Tag Archives: Google Earth

This archaeologist fights tomb raiders with Google Earth

In the summer, Dr. Gino Caspari’s day starts at 5:30 a.m. in Siberia, where he studies the ancient Scythians with the Swiss National Science Foundation. There, he looks for burial places of these nomadic warriors who rode through Asia 2,500 years ago. The work isn’t easy, from dealing with extreme temperatures, to swamps covered with mosquitos. But the biggest challenge is staying one step ahead of tomb raiders.

It’s believed that more than 90% of the tombs — called kurgans — have already been destroyed by raiders looking to profit off what they find, but Gino is looking for the thousands he believes remain scattered across Russia, Mongolia and Western China. To track his progress, he began mapping these burial sites using Google Earth. “There’s a plethora of open data sources out there, but most of them don’t have the resolution necessary to detect individual archaeological structures,” Dr. Caspari says, pointing out that getting quality data is also very expensive. “Google Earth updates high-res data across the globe, and, especially in remote regions, it was a windfall for archaeologists. Google Earth expanded our possibilities to plan surveys and understand cultural heritage on a broader geographic scale.”

While Google Earth helped Dr. Caspari plan his expeditions, he still couldn’t stay ahead of the looters. He needed to get there faster. That’s when he met data scientist Pablo Crespo and started using another Google tool, TensorFlow.

“Since I started my PhD in 2013, I have been interested in automatic detection of archaeological sites from remote sensing data,” Gino says. “It was clear we needed to look at landscapes and human environmental interaction to understand past cultures. The problem was that our view was obscured by a lack of data and a focus on individual sites.” Back then, he tried some simple automatization processes to detect the places he needed for his research with the available technology, but only got limited results. In 2020, though, Gino and Pablo created a machine learning model using TensorFlow that could analyze satellite images they pulled from Google Earth. This model would look for places on the images that had the characteristics of a Scythian tomb.

The progress in the field of machine learning has been insanely fast, improving the quality of classification and detection to a point where it has become much more than just a theoretical possibility. Google’s freely available technologies have help

This technology sped up the discovery process for Gino, giving him an advantage over looters and even deterioration caused by climate change.

“Frankly, I think that without these tools, I probably wouldn’t have gotten this far in my understanding of technology and what it can do to make a difference in the study of our shared human past,” Gino says. “As a young scholar, I just lack the funds to access a lot of the resources I need. Working with Pablo and others has widened my perspective on what is possible and where we can go.”

Technology solutions have given Dr. Caspari’s work a new set of capabilities, supercharging what he’s able to do. And it’s also made him appreciate the importance of the human touch. “The deeper we dive into our past with the help of technology, the more apparent it becomes how patchy and incomplete our knowledge really is,” he says. “Technology often serves as an extension of our senses and mitigates our reality. Weaving the fabric of our reality will remain the task of the storyteller in us.”

This archaeologist fights tomb raiders with Google Earth

In the summer, Dr. Gino Caspari’s day starts at 5:30 a.m. in Siberia, where he studies the ancient Scythians with the Swiss National Science Foundation. There, he looks for burial places of these nomadic warriors who rode through Asia 2,500 years ago. The work isn’t easy, from dealing with extreme temperatures, to swamps covered with mosquitos. But the biggest challenge is staying one step ahead of tomb raiders.

It’s believed that more than 90% of the tombs — called kurgans — have already been destroyed by raiders looking to profit off what they find, but Gino is looking for the thousands he believes remain scattered across Russia, Mongolia and Western China. To track his progress, he began mapping these burial sites using Google Earth. “There’s a plethora of open data sources out there, but most of them don’t have the resolution necessary to detect individual archaeological structures,” Dr. Caspari says, pointing out that getting quality data is also very expensive. “Google Earth updates high-res data across the globe, and, especially in remote regions, it was a windfall for archaeologists. Google Earth expanded our possibilities to plan surveys and understand cultural heritage on a broader geographic scale.”

While Google Earth helped Dr. Caspari plan his expeditions, he still couldn’t stay ahead of the looters. He needed to get there faster. That’s when he met data scientist Pablo Crespo and started using another Google tool, TensorFlow.

