A brief summary of the computational requirements for what I consider to be the most groundbreaking scientific paper that I read in 2013. The result of this number crunching is the first truly comparable and global map of forest cover, loss, and gain. All at the staggering scale of only 30 m. The paper, published by Hansen et al. in Science in November, processed satellite images of the earth’s surface using Google’s Earth Engine cloud platform between 2000 and 2012. The data will shortly be made publicly available, but for the time being they can be viewed on an absolutely captivating and easy-to-use website. When you open a browser to look at this map, be prepared to spend some time exploring.
In the past, different entities with different underlying data, different analysis and different motivations have produced different maps of deforestation at different spatial scales. Each map was….different. This is the first time we have ever had a global map applied with the same methodology. The results are not without their problems; however, I have every expectation that the quality will improve with time. That this map is online for anyone from governments to grandmas to use is going to fundamentally transform our capacity for effective conservation.
Citation: M.C. Hansen et al. 2013. High-resolution maps of 21st-century forest cover change. Science 342: 850-853.