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Arkansas River Meanders taken from the International Space Station. NASA/Flickr
Environment

Google Is Teaming Up with the UN to Fight Water Loss


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Understanding how climate change and human behavior has diminished the availability of water and threatened marine life is critical to the survival of the planet. These issues are outlined in the Global Goals and you can take action toward achieving them here by ensuring all communities can withstand climate disaster.

Google and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) are teaming up to help track and prevent the loss of the world’s water, the organizations announced Tuesday.

The tech company will combine over three decades of geospatial and map data to show how human activity has impacted global ecosystems and use this information to help countries manage future losses. The initiative will allow governments, NGOs, and the public to track the world’s progress toward achieving the environment-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through an online platform that will launch in October.

Take Action: Ensure All Communities Can Withstand Climate Disaster

By using artificial intelligence and cloud computing, Google will help stitch together the massive amount of data collected over the past three decades to create an interactive tool that will allow users to see changes in the environment over time.

“It’s basically a time slide. You can go back in time and what it does is show you where water has disappeared,” said Elisabeth Mullin Bernhardt, a program manager at UNEP.

Google already has tools like Google Earth, which can be used to create images showing changes over time, like the shrinking of the Aral Sea. The Aral Sea, seen above, was once the world’s fourth-largest lake. Its drastic change in size was deemed one of the planet’s most shocking water loss disasters in history when then-UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon visited the site in 2010. Today, the Aral Sea is slowly recovering with a concentrated effort from the government of Uzbekistan and international organizations.

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Efforts to recover water losses in other parts of the world have been hindered by a lack of information.

“We will only be able to solve the biggest environmental challenges of our time if we get the data right,” Head of UN Environment Erik Solheim said in a press statement.

The Google and UNEP initiative hopes to make that data available to bolster efforts to prevent water loss and combat the effects of climate change.

“Much of the world does not have access to good data about the state of their forests, their rivers and lakes and coastal eco-systems and how they’ve been changing over time,” the director of Google Earth and Earth Engine Rebecca Moore told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The UNEP already provides data on freshwater quality and promotes to protect the protection of these environments. Combined with Google, the platform will provide data at an accelerated scale to address global environmental and health issues.

Read More: The Lake Chad Water Crisis Leaves Millions at Risk of Disease

Initially, the project will focus on fresh water ecosystems, which can range from lakes found on glaciers to wetlands and rivers. These ecosystems account for only 0.01% of the world’s total surface area but are home to 10% of the world’s known species. The growing loss of fresh water means these ecosystems are now among the most threatened.

The initiative was launched during the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, an annual check in on the progress of the Global Goals, at the UN Headquarters in New York.