10 Uses of Google Earth That Have Made Positive Impacts on the World
By Zoe Fox, Mashable, 22 April 2012.
By Zoe Fox, Mashable, 22 April 2012.
When Google acquired Keyhole - the tool that would become Google Earth - in 2004, the company believed it would become the ultimate video game. Google thought travellers could peruse potential vacation destinations and movie makers could use the detailed satellite imagery as a backdrop in films.
But Google had no idea the virtual globe and geographic data program had the potential to become a tool for grassroots mobilization, environmental protection and disaster response.
Today, through the Google Earth Outreach program, the tool has become a vital instrument for non-profits and public benefit organizations to visually tell their stories. For example, The World Wildlife Fund is using Google Earth to protect Sumatran tiger cubs, and relief workers used the tool for crisis response after Japan’s 2011 earthquake. Meanwhile, The HALO Trust uses the tool to locate and remove landmines, and Brazil’s Surui tribe uses Google Earth to map its home in the Amazon Rainforest.
The Google Earth Outreach team has created a tool kit of tutorials for organizations looking to create their own storytelling maps. You can add points, lines and polygons and embed YouTube videos to your annotated map.
Google Earth Outreach awards non-profits with Developer Grants to help them use mapping technologies to best tell their stories. Previous grant recipients include Water For People, which developed a mapping app to support sanitation-related businesses in African cities, and International Rivers, which created a video showing why dams aren’t the best response to climate change.
Take a look at 10 success stories from Google Earth Outreach.
1. Appalachian Voices Maps Mountaintop Removal
Appalachian Voices, a small North Carolina non-profit, used Google Earth to illustrate the scale of mountaintop destruction for coal mining.
2. Jane Goodall Institute Monitors Forest Destruction
The Jane Goodall Institute's Africa Program, which works to preserve great apes, uses Google Earth to map the disappearing habitats in Uganda and Tanzania, due to poverty, deforestation and unsustainable farming.
3. Street View for the Amazon
The Amazon Sustainable Foundation, a Brazilian non-profit, asked the Google Street View team to train the local community to capture the Amazon River and Rainforest, with the hopes that if outsiders could see its natural beauty they would stop logging the region. The locals used the Street View trike (mounted on a boat in some cases) to document the landscape.
4. The Green Belt Movement Maps the Tree Planting
The Green Belt Movement used Google Earth to map its sapling planting projects in Kenya, which are being planted to fight climate change.
5. U.N. Environmental Programme Maps Urbanization in Shenzhen, China
Shenzhen, China has rapidly turned into a megalopolis in the last 25 years. The U.N. Environmental Programme created this map comparing the dramatic changes the city has undergone, and resulting environmental impact.
6. U.N. Environmental Programme Maps the Aral Sea's Shrinking
The U.N. Environmental Programme used Google Earth to map the dramatic size reduction of Central Asia's Aral Sea, due to irrigation and water diversion, which has been on-going since the 1960s. The sea is now a quarter of the size was one half century ago.
7. U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Reveals the Crisis in Darfur
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum used Google Earth to expose the genocide crisis in Darfur, one of the greatest crimes against humanity of the last quarter century. The map includes testimonies and photographs of the burned villages and refugee situation.
8. Save the Redwoods League Shows On-going Deforestation
The Save the Redwoods League used Google Earth to illustrate the importance of the California forest.
9. Encyclopaedia of Life Tracks the Spread of Poisonous Algae
The Encyclopaedia of Life created a Google Earth map of the spread of "Sea Grapes" a variation of killer algae, which is a serious threat to marine life.
10. The Surui Forest Carbon Project
The Surui tribe of the Amazon Rainforest are using Google Earth to monitor deforestation with the help of Android phones' Open Data Kit. They are monitoring the carbon stocks in their local forests to obtain credits from the carbon marketplace.
How It All Got Started
A few weeks before Google Earth Outreach Engineering Manager Rebecca Moore got her start at Google in 2005, she received an “inscrutable” notice about tree logging in her community in the Santa Cruz Mountains, with a confusing black-and-white map of the work to be done. Moore took to Keyhole, the tool that would become Google Earth, to begin plotting out the work described in the notice in a more digestible, digital manner.
“It was really striking how much more you could understand and I presented it to the community,” Moore told Mashable, describing the origins of a group she belongs to Neighbors Against Irresponsible Logging (NAIL). “As I remapped elements of that logging notice, that’s where I said there’s really something here.”
Moore’s Google Earth map convinced her community to come up with a better alternative than what had initially been proposed.
On Moore’s second day at Google, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The U.S. government asked Google to publish data, such as Craiglist postings of family whereabouts, on Google Earth, which would be the fastest way to reach the emergency medical responders. Google founder Eric Schmidt spoke with the engineers, Moore recalls, and said, “Whatever you’re working on right now isn’t important compared to saving lives in New Orleans.”
Through Google’s mapping, the first responders could see where people were stuck and could then decide if boats or helicopters were the best rescue tools in specific cases. The Coast Guard later told the Google team that its technical support helped save 4,000 lives.
“Non profits all over the world started writing to me and we had a feeling it could be used for all sorts of environmental projects,” Moore says.
When Google Earth officially launched in June 2007, Keyhole founder John Hanke saw the non-profit implementations of Google Earth and said the product’s girth was much more significant than he had realized.
Have you ever created a Google Earth map? What stories in your community do you think could be best told through mapping?
[Source: Mashable. Edited.]
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