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March 25, 2019updated 14 Jul 2022 4:03am

Google and UN Release App To help Countries Monitor Fresh Water

For nations lacking satellite capacity or funding the app could be crucial

By CBR Staff Writer

Google, working in partnership with the United Nations, has created and released an application that maps global water data in easily digestible tables and graphics.

The fresh water app shows annual surface water in each country through visualised interactive maps and graphics that detail the world’s lakes, rivers and seas.

The app is able to show changes in surface water as far back as 1984, through to 2018.

The project is part of the United Nations Environment Programme and was first released in Nairobi at the UN Environment Assembly.

It has been named the UN’s Water-Related Ecosystems App, or as its more catchy name has it, (Sustainable Development Goal Target 6.6) and is available for desktop users. One of the more striking graphics from the data set is the draining and evaporation of the Aral Sea, which is situated between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Google and UN Work With The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre

The application is built on previous work undertaken by a collaboration between Google and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).

Brian Sullivan Senior Program Manager of Google Earth Outreach commented in a blog: “An algorithm developed by the JRC to map water was run on Google Earth Engine. The process took more than 10 million hours of computing time, spread across more than 10,000 computers in parallel, a feat that would have taken 600 years if run on a modern desktop computer. But the sheer magnitude of the high resolution global data product tended to limit analysis to only the most tech savvy users and countries.”

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That project revealed that 90 thousand square kilometres of water have vanished altogether, yet at the same time over 200 thousand square kilometres of predominantly human constructed water bodies came into existence.

The data visualised by the application showcases the effects human-made constructs such as dams and reservoirs have on the flow and arrangement of surface water.

Noel Gorelick, Chief Extraterrestrial Observer at Google’s Earth Engine noted at the time in a blog that “although the area covered by water in the U.S. has overall increased a little, a combination of drought and sustained demand for water have seen six western states, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, account for a third of the loss in U.S. water surface.”

The application could be highly instrumental for countries that don’t have the resources to undertake large studies of their surface water levels using satellite data.

The UN and Google hope this application will enable countries to conduct more sustainable water practices in the future.

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