Big Data: The Innovative Solution to Climate Change

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What is Big Data?

There has been a lot of confusion surrounding what exactly the rumored concept of big data really is.  Broadly put, Big Data is the buzzword used to describe a massive volume of data that is so large that it is difficult to process using traditional database and software techniques. The term could otherwise refer to the technology used by organizations to deal with large amounts of data and storage facilities.  Big data is powerful, yet can be harnessed towards providing extensive insight for many issues our society faces today. So why not environmental issues, as well? Here are three big data changemakers in the fight against climate change.

1. Google Earth Engine

It is now simpler than ever for organizations and individuals alike to access some of the most comprehensive images in the field. Google Earth Engine has collected 40 years of satellite imagery to document changes on the earth’s surface for analysis . The application has the potential to address a wide range of environmental concerns– from mapping out water resources to ecosystem services. The versatile program has already been put to good use since its launch in 2010. For example, scientists have been able to track the deforestation in the Amazon and provide time-lapse imagery of long-term events such as the Columbia Glacier Retreat to the public.

2. Global Forest Watch

Being the United Nations Climate Summit 2014 Big Data Climate Challenge Winner and supported by large partners including Google and UNEP, the Global Forest Watch launched a software tool allowing for users to monitor precise information on deforestation in a timely manner.  Such a program can draw attention to the deforestation that we don’t hear about, giving information on when, where, and why tree removal is occurring. By the time deforestation occurs, it is usually too late. Data that would otherwise take years to process is now available to users in a matter of seconds. The program also works to actively map out deforestation caused by forest fires at the time of their occurrence. Global Forest Watch has attracted the attention of a variety of groups including governments, private sector businesses, NGOs, and general public users.

3. Opower

It can be difficult to get citizens to change their ways simply for promoting the common good, but when it can help them save money, they are much more willing to comply. Publicly held Opower collaborates with utility companies to analyze information on people’s energy usage to maximize household energy efficiency. They then send out individual reports, so consumers can see how their energy usage stacks up to their neighbors. Since its launch in 2007, Opower has helped households save over 6 billion kilowatts of energy. President Obama praised the company during his office visit in 2010,

“The work you do here…is making homes more energy efficient, it’s saving people money, it’s generating jobs, and it’s putting America on the path to a clean energy future”.

What big data projects do you think will be game changers in the fight against climate change?

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