“Since I started my PhD in 2013, I have been interested in automatic detection of archaeological sites from remote sensing data,” Gino says. “It was clear we needed to look at landscapes and human environmental interaction to understand past cultures. The problem was that our view was obscured by a lack of data and a focus on individual sites.” Back then, he tried some simple automatization processes to detect the places he needed for his research with the available technology, but only got limited results. In 2020, though, Gino and Pablo created a machine learning model using TensorFlow that could analyze satellite images they pulled from Google Earth. This model would look for places on the images that had the characteristics of a Scythian tomb.

The progress in the field of machine learning has been insanely fast, improving the quality of classification and detection to a point where it has become much more than just a theoretical possibility. Google’s freely available technologies have help

This technology sped up the discovery process for Gino, giving him an advantage over looters and even deterioration caused by climate change.

“Frankly, I think that without these tools, I probably wouldn’t have gotten this far in my understanding of technology and what it can do to make a difference in the study of our shared human past,” Gino says. “As a young scholar, I just lack the funds to access a lot of the resources I need. Working with Pablo and others has widened my perspective on what is possible and where we can go.”

Technology solutions have given Dr. Caspari’s work a new set of capabilities, supercharging what he’s able to do. And it’s also made him appreciate the importance of the human touch. “The deeper we dive into our past with the help of technology, the more apparent it becomes how patchy and incomplete our knowledge really is,” he says. “Technology often serves as an extension of our senses and mitigates our reality. Weaving the fabric of our reality will remain the task of the storyteller in us.”

How photos can curb illegal deforestation in the Amazon

As of 2020, Brazil continues to lead the world in primary forest loss with an increase of 25% year over year. In the Amazon, the clear-cut deforestation rate is at its highest in over 10 years. Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) is a Brazilian nonprofit founded in 1994 to promote solutions to this crisis and other social and environmental issues. With a focus on the defense of the environment, cultural heritage, and human rights, ISA promotes solutions for indigenous peoples and other traditional communities in Brazil.

Watch this short documentary about their impact, how they use drone footage and Google Earth to prevent deforestation, and learn more about the role of indigenous communities in protecting local forests and biodiversity.

Helping fashion brands make more sustainable decisions

The fashion industry is one of the largest contributors to the global climate and ecological crisis — accounting for up to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Much of this impact occurs at the raw materials stage of the supply chain, like when cotton is farmed or trees are cut down to create viscose. But when brands source these materials, they often have little to no visibility on the environmental impact of them.

In 2019, we set out to create a tool that would give companies the data they need to make more responsible sourcing decisions. Today we’re announcing the first version of the Global Fibre Impact Explorer (GFIE), and we’re inviting other brands to get involved. The tool, which is built on Google Earth Engine and uses Google Cloud computing, assesses the environmental risk of different fibers across regions as it relates to environmental factors such as air pollution, biodiversity, climate and greenhouse gasses, forestry and water use.

With this tool, brands will easily be able to identify environmental risks across more than 20 fiber types — including natural, cellulosic and synthetics materials.The tool will also provide brands with recommendations for targeted and regionally specific risk reduction activities including opportunities to work with farmers, producers and communities, such as investing in regenerative agriculture practices

The GFIE dashboard where brands can upload their fiber portfolio data and get recommendations to reduce risk across key environmental categories.

The GFIE dashboard where brands can upload their fiber portfolio data and get recommendations to reduce risk across key environmental categories.

Spooling it all together: Working with fashion brands and conservation experts

We worked with Stella McCartney, a luxury fashion brand and leader in sustainability, to understand the industry's needs and to test the platform. Using the tool alongside their existing sustainability efforts, Stella McCartney’s team was able to identify cotton sources in Turkey that were facing increased water and climate risks. This affirms the need for investing in local farming communities that focus on regenerative practices, such as water management and soil regeneration. Other brands and retailers — including Adidas, Allbirds, H&M Group and VF Corporation — have helped test and refine the tool to make sure it can be useful to everyone in the industry. And an external council of global experts have reviewed the GFIE methodology and data.

