobby to cope during quarantine: baking baguettes. 


Every day, Kapil draws on his unique background to help people live longer and healthier lives. Before coming to Google, he completed medical school in Zambia, trained at Johns Hopkins in cardiology, public health and epidemiology, and served as a White House Fellow.


His long list of roles and responsibilities makes me wonder how he finds time for it all — so I asked him. Kapil says it boils down to what he considers his ingredients for success: get the most out of everything you work on, use the rule of thirds and have a rock-solid support system. 

Maximize the output of your work. 

Kapil’s consistent advice to others is to find a way to take what you’re working on and expand it into something bigger — with minimal extra effort. A few years ago, Kapil helped develop Heart Points for Google Fit, an activity goal based on recommendations shown to impact health. He then used that body of work to help educate personal trainers, cardiologists and people working in general medicine. It was the same context, repurposed for different groups. 


Similarly, before joining the Fit team, Kapil worked on Google Search for three years. In his day-to-day work he thought a lot about how people searched for health-related content online and how Google could surface helpful information in return. As a result of his team's work, you can see health knowledge panels, information boxes on search results pages that help you quickly find medically accurate information about common symptoms and conditions.


That work could have ended when Kapil left the Search team. Instead, he took what he observed and turned it into something more: a book about how to find and use medical information online. That book, Searching for Health, was just published today. 


“We all have limited time,” Kapil says. “We need to try and maximize our output.” To do so, he suggests taking a single project that you’re working on, and consider how you can turn it into more formats for more people. 

Remember the rule of thirds.

Of course, this can’t apply to all of your work, all of the time. You aren’t going to be able to publish a book based on every work project. This is where Kapil’s rule of thirds comes into play. Roughly speaking, work can be broken down into three buckets: short-term work (like requests from others that pop up in your inbox or administrative tasks that require immediate action), mid-term projects (like creating a training or presenting your work at a conference) and long-term projects (like publishing a book). Those last two buckets are where maximizing your output comes into play.


“It’s a matter of being cognizant of all the things you’re working on and how they fit together toward your goals,” Kapil says. “It’s kind of like rock climbing, you have to be aware of the footholds. The way up isn’t straight up like a ladder, it’s more amorphous.”

Find support — whether it’s in relationships or a bag of flour. 

While Kapil’s advice is all about finding patterns and connecting dots, he doesn’t hesitate to take on completely new things — like baking bread. Last year Kapil was grieving the loss of his father in the midst of the pandemic. To help him cope, his wife handed him a recipe for baguettes. If nothing else, she thought it would be a good distraction. The result was both delicious and therapeutic — and Kapil is still churning out bread from his kitchen. Most importantly, it was a reminder to Kapil of how important his support system is. 

A loaf of bread shaped like a heart.

“It’s this type of support that allows me to balance so many hats,” he says. “As an immigrant and a person of color, I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today without the tremendous support of my family and mentors.”

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A recipe for productivity

Dr. Kapil Parakh is a Medical Lead for Google Fit and a practicing cardiologist at the VA in Washington, D.C. During the week he splits his time between seeing patients, developing technology that improves wellbeing and staying active with his family. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s even picked up a new hobby to cope during quarantine: baking baguettes. 


Every day, Kapil draws on his unique background to help people live longer and healthier lives. Before coming to Google, he completed medical school in Zambia, trained at Johns Hopkins in cardiology, public health and epidemiology, and served as a White House Fellow.


His long list of roles and responsibilities makes me wonder how he finds time for it all — so I asked him. Kapil says it boils down to what he considers his ingredients for success: get the most out of everything you work on, use the rule of thirds and have a rock-solid support system. 

Maximize the output of your work. 

Kapil’s consistent advice to others is to find a way to take what you’re working on and expand it into something bigger — with minimal extra effort. A few years ago, Kapil helped develop Heart Points for Google Fit, an activity goal based on recommendations shown to impact health. He then used that body of work to help educate personal trainers, cardiologists and people working in general medicine. It was the same context, repurposed for different groups. 


Similarly, before joining the Fit team, Kapil worked on Google Search for three years. In his day-to-day work he thought a lot about how people searched for health-related content online and how Google could surface helpful information in return. As a result of his team's work, you can see health knowledge panels, information boxes on search results pages that help you quickly find medically accurate information about common symptoms and conditions.


That work could have ended when Kapil left the Search team. Instead, he took what he observed and turned it into something more: a book about how to find and use medical information online. That book, Searching for Health, was just published today. 


“We all have limited time,” Kapil says. “We need to try and maximize our output.” To do so, he suggests taking a single project that you’re working on, and consider how you can turn it into more formats for more people. 

