The Google tool offers real-time data on the state of the Earth’s surface


We’re all familiar with Google Earth and Google Maps, the trusted tools that allow us to wade through rabbit holes of information about almost any place in the world.

But rather than just looking at a static satellite image, what if you could answer questions like “how much of my family’s farm was covered in crops last year compared to this year?” Or “what percentage of land in my city is covered with buildings compared to another?” Google announced today(Opens in a new window) a new initiative called Dynamic World(Opens in a new window) which will allow you to do just that.

The dataset, available on the Dynamic World website(Opens in a new window) and the Google Developers website(Opens in a new window)was created by Google in partnership with the World Resources Institute(Opens in a new window) to provide “an unprecedented level of detail about what is on the earth and how it is used, whether it is forests in the Amazon, agriculture in Asia, urban development in Europe or resources in seasonal water in North America”.

Sample imagery output from the dataset featured in today’s announcement. Each color corresponds to a different land use type.

It is near real time, i.e. a maximum of a few days at any given time, and it tracks nine types of land cover: water, flooded vegetation, built-up areas, trees , crops, bare soil, grass, shrubs/brush, and snow/ice.

Google calls Dynamic World the “latest advance in mapping” – a new digital wonderland for your inner Lewis and Clark. The tool uses data from AI and Google Earth to analyze each pixel in a satellite image and determine how many different combinations of land cover types are present. Scientists, researchers, or anyone with access to this data can then use it to create their own maps and analyses.

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Before you get too excited, the data only goes back to 2015 so far. But it’s updated with new data every day, and it’s an improvement over previous land cover maps, which Google says take “months to produce.”

“We are excited to put this open, freely available dataset and underlying methodology into the hands of scientists, researchers, governments, and businesses. Together, we can make smarter decisions to protect, manage, and restore our forests, our nature and our ecosystems,” said Tanya Birch, senior program manager at Google.

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