The GFIE was born out of a partnership between Google and the WWF, and is built to complement existing tools focused on industry impact and risk analysis. With the initial development phase complete, Google and WWF are now transitioning GFIE to Textile Exchange, a global non-profit focused on positively impacting climate through accelerating the use of preferred fibers across the global textile industry. As the official host of the GFIE, Textile Exchange will continue the development of the tool, onboard new brands and work towards an industry launch in 2022.

If you’re a part of a fashion brand or industry group and want access to this tool, please register your interest at globalfibreimpact.com.

Helping companies tackle climate change with Earth Engine

Recent wildfires, floods and other natural disasters remind us that everyone has to take action to move the needle on climate change — from scientists and researchers to governments at all levels and businesses of all sizes.

Google Earth Engine combines satellite imagery and geospatial data with powerful computing to help people and organizations understand how the planet is changing, how human activity contributes to those changes and what actions they can take. Over the past decade, academics, scientists and NGOs have used Earth Engine and its earth observation data to make meaningful progress on climate research, natural resources protection, carbon emissions reduction and other sustainability goals. It has made it possible for organizations to monitor global forest loss in near real-time and has helped over 160 countries map and protect freshwater ecosystems.

Today, we’re expanding Earth Engine with a commercial offering for select customers in preview as a part of its integration with Google Cloud Platform. Organizations in the public sector and businesses can now use insights from Earth Engine to solve sustainability-related problems, such as building sustainable supply chains, committing to deforestation-free lending, preparing for recovery from weather-related events and reducing operational water use. To learn more about how Earth Engine can help your organization meet its sustainability goals,fill out this form.

Timelapse of satellite imagery showing the Aral Sea’s surface water shrinking from 1984 to 2020.

Surface water change visualization enabled by Earth Engine (shown here: Aral Sea from 1984-2020).

This new offering puts over 50 petabytes of geospatial open data into the hands of business and government leaders. Google Cloud customers and partners can bring together earth observation data with their own data as well as other useful datasets, train models to analyze at scale, and derive meaningful insights about real-world impact. By combining Earth Engine’s powerful platform with Google Cloud’s distinctive data analytics tools and AI technology, we’re bringing the best of Google together.

Already, businesses and organizations across the public sector, agriculture, financial services and consumer goods industries are using insights from this data to improve their operations, better manage and mitigate their risks while also preserving natural resources. For example, consumer goods company Unilever plans to achieve a deforestation-free supply chain for palm oil and other commodities by 2023. With insights from Google Earth Engine and its internal supply chain sourcing information, they can model the source of palm oil to their mills. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is also using Earth Engine to eliminate the overhead of managing vast amounts of geospatial data. This will enable their agency, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, to focus on the analyses of 315 million acres of croplands across the United States. We look forward to seeing more impactful use cases and quantifiable progress towards sustainability goals that Earth Engine will continue to power across organizations.

The time for businesses to act on climate is now, but the advanced analytics resources and sustainability knowledge needed to make change can be hard to access. To make sure businesses can make the most out of Google Earth Engine, we’re working with partners, like NGIS and Climate Engine, to help businesses identify and manage risks related to climate change.

It will take all of us working together to make a difference. Earth Engine will continue to be free for scientists, researchers and NGOs, just as it has always been. We hope that putting Google Earth Engine into the hands of more businesses, organizations and people will multiply the positive impact we can have together on our people and planet.

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.

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. 

Time flies in Google Earth’s biggest update in years

For the past 15 years, billions of people have turned to Google Earth to explore our planet from endless vantage points. You might have peeked at Mount Everest or flown through your hometown. Since launching Google Earth, we've focused on creating a 3D replica of the world that reflects our planet in magnificent detail with features that both entertain and empower everyone to create positive change.

In the biggest update to Google Earth since 2017, you can now see our planet in an entirely new dimension — time. With Timelapse in Google Earth, 24 million satellite photos from the past 37 years have been compiled into an interactive 4D experience. Now anyone can watch time unfold and witness nearly four decades of planetary change. 

