Using Google to save Earth

  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 31 Jan 2012

PETALING JAYA: Google Earth, the virtual globe, map and geographical information program, is proving to be a favoured tool by environmental groups and the authorities to check on illegal forest clearing and land occupation.

Terengganu Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Said had said last week that the state government was using it to detect illegal occupation of government-owned land in the state, adding that stern action would be taken from this year against the culprits, which included civil servants.

Commenting on this, Malaysian Nature Society Selangor branch vice-chairman Lim Teck Wyn said Google Earth was effective in getting a general overview of any area.

“There’s a useful function which allows us to do a time lapse observation by comparing older satellite images with recent ones,” he told The Star yesterday.

Lim, a forestry consultant, said this helped to detect recent logging activities as the change in forest mass would be obvious.

However, he stressed that there was no substitute for ground checks as Google Earth images are not al­­ways recent or detailed.

WWF-Malaysia chief executive officer and executive director Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said Google Earth was helpful in calculating an overview of forest loss or land changes.

“It helps us to see whether the Go­­vernment is keeping its pledge to maintain 50% of the country’s land mass under forest cover,” he said.

Dr Sharma added, however, that the organisation mostly derived its information regarding illegal logging or animal smuggling from its on-site staff.

He said WWF-Malaysia employs some 185 people, spread around the country on its projects of interest.

“That is the fastest way we pick up information. The problem with using satellite tools is that by the time we detect changes, it’s probably a foregone conclusion,” he said.

Originally called EarthViewer 3D, Google Earth was created by Keyhole Inc, a company funded by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency and acquired by Google in 2004.

It maps the Earth from satellite image­­ry, aerial photography and geo­graphic information systems (GIS) 3D globe.

It is available as a free version with limited functions and a paid ver­­­­­sion, with additional features, for commercial use.

As at October last year, Google Earth had been downloaded more than a billion times.

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