Google Earth for Environmental Monitoring

This article was published by Newsletter, issue #30, .

Combining satellite imagery of the earth's surface, detailed maps of cities, terrain information, and even 3D data of major cities and their buildings, Google Earth is a revolutionary and free desktop product that makes it possible for users to look at any portion of the planet, from high elevations, down to levels of detail limited only by the latest data in Google's massive databases. Not only does this enable people to get a bird's eye view of the most beautiful locations in the natural world, but it is also allowing individuals and organizations to monitor the destruction of those same locations — whether caused by humans or nature itself.

For instance, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which seeks to protect endangered species throughout the world, uses Google Earth to allow people to visit its 150 project sites. While not as well known as the WWF, Appalachian Voices is equally committed to preserving environmental integrity — specifically in the central and southern Appalachian Mountains. This organization created the "National Memorial for the Mountains", which identifies and describes over 470 mountains in the Appalachian region that have been destroyed by mountaintop removal for coal mining, and its impact upon nearby ecosystems. On 12 March 2007, this data was included as featured content in Google Earth.

These are just two environmental organizations that are leveraging Google Earth as a platform for making this ecological information available to hundreds of millions of users worldwide, and thus making it possible for anyone to join them in monitoring the condition of the natural world. This is likely just the beginning of a trend, as more like-minded organizations in the future will seek to do the same.

Copyright © 2007 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.
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