Our planet has seen rapid environmental change in the past half-century — more than any other point in human history. Many of us have experienced these changes in our own communities; I myself was among the thousands of Californians evacuated from their homes during the state’s wildfires last year. For other people, the effects of climate change feel abstract and far away, like melting ice caps and receding glaciers. With Timelapse in Google Earth, we have a clearer picture of our changing planet right at our fingertips — one that shows not just problems but also solutions, as well as mesmerizingly beautiful natural phenomena that unfold over decades.

To explore Timelapse in Google Earth, go to g.co/Timelapse — you can use the handy search bar to choose any place on the planet where you want to see time in motion. 

Or open Google Earth and click on the ship’s wheel to find Timelapse in our storytelling platform, Voyager, to see interactive guided tours. We’ve also uploaded more than 800 Timelapse videos in both 2D and 3D for public use at g.co/TimelapseVideos. You can select any video you want as a ready-to-use MP4 video or sit back and watch the videos on YouTube. From governments and researchers to publishers, teachers and advocates, we’re excited to see how people will use Timelapse in Google Earth to shine a light on our planet. 


Understand the causes of Earth’s change 

We worked with experts at Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab to create the technology behind Timelapse, and we worked with them again to make sense of what we were seeing. 
As we looked at what was happening, five themes emerged: forest change, urban growth, warming temperatures, sources of energy, and our world’s fragile beauty. Google Earth takes you on a guided tour of each topic to better understand them. 

A phone and computer screen with a Timelapse showing the Columbia Glacier in Alaska retreat over time.

Timelapse in Google Earth shows the rapid change on our planet in context through five thematic stories. For example, the retreat of the Columbia Glacier in Alaska is captured in the "Warming Planet" tour.

Putting time on Earth in the palm of our hand

Making a planet-sized timelapse video required a significant amount of what we call “pixel crunching” in Earth Engine, Google's cloud platform for geospatial analysis. To add animated Timelapse imagery to Google Earth, we gathered more than 24 million satellite images from 1984 to 2020, representing quadrillions of pixels. It took more than two million processing hours across thousands of machines in Google Cloud to compile 20 petabytes of satellite imagery into a single 4.4 terapixel-sized video mosaic — that’s the equivalent of 530,000 videos in 4K resolution! And all this computing was done inside our carbon-neutral, 100% renewable energy-matched data centers, which are part of our commitments to help build a carbon-free future. 

As far as we know, Timelapse in Google Earth is the largest video on the planet, of our planet. And creating it required out-of-this-world collaboration. This work was possible because of the U.S. government and European Union’s commitments to open and accessible data. Not to mention their herculean efforts to launch rockets, rovers, satellites and astronauts into space in the spirit of knowledge and exploration. Timelapse in Google Earth simply wouldn’t have been possible without NASA and the United States Geological Survey’s Landsat program, the world’s first (and longest-running) civilian Earth observation program, and the European Union’s Copernicusprogram with its Sentinel satellites.

What will you do with Timelapse?

We invite anyone to take Timelapse into their own hands and share it with others — whether you’re marveling at changing coastlines, following the growth of megacities, or tracking deforestation. Timelapse in Google Earth is about zooming out to assess the health and well-being of our only home, and is a tool that can educate and inspire action. 

Visual evidence can cut to the core of the debate in a way that words cannot and communicate complex issues to everyone. Take, for example, the work of Liza Goldberg who plans to use Timelapse imagery to teach climate change. Or the 2020 award-winning documentary “Nature Now” that uses satellite imagery to show humanity’s growing footprint on the planet.

Timelapse for the next decade to come

In collaboration with our partners, we’ll update Google Earth annually with new Timelapse imagery throughout the next decade. We hope that this perspective of the planet will ground debates, encourage discovery and shift perspectives about some of our most pressing global issues.

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


Creating new tree shade with the power of AI and aerial imagery

Most of us have heard the timeless proverb, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Worldwide, there is growing discussion in cities about planting more trees as policymakers and neighbors look to increase shade on warming city streets.

