Open data platform empowers people to manage forests

Signal of change / Open data platform empowers people to manage forests

By Naomi White / 20 Feb 2014

Global Forest Watch (GFW) is a dynamic online forest monitoring and alert system which was launched in February 2014 to empower people everywhere to better manage forests. 

For the first time, GFW unites satellite technology, open data, and crowd-sourcing to guarantee access to timely and reliable information about forests. It is free and follows an open data approach in putting decision-relevant information in the hands of governments, companies, NGOs and the public. 

A partnership of about 40 organisations, convened by the World Resources Institute, created the GFW platform. Core partners include Google, the University of Maryland, the GIS software provider Esri, the UN Environment Programme and the Brazilian non-profit Imazon. 

Recent advancements in technology have made GFW possible. For example, the cloud computing power of the Google Earth Engine combined with powerful new algorithms developed by the University of Maryland enable GFW to analyse hundreds of thousands of NASA satellite images quickly, cheaply and automatically. What would have taken 15 years using one computer can now be processed in hours using the Google Cloud Platform. NASA and the US Geological Survey have also been fundamental in the effort, making the raw imagery freely available. The Brazilian Space Agency pioneered near-real-time forest monitoring systems for the Amazon through the DETER and PRODES programmes, and through Imazon’s influential independent system. 


 Image credits: mattmangum / flickr

So what?

GFW makes near-real-time forest alerts available to communities throughout the world. Increasing internet connectivity and ever-cheaper access to smart phones has created the opportunity to put data into the hands of billions of people.


The rate of forest clearing in the Brazilian Amazon has fallen since 2004 (despite a slight uptick in 2013), with monitoring supporting other conservation measures. Frequently updated information has helped Brazil crack down on illicit deforestation.


What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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