From polar bears in the Canadian Arctic, to communities in the Brazilian Amazon, to blue oak trees in Central California, the impacts of climate change is being felt by plants, animals and people across the planet. As world leaders gather for the COP21 conference in Paris this week to discuss our changing climate, we want to take this opportunity to show you how to explore its impact yourself. With Street View, you can get a window into some of our world’s changing ecosystems, and learn how nonprofit and other organizations are working to keep our planet healthy.
Polar bears are in trouble because of the melting sea ice, on which they depend to survive. That’s why Polar Bears International (PBI) borrowed the Street View Trekker to map polar bears in their fragile sea ice habitat around Churchill, Manitoba, to share the remote ecosystem with people all over the world. And to educate classrooms, PBI created a lesson plan and activity for schools to do their own exploration of this precious habitat.
Ever wonder how plants are faring in a changing climate? Scientists at the Nature Conservancy-California do, too. To help them learn more, they borrowed the Trekker earlier this year to monitor the health of blue oak trees in Central California, which have declined due to stress from changing temperatures. Scientists predict that blue oaks may lose up to 41% of their population by 2100 because of climate change, so they plan to capture Street View imagery again in the future so they can keep a digital record, log their changes, and design conservation strategies to protect the life of these blue oak trees.
Experts agree that one way to slow climate change is to protect the standing forests that we have now, as these trees remove and stock carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. The Brazilian nonprofit Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS) borrowed the Trekker to show people exactly what the Amazon forest looks like on the ground and put isolated local communities on the map. They captured imagery from three different reserves in the Brazilian Amazon, including hundreds of kilometers walking through pristine forests and floating down Amazon river tributaries. The nonprofit is using the imagery to educate the world about rainforest protection and sustainable ecosystem management.
Pristine Amazon rainforest in Juma Sustainable Development Reserve (see more here)
Street View is great for visualizing the impacts of climate change, but we’re also using our Street View platform to measure climate data, which can be used by scientists, policymakers, businesses and citizens to drive better decisions.
For the past few years, Google Earth Outreach has worked with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to map thousands of methane leaks from natural gas lines under select U.S. city streets using Street View cars equipped with methane analyzers. Recently, one of the largest U.S. utilities, PSE&G announced that they will use data and maps from our Street View mapping effort to prioritize the replacement of hundreds of miles of gas mains and thousands of service lines for their newly approved multi-million dollar pipeline replacement program.
Google Earth Outreach has also partnered with Aclima to measure many more pollutants with Street View cars, including particulate matter, black carbon, and carbon dioxide—pollutants that are harmful to both our climate and our health. Essentially, we’re turning Street View cars into environmental sensing platforms, and plan to map California communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Valley, and LA regions through 2016.
We hope this post has opened your eyes to the ways the world is being impacted by climate change. If you’re interested in getting involved, consider submitting an application to the Trekker Loan Program, which allows nonprofit and other organizations to borrow the Trekker to capture 360-degree imagery of the places they care about on our changing planet.
Posted by Karin Tuxen-Bettman, Google Earth Outreach Program Manager