Google boils down water data for new UN environment site

Governments are currently reviewing progress on the goals at UN headquarters in New York, where UNEP and Google announced the satellite initiative. (File photo: Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
Updated 17 July 2018
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Google boils down water data for new UN environment site

  • Improved information could lead to better investment in environmental services as countries try to meet their Sustainable Development Goals
  • Google is using artificial intelligence and cloud computing to process a massive amount of satellite imagery and data

TEPIC, Mexico: Vast quantities of raw satellite imagery and data will be distilled into an online platform showing how water ecosystems have changed, and how countries can manage them to prevent further loss, said Google and the United Nations.
Focussing initially on fresh water ecosystems such as rivers and forests, Google will produce geospatial maps and data for a publicly available platform to be launched in October in partnership with the UN Environment Program (UNEP).
“It’s basically a time slide... you can go back in time, and what is does is show you where water has disappeared,” said Elisabeth Mullin Bernhardt, a program manager at UNEP, on Monday.
“It can show you where water never was and now is there. It can show you where water is seasonal.”
For Africa’s Lake Chad, for example, access to comprehensive data and images showing surrounding land and rivers could help explain why the lake, on which so many depend, is drying up so quickly, said Kenya-based Bernhardt.
Given that most countries share water sources, the information could also be used to encourage neighboring nations to work together on strategies to manage rivers or lakes, she said.
Google is using artificial intelligence and cloud computing to process a massive amount of satellite imagery and data, stretching back over three decades, before it can be analyzed, said Rebecca Moore, director of Google Earth and Earth Engine.
“Much of the world does not have access to good data about the state of their forests, their rivers and lakes and coastal eco-systems and how they’ve been changing over time,” Moore told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.
“It’s a critically important time because there are dramatic changes going on, due to climate change and urbanization and a number of factors that are in some cases significantly depleting fresh water supply.”
Improved information could lead to better investment in environmental services as countries try to meet their Sustainable Development Goals, said UNEP.
Agreed at the UN in 2015, the 17 global goals include targets to end poverty and hunger, combat climate change, and provide universal access to water and sanitation by 2030.
Governments are currently reviewing progress on the goals at UN headquarters in New York, where UNEP and Google announced the satellite initiative.
While researchers will focus on water ecosystems, the platform could be expanded to include issues such as desertification or plastics in the world’s oceans, said Bernhardt.


Facebook to invest $300 mln in local news initiatives

Updated 15 January 2019
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Facebook to invest $300 mln in local news initiatives

  • Facebook was partly blamed for the decline of advertising dollars that newspapers are receiving
  • Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of global news partnerships, says the company wants to help local publishers succeed

NEW YORK: Facebook says it is investing $300 million over the next three years in local news programs, partnerships and other initiatives.
The money will go toward reporting grants for local newsrooms, expanding Facebook’s program to help local newsrooms with subscription business models and investing in nonprofits aimed at supporting local news.
The move comes at a difficult time for the news industry, which is facing falling profits and print readership. Facebook, like Google, has also been partly blamed for the ongoing decline in newspapers’ share of advertising dollars as people and advertisers have moved online.
Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of global news partnerships, acknowledges the company “can’t uninvent the Internet,” but says it wants to work with publishers to help them succeed on and off the social network.
“The industry is going through a massive transition that has been underway for a long time,” she said. “None of us have quite figured out ultimately what the future of journalism is going to look like but we want to be part of helping find a solution.”
Facebook has increased its focus on local news in the past year after starting off 2018 with the announcement that it was generally de-emphasizing news stories and videos in people’s feeds on the social network in favor of posts from their friends.
At the same time, though, the company has been cautiously testing out ways to boost local news stories users are interested in and initiatives to support the broader industry. It launched a feature called “Today In” that shows people local news and information, including missing-person alerts, road closures, crime reports and school announcements, expanding it to hundreds of cities around the US and a few in Australia.
The push to support local news comes as Facebook, which is based in Menlo Park, California, tries to shake off its reputation as a hotbed for misinformation and elections-meddling. The company says users have been asking to see more local content that is relevant to them, including news stories as well as community information such as road closings during a snowstorm.
The $300 million investment includes a $5 million grant to the nonprofit Pulitzer Center to launch “Bringing Stories Home,” a fund that will provide local US newsrooms with reporting grants to support coverage of local issues. There’s also a $2 million investment in Report for America as part of a partnership aiming to place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms across the country over the next five years.
The idea behind the investments, Brown said, is to look “holistically at how a given publisher can define a business model. Facebook can’t be the only answer, the only solution — we don’t want the publisher to be dependent on Facebook.”
Fran Wills, CEO of the Local Media Consortium, which is receiving $1 million together with the Local Media Association to help their member newsrooms develop new revenue streams, said she is optimistic the investment will help.
“I think they are recognizing that trusted, credible content is of benefit not only to local publishers but to them,” she said.