Extreme temperatures are becoming more common in cities where concrete and infrastructure are now creating heat islands—areas that experience higher temperatures, leading to poor air quality, dehydration and other public health concerns. Trees are increasingly seen as a solution to both lowering street-level temperatures while improving quality of life. Yet many cities may not have the budget or resources to locate where every tree in town is, or where new tree-planting efforts are most needed.

With our new Tree Canopy Lab we are combining AI and aerial imagery to help cities see their current tree canopy coverage and plan future tree planting projects, starting with the City of Los Angeles. 

With the Tree Canopy Lab you can see Los Angeles’s trees with local context, like what percentage of a neighborhood has leafy cover, an area’s population density, what areas are vulnerable to extreme heat, and which neighborhood councils can help get new roots in the ground.

Tree Canopy lab is in our Environmental Insights Explorer platform, a tool that makes it easier for cities to measure, plan and reduce carbon emissions and pollution. It’s also one step forward in part our commitment to help hundreds of local governments fight climate change.


Tree Canopy Lab on a desktop device

Anyone can access the Tree Canopy Lab from a tablet or personal computer

Mapping tree cover to seed new urban forestry efforts

With aerial imagery collected from planes during the spring, summer and fall seasons, as well as Google AI and Google Earth Engine’s data analysis capabilities, we can now pinpoint all the trees in a city and measure their density. The imagery we use for these calculations includes color photos that closely represent how we would see a city from the sky. To get even more detailed information about the city’s canopy cover, near-infrared photos detect colors and details that human eyes can’t see and compare images from different angles to create a height map.

See tree cover in Los Angeles with Tree Canopy Lab

See tree cover in Los Angeles with Tree Canopy Lab

We then use a specialized tree-detection AI that automatically scans the images, detects the presence of trees and then produces a map that shows the density of tree cover, also known as “tree canopy.” 

With this tool, the City of Los Angeles doesn’t have to rely on expensive and time-intensive manual tree studies which can involve block-by-block tree surveys, outdated records, or incomplete studies which only count trees in public spaces.

From policymakers to neighbors, anyone can explore Los Angeles in the Tree Canopy Lab and glean insights. For example, the lab can help anyone identify residential blocks with high tree planting potential and locate sidewalks that are vulnerable to higher temperatures due to low canopy coverage.

Tree Canopy Lab's AI scans aerial images, detects the presence of trees and then produces a map that shows the density of tree cover

Tree Canopy Lab's AI scans aerial images, detects the presence of trees and then produces a map that shows the density of tree cover

With Tree Canopy Lab we’ve found that more than 50 percent of Angelenos live in areas with less than 10 percent tree canopy coverage and 44 percent of Angelenos live in areas with extreme heat risk. We also see a correlation that shows parts of Los Angeles with the lowest heat risk also have the highest tree canopy coverage — these areas are also the lowest population density of Angelenos.


Connecting cities with new environmental insights

Los Angeles has been on the forefront of cities using urban forestry to not only advance sustainability goals, but to beautify neighborhoods, improve air quality and bring down street-level temperatures as the region gets hotter due to climate change.

With a near-term goal of planting and maintaining 90,000 trees by 2021 and continuing to plant trees at a rate of 20,000 per year across a city of more than 503 square miles, the Tree Canopy Lab is already helping people across the city reach this goal. From neighbors and community organizations to Mayor Eric Garcetti and the city’s first-ever forestry officer, Rachel Malarich, they all have access to a birds-eye view of where the city’s existing trees are and which areas need more greenery. 


“Every tree we plant can help stem the tide of the climate crisis, and when we expand our urban forest, we can sow the seeds of a healthier, more sustainable and equitable future for communities hit hardest by rising temperatures and intensifying heat waves. Google’s technology will help us bring the power of trees to families and households across Los Angeles -- adding greenery to our public spaces, injecting beauty into our city, and bringing cooler temperatures to our neighborhoods.” 

-Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti


More tree insights for more cities on the horizon

We’ll be making the insights in Tree Canopy Lab available to hundreds of more cities in the year to come as we continue to support the ambitious work cities like Los Angeles are doing to embark on tree planting and maintenance initiatives. 


We invite city planners and policymakers to reach out to kickstart a conversation with us sharing their interest through this form.

Source: Google LatLong