Remember the rule of thirds.

Of course, this can’t apply to all of your work, all of the time. You aren’t going to be able to publish a book based on every work project. This is where Kapil’s rule of thirds comes into play. Roughly speaking, work can be broken down into three buckets: short-term work (like requests from others that pop up in your inbox or administrative tasks that require immediate action), mid-term projects (like creating a training or presenting your work at a conference) and long-term projects (like publishing a book). Those last two buckets are where maximizing your output comes into play.


“It’s a matter of being cognizant of all the things you’re working on and how they fit together toward your goals,” Kapil says. “It’s kind of like rock climbing, you have to be aware of the footholds. The way up isn’t straight up like a ladder, it’s more amorphous.”

Find support — whether it’s in relationships or a bag of flour. 

While Kapil’s advice is all about finding patterns and connecting dots, he doesn’t hesitate to take on completely new things — like baking bread. Last year Kapil was grieving the loss of his father in the midst of the pandemic. To help him cope, his wife handed him a recipe for baguettes. If nothing else, she thought it would be a good distraction. The result was both delicious and therapeutic — and Kapil is still churning out bread from his kitchen. Most importantly, it was a reminder to Kapil of how important his support system is. 

A loaf of bread shaped like a heart.

“It’s this type of support that allows me to balance so many hats,” he says. “As an immigrant and a person of color, I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today without the tremendous support of my family and mentors.”

More from this Series

Work Smarter

How Google tools can help you work smarter, and advice from Googlers on how they get it done.

View more from Work Smarter

Dr. Ivor Horn talks about technology and health equity

Dr. Ivor Horn’s career has spanned medicine, academia and technology. Along the way she’s been focused on one thing: making sure that people get what they need out of the healthcare system and attain their fullest health potential — no matter who they are. 

She recently joined Google as the Director of Health Equity & Product Inclusion. We sat down with her to learn more about what health equity looks like, how technology can help and what she’s working on at Google. 

Where did your passion for this work come from? 

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in hospitals. When I was in the fourth grade, my dad had a head injury and developed a seizure disorder. Being Black in Mississippi, where I grew up, my mom would make sure that we all dressed up when we went to the doctor so they would recognize that my dad was someone who was cared for and who was loved — all that with the hope that we’d get better care. Living through that made me want to go to medical school so I could change the healthcare system. I didn't want other people to go through what we did. 

Once I was a practicing pediatrician, I saw patients in communities that were underserved by health care. I noticed young parents bringing their child and their flip phones into the clinic. They’d pull out their phone to show me things like a photo of their child’s rash that faded overnight. This tool helped them communicate with me more effectively, and I became interested in figuring out how we could use technology like that to improve health care more broadly. 

Can you tell us more about health inequity and the pandemic?

It’s important to remember that health inequity is the product of systemic and structural racism, particularly in the U.S. We know that people’s experience with health can be impacted by where they live, how wealthy they are, and their ethnicity or skin color. Before the pandemic, studies showed that people of color had less access to primary care, received a lower quality of treatment in places like emergency departments, and were less likely to be given additional examinations like blood tests. 

When you have a broken foundation, those cracks eventually become tremendous fissures — and that's what we saw with COVID-19. Health inequities surfaced at every level — from the lack of available protective equipment in developing countries to the higher than average death rates and infection of people of color. Health inequity has been an endemic aspect of the pandemic.

How do you even begin to solve that?

We cannot continue to build on something that's broken. Mending the cracks starts with building technology that helps those who are experiencing what's most broken about the healthcare system. If you build for that community, it will work for others — then you can transform healthcare.

This week’s news about vaccines is a great example. We’ve created virtual agents so anyone — especially those without access to the internet or people with limited tech skills — can book appointments and get critical vaccine information in whatever way they’re most comfortable with. It's available in multiple languages and modes of communication — whether that’s over the phone, through text, or on the web. We’ve also made vaccination locations available on Google Maps in the U.S. and other countries. All of this is to help reduce inequities, both in the outcomes and in the distribution of vaccines. 

But, technology has its limits; it can facilitate this work, but it’s not the complete solution. That’s why it’s important to partner with community-based organizations to reach people who might not otherwise see mainstream public service announcements or have easy access to vaccinations.

What role does Google play?

When you look at Google through the lens of health equity, so much of what we do touches people along their health journey. Research shows that roughly 7 in 10 people turn to the internet first when they’re looking for health information. We have the chance to build products that guide them to the right resources and find the information they need. 

