Building upon 12 years of collaboration, Google and the National Geographic Society announced on 1 October the launch of a major new partnership that will address the myriad threats impacting the Earth at this critical juncture in ways only the two organisations can. Over the next two years and beyond, Google and the National Geographic Society will work together to leverage the power of Google’s technology and National Geographic’s world-class science and storytelling, as well as National Geographic Labs’ innovations, to build a first-of-its-kind, dynamic, four-dimensional digital representation of the vital signs of Earth’s natural ecosystems. This living rendition of the globe will allow users to monitor the world’s species and ecosystems over time, understand threats to the natural world and realise solutions to help achieve a planet in balance.
The two organisations will source and generate new data on ecosystems, biodiversity, urban growth, migrations and extreme environments to inform insights and inspire action by educating consumers and decision-makers about the critical importance of protecting at least 30 percent of the planet by 2030. National Geographic Society’s Executive Vice President and Chief Scientist Dr. Jonathan Baillie and Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Dr. Ya-Ping Zhang highlighted the need to achieve this critical biodiversity target in an editorial published on 14 September in the journal Science.
“There is finite space and energy on the planet, and we must decide how much of it we’re willing to share,” Baillie and Zhang wrote. Wildlife populations have decreased over 50 percent since the 1970s, while humans’ impact on the landscape is becoming more and more visible in satellite imagery. For decades, decisions about protecting critical ecosystems have been made using very limited data. In 2020, the world’s governments will meet in Beijing, China, to set targets that aim to protect current levels of biodiversity and the ecosystems that support food and water security as well as the health of billions of people. The Google-National Geographic Society partnership will create tools to help this decision-making.
Two initial components of the partnership are launching at the annual Geo for Good Summit in Sunnyvale, California. As part of the National Geographic Society’s efforts to protect our planet’s last wild places, the Society and Google are releasing a new dataset called The Human Impact Map on Google Earth that shows the planet’s remaining, relatively untouched landscapes.
Additionally, to showcase one of these iconic landscapes and its importance at a local and regional scale, the recent announcement also includes the launch of a new Voyager story in Google Earth, “Protecting the Okavango River Basin,” focused on southern Africa’s Okavango River Basin. This Voyager story uses the newly visualized Human Impact data and provides on-the-ground data and storytelling from National Geographic’s Okavango Wilderness Project expeditions to show how we can better protect the natural resources and wildlife of regions like the Okavango watershed.
Looking ahead to 2019 and 2020, Google and National Geographic will collaborate on key Google Earth data layers and stories focused on biodiversity, animal migrations and the impacts of climate change. They plan to develop engaging user and decision-maker experiences to better demonstrate the need to protect the world’s ecosystems. Leveraging the National Geographic Society’s expertise in conservation science with Google’s excellence in big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence, the organisations will identify and aim to solve the grand challenges that decision-makers are trying to address and help them make better informed decisions to protect the planet.
(Source: National Geographic Society press release, 01.10.2018)