Dynamic World new interactive tool

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In August 2021, as the Caldor Fire burned more than 200,000 acres in northern California, satellites captured the dramatic changes to the landscape in real time.

That satellite data fed into a new Google tool, called Dynamic World, which recognized that an area once covered by trees had been reduced to shrub and scrub. In the days after the fire, Dynamic World’s color-coded map of the region transformed from green, where trees had grown in large enough numbers to be seen from space, to yellow, indicating a transformation to low scrub, showing the devastating outcome of the natural disaster on the land itself.

In the past, researchers interested in how the planet’s landscape changes over time have had to rely on large, cumbersome datasets and infrequently updated maps. Now, they can turn to Dynamic World, which shows exactly what’s covering the land—from crops and wetlands to buildings and trees—in great detail. The tool is updated in near real-time (about once every two to five days, depending on location), which makes it possible to monitor ecosystems as they rapidly evolve because of floods, wildfires, deforestation and urban development.

“With this knowledge, [decision-makers] can develop plans to protect, manage and restore land and monitor the effectiveness of those plans using alert systems to notify when unforeseen land changes are taking place,” writes Tanya Birch, senior program manager for Google Earth Outreach, in a blog post announcing the new tool.

Anyone can use the interactive tool to explore changing landscapes, but its creators believe it will be most useful to researchers, governments and nonprofits working to “develop helpful solutions and minimize their effects on issues like climate change, food insecurity and loss of biodiversity,” per Birch.

CREDIT: Sarah Kuta