Brookings, US: Far-sighted data policy and cloud computing are leading to the “democratisation of satellite mapping,” said Prof Matt Hansen, Co-Director of the Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence, South Dakota State University (SDSU). According to Prof Hansen, the payoff will be wider access to information about the earth via platforms such as the new Google Earth Engine, a planetary-scale platform for environmental data and analysis.
Prof Hansen is one of the scientists who worked with Google to launch Google Earth Engine. He added that up until now, analysing remote sensing data from satellites has required a hefty investment in infrastructure and lots of training. But, it is not anymore required. New policies by the US Geological Survey (USGS) are making satellite images available for free. That change in policy, paired with the cloud-computing capability offered by organisations such as Google, is making it possible for ordinary people to analyse satellite imagery without having expensive equipment.
“Soon, I expect they will have the entire Landsat archive online at Google. And, they will have the cloud computing capability to process all the data,” Hansen said. “This is an incredible advantage in terms of generating the value-added products that we create for quantifying deforestation, natural hazards, cropland area, urbanisation, etc.”
Hansen noted that the technology is a response to a far-sighted decision by the USGS to make satellite imagery data available for free. “It is not just Google. It is a good data policy. When the USGS made the data free, all of a sudden this whole new world opened up to us. It implied that you have to have to have cloud computing capability to mine all of those data,” Hansen said. “Landsat imagery went from a cost model to a free basis, so the data that we use as our main monitoring observation, 30-meter Landsat data, went from USD 600 per image — which is around 185 kilometres by 185 kilometres — to being free. So instead of begging and borrowing for money to work with, say, a couple hundred images, we now can access tens of thousands of images. Once you do that, you need to upscale your computing.”