5 December, 2018

How the cloud can help answer questions about our planet

Are rising sea levels going to destroy my house or my favourite beach? Or do I need to work on my crops more to get a better yield this season? Or has there been more land clearance across the state than is allowed by regulations?

These are questions that before would be answered by a wet finger in the air or an educated guess. 

With the power of the cloud, scientists, researchers, and developers can now draw conclusions about our the Earth’s changes faster than was previously possible. 

Cloud has changed the game – we are now able to get answers that would be incalculably expensive to process by other means. 

The platforms available and the ability to access and analyse content, such as photos and radar images from remote-sensing satellites, has evolved. 

Big industry players are reducing the barriers to access large scale earth observation data about the physical, chemical, and biological systems of the planet.

By having access to data sets such as satellite imagery, and having new tools available, people can produce better insights about our planet. 

How do we handle big data from the cloud? 

New tools to handle large datasets quickly are emerging, and in the business community companies are required to perform meaningful spatial analyses more frequently. Therefore, understanding of how to use the tools that can help them is an embryonic area. 

Nathan Eaton, Director of Services at NGIS, says that through the integration of data sources, companies can create mapping tools that make earth observation data easier for teams to understand, giving them insights they require.

“The ability to use cloud is changing, we can now bring the pixels down to the compute and take the compute up to the pixels faster. Essentially, this is allowing us to do more with the data without having so many overheads,” he said.

Now that the cloud has become increasingly more sophisticated in the past ten years and the tools exist to draw insights from data more quickly, companies in both the public and private sector are utilising the insights drawn from observation data by building bespoke mapping applications. 

“Government departments are not usually happy with the tool they’re using because it takes too long to draw the conclusions they need to make informed decisions, and they struggle to find an approach for something that would be comparable, that is where bespoke applications built from the power of the Cloud can help solve the problem,” he said. 

How can cloud data and maps help us to ask questions of our planet? 

As a rule, people are more inquisitive than they have ever been before. In the age of an ‘on-demand’ lifestyle, GIS experts are not the only ones having to deal with the imagery provided via cloud computing - it is everyday people who are seeking answers to previously unsolvable problems. 

Demonstrating scenarios about how big data can determine changes in the environment and assist people with their business decision making is proving to be the most effective way of showing the value of what big data could mean to them. 

“People want access to this data, they want to get their answers faster, run scenarios and do things with high-end cloud processing that would have previously taken months and months. NGIS projects such as Coastal Risk Australia and Green Precision both demonstrate the power of big data to build awareness of everyday issues,’ says Nathan Eaton. 

Coastal Risk Australia sends a powerful message to users by providing a tool where Australians can visualise how their homes, neighbourhoods and favourite coastal spots could be vulnerable to rising sea levels driven by climate change.
NGIS used Google Earth Engine to process the petabytes of data required to show where inundation is likely in year 2100 due to sea level rise and storm surge. 

By distilling large datasets down into answers for people, users are able to personalise their views and observations while using the tool, making it easier for them to understand the potential effect of predictive sea level rise and storm surges in their neighbourhood. 

In a similar way, the Green Precision application helps farm owners understand variability across their paddocks. 

The joint project between NGIS and CSBP Limited that showcases what can be done using high performing Google Cloud infrastructure and NASA satellite data.

Geared with large amount of earth observation data, NGIS was able to distill the data to provide farmers with a comparative picture of their crops either month by month or year by year and demonstrate how their productivity was trending, as well as showing which parts of the paddock they were getting no return from. 

How can your company can leverage the power of the cloud? 

NGIS has an in-house team of skilled developers and GIS analysts. Get in touch with us to book a demonstration or to have a chat about your project.

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