Copenhagen: Google Launches Forest Monitoring Tool

COPENHAGEN — One of the major topics at the Copenhagen climate summit this week has been how can governments monitor and reduce deforestation, given that the removal of forests contributes to a fifth of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions. The UN has suggested the REDD framework (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) and negotiators have been deliberating over variations like REDD+ and REDD++ (sounds like a computer language). Well, at the Copenhagen event on Thursday Google (s GOOG) showed off a tool that helps collect and manage deforestation data, and which could come in very handy for groups backing these different forestry frameworks.

Here’s how it works: Google takes the type of satellite data that it uses for its Google Earth mapping service — in this case satellite photos of forests over time — and marries it with measurement software developed by Greg Asner of Carnegie Institution for Science and Carlos Souza of Imazon. Google says Asner and Souza’s forest monitoring software tool, and others like it, have been “hampered by lack of access to satellite imagery data and computational resources for processing.”

Google then throws this all together into a tool that sits in Google’s “cloud” — cloud computing is distributed, on demand, scalable computing — and offers it up to researchers and policy makers via the web. That means researchers that might not have the resources to access this type of data and measurement tools, can access “terabytes of satellite imagery and thousands of computers” via Google’s prototype tool.

Google says the deforestation measurement tool, which isn’t available to the public yet, will provide this valuable deforestation information more quickly, more easily, more cheaply, with increased security and privacy (hello climategate) and with a much larger impact on fighting climate change than has been previously available. And since it’s coming out of it will be a not-for-profit product.

The idea highlights the role that information and communication technology can play in fighting climate change. At an event at the Copenhagen summit this afternoon, Microsoft’s (s MSFT) sustainability officer Rob Bernard emphasized the role that ICT can play in providing research and collaboration among scientists. ICT is about unearthing and managing data, and that data can be used to make crucial decisions in reducing the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, explained Bernard. Both Microsoft and Google have a large presence, in terms of IT companies, at COP15.

Image courtesy of Google.