My job is to look across all of our products to make sure we embed health equity into the DNA of everything we do. 

When tackling big problems, like health equity, what keeps you motivated? 

This generation of young people is fighting for lasting change with an energy that’s contagious. Seeing the things that we’ve worked so hard for, for so long, become the passion of a new generation makes everything I’ve done and continue to do so worth it.  If I can help make the structural changes so that they can fly, I’ll count that as a win. 

3 ways Liza Goldberg uses Timelapse to explore the planet

Liza Goldberg has a big-picture view of climate change — and it all started with satellite imagery. In high school she started an internship at NASA, where she built a program that used satellite imagery and Google Earth Engine, a platform for geospatial analysis, to monitor the loss of mangrove forests. This gave her a whole new perspective of planetary changes. 

“I was seeing the world through a different lens,” Liza says. “Without images, it’s hard to visualize what things like urbanization, deforestation, wildfires and rise in temperatures mean to our planet — just using statistics and data doesn’t get the message across. I wanted to bring a new perspective to others.” Liza is now a freshman at Stanford University and runs Cloud to Classroom, a program that uses satellite imagery to help teach students around the world about climate change. 

Today, that birds-eye view of the planet is available to even more people with the launch of Timelapse in Google Earth. For the first time, 24 million satellite photos from the past 37 years have been embedded directly into Google Earth, creating an explorable view of our planet over time. Now anyone can watch time across the globe. And that perspective can be enough to inspire anyone to take action — just like it inspired Liza. 

“If we want to solve climate challenges, the bottom line is we need to take this information out of scientific papers and put it into the hands of the public so they can make positive change in their local areas,” Liza adds. 

As someone who has spent a lot of time looking at satellite imagery of the Earth, Liza has a few pointers for how to explore the planet with Timelapse and put these changes into context. She shares some of her tips here: 

Zoom in on your community

If you're a teacher, reporter, student or just someone exploring Timelapse, start looking at the places you care about. Use the search bar function to zero in on a region you know really well — whether it’s the city you grew up in, the place your grandparents are from or where you spent your summers growing up. Seeing the changes at a more personal level contextualizes what global environmental change actually means right now and what it could mean in the future of your local community. 

An animated GIF of satellite imagery showing how Cape Code has changed over time.

Take a look at how Cape Cod, Massachusetts has changed from above. 

Look for the patterns

The patterns are everywhere. You can see how the same trends — like rapid changes from wildfires — are taking place on the West Coast of the U.S. and across the world in Australia. Start with the curated videos from Google that show the story of change related to forest change, urban growth, warming temperatures and more. Then start to look for other trends you see happening across the world. It can be an exercise in unity to see what communities are experiencing here and elsewhere, and see how these changes transcend communities and ecosystems.  

An animated image showing how satellite imagery of how urbanization changes the landscape.

See how urbanization changes the landscape. 

Soak up the fragile beauty of it all 

The Timelapse videos are like vignettes of art — enjoy them. Take a step back and remember that this is our planet and it's worth protecting. For me, videos like the meandering rivers are captivating. The ability to watch the planet change over time is now in the hands of everyone, and that makes me optimistic. 

A Google Earth Timelapse of a meandering river over time.

A Google Earth Timelapse of a meandering river over time.

From Liza’s perspective, technology like this can help affect change. In fact, she’s even started to focus more on studying computer science and plans to use those skills to tackle the big issues she cares most about, like climate change. 

For National Parks Week, plan a trip with Google Maps

I’ve ticked a lot of National Parks off my travel bucket list this past year. As parks started to reopen, I planned outdoor trips instead of international ones. And at the end of last year, my boyfriend and I packed up our apartments to cruise around the Southwest in a borrowed camper van. Along the way, Google Maps helped us plan out our days. 

In Utah, we went to some of the most searched for National Parks — like Arches National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. We used Google Maps to scope out the most scenic driving routes and save campsites, viewpoints and trailheads. The best part? We could access everything even if we were in areas that had spotty service since we downloaded Maps to use when we were offline. This came in handy when we were trying to find a campground at Bryce Canyon — a total dead zone for our cells — and at Arches where we perfectly timed our day to catch sunset at Delicate Arch (the infamous arch on the state’s license plate). In New Mexico, we used popular times information on Google Maps to avoid the crowds — thanks to this intel it felt like we had White Sands National Park all to ourselves early on a weekday. 

Saturday marks the first day of National Parks Week, which I’ve deemed as a welcomed excuse to start planning your next outdoor adventure. (I’ve been eyeing Big Bend National Park). If you’re looking for some travel inspiration, Google Maps dug into data from the past year to help get you started! 

