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.
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.
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.
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.