Mar 2016 - ClimateEngine.org unveiled at White House Water Summit

ClimateEngine.org unveiled at White House Water Summit  

DRI, U. Idaho, Google use new technology to address water and drought issues

RENO – The research team behind ClimateEngine.org unveiled their commitment to expanding the web applications unique role in helping the nation address water issues during today’s White House Water Summit held in Washington, DC, in conjunction with the United Nations World Water Day.

The Summit is focused on raising awareness of water issues and potential solutions in the United States, and to catalyze ideas and actions to help build a sustainable and secure water future through innovative science and technology.

The Desert Research Institute and University of Idaho, in partnership with Google, have developed ClimateEngine.org – a web application that enables users to quickly process and visualize satellite earth observations and gridded weather data for environmental monitoring and to improve early warning of drought, wildfire, and crop-failure risk.

“In an era of increasing wealth of satellite and climate observations, approaches for quickly accessing, analyzing and visualizing big data to better inform environmental decision making at relevant scales is lacking,” explained Justin Huntington, Ph.D., the project co-principle investigator and an associate research professor of hydrology at the Desert Research Institute. “ClimateEngine.org makes it possible process and visualize earth observations like never before.”

ClimateEngine.org uses Google’s Earth Engine cloud computing and environmental monitoring platform that allows for on-demand processing of global satellite, climate, and weather data via a desktop or smartphone web-browser.

Utilizing access to one petabyte (1,000 terabytes) of cloud storage and 50 million donated hours of computing time on Google’s Earth Engine environmental cloud computing platform, the web-based application is able to mine, process and analyze a 30-year archive of high resolution optical and thermal images taken of Earth by the Landsat satellites – “in a matter of seconds, compared to hours and even days with traditional computing systems," says Charles Morton, Desert Research Institute remote sensing scientist.

As part of the White House Water Summit, the Desert Research Institute and University of Idaho committed to expanding ClimateEngine.org to include new state-of-the-art drought and water demand monitoring metrics and over 30,000 place-based averaging domains relevant for federal and local agency rangeland, agricultural, and water resource management in the Western US. This commitment will meet the needs of both researchers and natural resource managers in the US to address key water issues of drought, water availability, agricultural productivity and ecological impacts.

Internationally, the ClimateEngine.org team is working with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) to develop fast and versatile methods for monitoring agricultural drought over broad areas at risk of food insecurity.

The partnership between the Desert Research Institute, University of Idaho, FEWS NET and Google was also started through the 2014 White House Climate Data Initiative and a Google Faculty Research award. ClimateEngine.org is one of numerous research and application products that has resulted from this initiative and public-private partnership.

Research Scientist Britta Daudert from DRI, and Postdoctoral Fellow Katherine Hegewisch from the University of Idaho, software developers on the ClimateEngine.org project, attended the summit.

The research team also notes, however, that even with Google’s vast new cloud computing resources, the key resource remains the creation of new satellite and climate data that can be used to continue addressing natural resource manager needs.

University of Idaho co-principle investigator of the Climate Engine project and associate professor of geography John Abatzoglou, Ph.D. explains, "Our work allows decision makers unprecedented access to analyzing big data related to environmental monitoring on their desktops and smartphones without needing a supercomputer by using the computing resources provided by Google. The ability to analyze such data in real time should help fill an information void and improve our ability to sustain our environmental resources including water." 

The Climate Engine team has already begun working with several federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to get feedback and direction on the new application. Sarah Peterson, BLM Nevada State Office Soil, Water, Air, and Riparian Programs lead, says that “Climate Engine provides specialists with the opportunity to essentially go back in time and see how our Western landscapes have changed due to changes in climate over the past few decades. It‘s able to quantitatively analyze years of data in a matter of a few seconds." 

Find the White House Water Summit Fact Sheet here.

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About the Desert Research Institute: DRI, the nonprofit research campus of the Nevada System of Higher Education, strives to be the world leader in environmental sciences through the application of knowledge and technologies to improve people’s lives throughout Nevada and the world.