Man standing on sand dunes at White Sands National Park.


Popular times to hit the popular parks 🕒

  • The most popular time on the weekend to visit the top five National Parks is Saturday at 2:00 p.m. 

  • The most popular time on the weekdays is similar to the weekend, between 1 to 3 p.m.

  • On weekdays, the most popular time to visit the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone is Tuesday. 

All trends point to hiking trails   🥾

  • Google Maps searches for “hike” have increased 30% year over year

  • Meanwhile, Google Maps searches for “beach” have increased 27% year over year

Top 10 most searched National Parks on Google Maps ⛰️

  1. Grand Canyon National Park

  2. Yellowstone National Park

  3. Yosemite National Park

  4. Zion National Park

  5. Joshua Tree National Park

  6. Big Bend National Park

  7. Sequoia National Park

  8. Bryce Canyon National Park

  9. Glacier National Park

  10. Arches National Park

Top 10 most searched national forests on Google Maps 🌲

  1. Angeles National Forest

  2. Pisgah National Forest

  3. San Bernardino National Forest

  4. Tonto National Forest

  5. Coconino National Forest

  6. Sam Houston National Forest

  7. Sequoia National Forest

  8. Nantahala National Forest

  9. Cleveland National Forest

  10. Ozark National Forest

Top 10 most searched public beaches on Google Maps 🏖️

  1. Will Rogers State Beach

  2. Pacifica State Beach

  3. Marina Beach

  4. Seacliff State Beach

  5. Madeira Beach Access

  6. San Clemente State Beach

  7. Gray Whale Cove State Beach

  8. Manatee Public Beach

  9. Manasota Key Beach

  10. Blind Pass Beach

Source: Google LatLong


Rachel Malarich is planting a better future, tree by tree

Everyone has a tree story, Rachel Malarich says—and one of hers takes place on the limbs of a eucalyptus tree. Rachel and her cousins spent summers in central California climbing the 100-foot tall trees and hanging out between the waxy blue leaves—an experience she remembers as awe-inspiring. 

Now, as Los Angeles first-ever City Forest Officer, Rachel’s work is shaping the tree stories that Angelenos will tell. “I want our communities to go to public spaces and feel that sense of awe,” she says. “That feeling that something was there before them, and it will be there after them...we have to bring that to our cities.”

Part of Rachel’s job is to help the City of Los Angeles reach an ambitious goal: to plant and maintain 90,000 trees by the end of 2021 and to keep planting trees at a rate of 20,000 per year after that. This goal is about more than planting trees, though: It’s about planting the seeds for social, economic and environmental equity. These trees, Rachel says, will help advance citywide sustainability and climate goals, beautify neighborhoods, improve air quality and create shade to combat rising street-level temperatures. 

To make sure every tree has the most impact, Rachel and the City of Los Angeles use Tree Canopy Lab, a tool they helped build with Google that uses AI and aerial imagery to understand current tree cover density, also known as “tree canopy,” right down to street-level data. Tree inventory data, which is typically collected through on-site assessments, helps city officials know where to invest resources for maintaining, preserving and planting trees. It also helps pinpoint where new trees should be planted. In the case of LA, there was a strong correlation between a lack of tree coverage and the city's underserved communities. 

With Tree Canopy Lab, Rachel and her team overlay data, such as population density and land use data, to understand what’s happening within the 500 square miles of the city and understand where new trees will have the biggest impact on a community. It helps them answer questions like: Where are highly populated residential areas with low tree coverage? Which thoroughfares that people commute along every day have no shade? 

And it also helps Rachel do what she has focused her career on: creating community-led programs. After more than a decade of working at nonprofits, she’s learned that resilient communities are connected communities. 

“This data helps us go beyond assumptions and see where the actual need is,” Rachel says. “And it frees me up to focus on what I know best: listening to the people of LA, local policy and urban forestry.” 

After working with Google on Tree Canopy Lab, she’s found that data gives her a chance to connect with the public. She now has a tool that quickly pools together data and creates a visual to show community leaders what’s happening in specific neighborhoods, what the city is doing and why it’s important. She can also demonstrate ways communities can better manage resources they already have to achieve local goals. And that’s something she thinks every city can benefit from. 

“My entrance into urban forestry was through the lens of social justice and economic inequity. For me, it’s about improving the quality of life for Angelenos,” Rachel says. “I’m excited to work with others to create that impact on a bigger level, and build toward the potential for a better environment in the future.”

And in this case, building a better future starts with one well planned tree at a time.

Source: Google LatLong